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Folk Alliance director eager to showcase changes in music conference

Aengus Finnan, director of Folk Alliance International, is overseeing his second alliance conference this week.
Aengus Finnan, director of Folk Alliance International, is overseeing his second alliance conference this week. Morten Fog Photography

Aengus Finnan hit the ground running in July 2014, when he took over as director of Folk Alliance International, which had moved its headquarters to Kansas City in the summer of 2013.

A native of Ireland who was raised in Ontario, Canada, Finnan moved to Kansas City from Toronto to take the reins of the alliance from retiring director Louis Meyers and assume duties that include running the annual Folk Alliance International Conference.

For the third year in a row, the conference will be at the Westin and Sheraton Crown Center hotels in Kansas City. Finnan recently answered questions from The Star about the 2015 conference, his first as director, and what changes are in store this year.

What was your assessment of last year’s festival?

The conference was a great success last year, despite the storm that shut down airports and saw a slight drop in attendance. I was pleased to be able to launch a new artist-in-residency program, partnering an artist with the Kansas City Ballet; to internationalize our programming to really respect the full range of global folk music; and to refine our professional development programming to include critical topics, including audience diversification.

What did you tweak or adjust for this year’s festival in response to last year?

There were a number of conflicting events last year, which spread our audience a little thin. We’ve focused on a “quality rather than quantity” approach this year.

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Based on the very positive response to the increased presence of international artists, we’ve continued to expand and partner with overseas music-export offices. And we worked to make more of the event accessible to the public at very affordable price points.

Is there anything new this year that you are excited about?

This year our artist-in-residence, Joe Crookston, was partnered with the National World War I Museum and Memorial. Accessing archived letters, he has created a painting and song about Florence Hemphill, a Kansas nurse stationed in France. It’s a harrowing song that brings some local past to life and will be performed Friday at 4 p.m., prior to Judy Collins’ keynote presentation.

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We’re also partnering with Académie Lafayette, a Kansas City French-immersion charter school, and the Guadalupe Center to provide student access to a Francophone songwriting workshop with an artist from Canada and a performance by conjunto tejano band Los Texmaniacs.

The awards show has been enhanced. We’re opening the entire event with a gala awards reception and show, now with musical performances.

In addition to the annual Lifetime Achievement and Spirit of Folk awards, we’ve also introduced three new awards: for album, song and artist of the year. They were voted on by FAI membership, and the winners will be announced Wednesday night. The awards are now open to the public, which is new.

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But perhaps the most exciting aspect is … our music fair, now reformatted as the first Kansas City Folk Festival, to be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Westin (admission is $30).

This is designed to be (an) all-day indoor winter music festival experience for the whole family, complete with a two-hour gospel session, a square dance, music-video screenings, and multiple stages with the top local, regional, national and international performers.

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It will also have an artisan market with local painters, potters, luthiers and “makers” with works on display and for sale.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Don’t miss

Here are recommended public showcases at this weekend’s Folk Alliance International Conference. All performances listed are in the Westin Hotel at Crown Center. Tickets start at $25 a day through folk.org.

Aengus Finnan, director of the Folk Alliance International, recommends:

▪ J.P. Cormier (Halifax, Nova Scotia): 8 p.m. Thursday at Washington Park Place

▪ We Banjo 3 (Galway Connaught, Ireland): 8 p.m. Friday, Washington Park Place

▪ Jeffrey Faucault (Casper, Wyo.): 10 p.m. Friday, Liberty Ballroom

▪ Tarabband (Malmö, Sweden): 10:15 p.m. Friday, Century C Ballroom

▪ Los Texmaniacs (San Antonio): 8:45 p.m. Saturday at Washington Park Place

▪ Wör (East Flanders, Belgium): 8:45 p.m. Saturday, Century C Ballroom

▪ Sutari (Warsaw, Poland): 10 p.m. Saturday, Pershing South Ballroom

▪ The Soorleys (Newcastle, New South Wales/Australia): 10:15 p.m. Saturday at Washington Park Place

The Kansas City Star’s music writer, Timothy Finn, recommends:

▪ Darlingside (Cambridge, Mass.): 8:45 p.m. Thursday, Century C Ballroom

▪ Bjaran (Stockholm, Sweden): 10:15 p.m. Thursday, Century C Ballroom

▪ Grant Lee Phillips (Nolensville, Tenn.): 7:15 p.m. Friday, Shawnee Mission Ballroom

▪ Mundy (Dublin, Ireland): 7:15 p.m. Friday, Roanoke Ballroom

▪ David Olney (Nashville, Tenn.): 9:30 p.m. Friday, Shawnee Mission Ballroom

▪ The Mae Trio (Melbourne, Australia): 9:30 p.m. Friday at Washington Park Place

▪ Hot Club of Cowtown (Austin, Texas): 8 p.m. Saturday, Washington Park Place

▪ Beat Root (London, England and Belfast, Northern Ireland): 10 p.m. Saturday, Liberty Ballroom

▪ Redd Volkaert (Austin, Texas): 10:15 p.m. Saturday at Shawnee Mission Ballroom

Kansas City artists with official showcases include:

▪ Gerald Trimble’s Celtic and World Music, 9 p.m. Wednesday, Liberty Ballroom

▪ Jessica Paige, 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Brookside Ballroom

▪ Blackbird Revue, 7 p.m. Saturday, Pershing East/West Ballroom

Folk Alliance International Conference

Many events and performances at the Folk Alliance International Conference are open to the public, including the awards show, dozens of official showcases, the music camp (which requires pre-registration) and the Kansas City Folk Festival. The $110 showcase package includes admission to the awards show, three nights of showcases and the folk festival (a $20 savings).

The Folk Alliance Awards Gala: 6 p.m. Wednesday. The event is officially sold out. It includes awards presentations and musical performances.

Official showcases: 8:15 to 11:15 p.m. Wednesday; and 6:15 to 10:45 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $25 a day; Thursday’s is officially sold out.

Music camp: World-class musicians will give lessons to musicians of all levels of ability and expertise. Pre-registration is required. Price is $60 per day or $150 for a three-day pass. Sessions start at 10 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Kansas City Folk Festival: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Westin Crown Center. Admission is $30. Discounts available for seniors, students and children. The all-day festival is a mix of music, dance, art and artisan booths. Musical performances include Alison Brown, Peter Case, Robbie Fulks, Eric Andersen and a closing concert by Los Texmaniacs, It will also include a square dance and a gospel session.

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