Music lovers who have fallen hard for the guitar-fiddle-banjo-drenched Folk Alliance International Conference each year have bemoaned a pending reality.
The conference, which just concluded its fourth run last weekend at the Westin Crown Center with nearly 3,000 registrants, will move after its fifth consecutive Kansas City gathering. That means that next year is the final extravaganza before the conference shifts to Montreal for 2019.
The five-year rotation is standard fare for the alliance. But that won’t ease the pain. The gathering brings together world-class regional, national and international acts — the Travelling Mabels, Matt the Electrician and the Lonely Heartstring Band, to name just three — for a fast-paced, five-day festival. This is an event where fiddlers fiddle in the lobby, in hallways and in dozens of hotel rooms at marathon jam sessions that sometimes greet the dawn. It’s a singular musical experience that has boosted Kansas City’s musical profile.
But dry those tears because the alliance has announced big plans for extending its presence here. Not only is the group making Kansas City its permanent headquarters for its growing staff, it also has rolled out plans to expand its annual public Folk Festival, which this year came on the conference’s final day. Instead of a one-day, indoor event in February, the alliance is taking aim at a warm-weather, multi-day run.
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Officials also have announced that Kansas City will be home to periodic future conferences.
“We’re going to continue to cycle the conference through Kansas City,” alliance communications manager Erika Noguera said. That’s a lot of good news.
After a bumpy ride in Memphis, alliance officials say Kansas City has proven to be a nurturing home. The group’s full-time staff has blossomed from two to seven, and the alliance has connected with the city through productions with the National World War I Museum, the Kansas City Ballet and area prisons.
This year, the alliance commissioned Making Movies, a Latin-rock band from Kansas City, to compose music to accompany a Kansas City police officer as he recited a poem about his life as a Mexican-American officer.
The alliance arrived here in 2013 just as the arts scene was lifting dramatically. The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts had opened a year earlier. The city lacked a sizable folk presence, and the alliance thought it could fill the void. Alliance officials sensed that Kansas City resembled Austin, Texas, back in the 1980s before its music scene catapulted into one of national renown.
“Kansas City had this booming vibe,” Noguera said.
That the alliance is putting down roots ensures that the vibe will only boom louder.