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Folk Alliance conference offers plenty of music options to the public

Bela Fleck and his wife and duet partner, Abigail Washburn
Bela Fleck and his wife and duet partner, Abigail Washburn

The music agenda at the Sheraton Crown Center is packed over the next three days. More than seven dozen performances have been scheduled in six ballrooms from Thursday through Saturday. All are open to the public. Admission is $25 per evening.

Tickets are available at www.folkalliance.org or at the Sheraton.

Here are some recommendations, but check out a full schedule and explore on your own.

Thursday

Chouteau Ballroom: This is a lineup of five Kansas City bands or songwriters, each with a distinctive style and sound. It starts at 7 p.m. with the Blackbird Revue, the husband-wife team of Danielle and Jacob Prestidge. This group raises a rustic Americana vibe. Next come three stellar singer/songwriters: Tommy Donoho of Dollar Fox; Scott Easterday, a guitar wiz and leader of the Expassionates; and Mikal Shapiro, who is making available at the conference copies of “The Musical,” her brand-new album.

The evening ends with a set from the Hardship Letters, the latest project from songwriter and filmmaker Tony Ladesich.

Empire Ballroom: If you’re in the mood for something rowdy, this is your port. The lineup includes two Kansas bands who can raise a high-speed ruckus: Loaded Goat, which goes on at 8 p.m., and Whiskey for the Lady, which goes on at 11 p.m. Also check out Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys, a quartet from Nashville that tinkers with bluegrass in fetching ways. They’re on at 10 p.m.

Atlanta Ballroom: Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn perform at 9 p.m. The husband-wife banjo duo recently released their first album, a collection of songs cast only in banjo and Washburn’s emotive voice.

Traditional songs like “Pretty Polly” and “Railroad,” a remake of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” plus several originals are on the new CD. The two bring to the project vastly different approaches to banjo playing. But in the studio and on the stage they have developed a dialogue that is original and organic.

“She’s had to push harder technically, while I’ve had to refine my playing to be more song-oriented and less solo-istic,” Fleck told The Star recently. “I still get plenty of rope to improvise and play hot stuff on the banjo, but the real fun for me is doing everything I can to make these songs feel complete with just our two banjos and Abby’s voice.”

Make note: The 8 p.m. set in the Atlanta Ballroom will be from Bob Walkenhorst and Jeff Porter, singer/songwriters and members of the Rainmakers.

Friday

Art Gallery stage: The Art Gallery stage opens with the Kansas City version of the Guitar Project. More than three dozen cities participated in this project worldwide. Organizers give a local musician an acoustic guitar. He or she has one week to write a song and record it live.

Then the guitar is signed and passed to another songwriter, who does the same until the guitar has been passed on to at least 10 musicians. Then all get together and perform the songs they wrote.

The Kansas City Guitar Project starts at 6 p.m. The participants are Eddie Crane, who curated the Kansas City project; Mike West; Kasey Rausch; Katy Guillen; Jeff Freling; Danny McGaw; Beau Bledsoe; Tyler Gregory; Corbin Logan; Ryan Triggs; and Quinn McCue.

After that more songwriters from Kansas City take over the room for the rest of the night, including Betse Ellis, Clarke Wyatt, Freight Train Rabbit Killer, Jason Beers and the Rural Grit Allstars.

Atlanta Ballroom: This showcase features several of the best songwriters attending the conference. Rounder Records artist Ellis Paul, a Massachusetts native, opens at 7 p.m. and then hands the baton to three Texas singer/songwriters: Jimmy LaFave, Sam Baker and Ray Wylie Hubbard. Baker alone would almost be worth the price of admission.

Chouteau Ballroom: This is another Kansas City showcase with an array of singer/songwriters, from a newcomer like Sara Morgan to a veteran like Howard Iceberg, followed by Chuck Mead (formerly of BR5-49 and the Lawrence band the Homestead Grays) and the Grisly Hand, one of Kansas City’s best live bands.

Chicago Ballroom: If there’s a headliner of this showcase, it’s the duo of Bill Kirchen, formerly of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, and Redd Volkaert, who followed Roy Nichols in Merle Haggard’s band. Both are virtuosos on the guitar, and after last year’s set plenty of guitar geeks were raving about what they had seen. Their set starts at 9 p.m.

Empire Ballroom: The Hillbenders are taking on a large, ambitious task: “Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry” is their Ozarks version of the Who’s rock opera. It starts at midnight.

Saturday

Empire Ballroom: This lineup of mostly out-of-town performers includes the Howlin’ Brothers, an old-time country trio form Nashville, the Lonely Heartstring Band, a neo-bluegrass quintet from Boston and ukelele master James Hill from Nova Scotia.

Chouteau Ballroom: Another exemplary and diverse Kansas City showcase, featuring songwriters Sara Swenson, Kasey Rausch, Betse Ellis & Clarke Wyatt, Victor & Penny and Jason Vivone, winner of the Kansas City’s 2010 International Blues Competition, and his roots/blues band, the Billy Bats.

Chicago Ballroom: The Elders bring Saturday night to a rousing close with a set in the Chicago Ballroom starting at midnight.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com. Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.

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