Steve Paul

Folk Alliance spreads the binding spirit of music

Music was breaking out all over Wednesday night at the Westin Crown Center hotel. The occasion was the opening of the annual conference of the Folk Alliance International. The organization recently made Kansas City its headquarters and home, for at least five years, of the conference, which attracts a couple of thousand singers, pickers, bookers, agents and promoters of a wide range of music.

You could hear that wide range Wednesday night, from the locally grown, original hipsters Brewer Shipley to the lonesome fiddle sound of Betse Ellis to the rocking Latin fusion of Making Movies.

The conference’s first night featured showcase performances by dozens of Kansas City musicians. They sprawled over nine stages, a cornucopia of simultaneous choices that repeats through Saturday night. Big-name oldtimers such as Tom Rush, Carolyn Hester, Josh White Jr. and Jim Kweskin are highlights of the weekend along with hundreds of established and emerging players from all over. (Hello, Miss Tess from Brooklyn!)

Keynote speaker Graham Nash on Thursday did some political rabble rousing, told some charming tales of his early days in music in England and the creation of Crosby, Stills and Nash in Joni Mitchell’s living room, and shared some common wisdom about what it meant to be a musician and song writer.

“Musicians,” he said, “have a solemn duty not to waste your time.”

Along with the organized and well-run stages in hotel meeting rooms, music erupted, probably all night, in hotel rooms, too. You could even find it the lobby, where impromptu jam sessions on traditional tunes and bluegrass united players across generations.

The conference and the

Folk Alliance

are vibrant additions to Kansas City’s cultural scene. And, if the first night was any indication, the conference inflicts a welcome spirit of ebullience, creative values and musical bonding.