The 30th annual Folk Alliance International conference recently wrapped in Kansas City. It’s a confab like no other, with countless showcase performances large and small, with a deep ethos of human connection and artistic freedom. And it’s the subject of this week’s multi-artist edition of The String. Of the interviews I did on site, these emerged as the best cross section of this unique and intense event. Listen to the full show here.
Following are notes on the five interviews.
RICHARD THOMPSON - He’s an elder and an icon, but also every bit at the top of his career with 100 dates a year or more and a deeply committed international following. He’d be a very famous guitar player if that’s all he did or a very famous songwriter if that’s all he did. But he does both, in acoustic and electric settings. As a founder of England’s Fairport Convention he helped shape the very idea of folk rock in the late 60s. As a solo artist he’s become an icon of folk in both its electric and acoustic forms. And he’s been abundantly recognized, earning an Order of the British Empire and a Lifetime Achievement award for songwriting from the Americana Music Association.
MARTHA REDBONE - Knowing your home ground, a sense of place, is one key aspect of the folk music mandate. But what if your place in your place is marginalized, or even erased from history? That’s the odyssey and the mission of Martha Redbone, a woman of both African American and Native American descent from a long line in Harlan County Kentucky. She’s been a pop songwriter in Europe and New York, but she’s plunged deeply into roots music with a calling, an excellent voice and a point of view.
JAYME STONE - There’s a different kind of reclaiming going on in the work of Jayme Stone, self described banjo composer and “instigator.” He’s a native of Toronto who lives now in Colorado. He’s a banjo player with a technical flare and eclectic and worldly outlook. And there’s another important layer to his calling - and that’s researching and reviving old American songs that have been aging like wine in the dark, in old books, field recordings or the Smithsonian’s archives.
ED SNODDERLY - Ed is well known to everyone who cherishes the traditional music of the Smoky Mountain region. He’s an exceptionally original songwriter whose lyrics have been inscribed on the walls of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. He’s on the faculty of East Tennessee State University’s bluegrass and old time program. And he had a small role on screen in O Brother, Where Art Thou? His most recent album is Record Shop.
VIVIAN LEVA - For ages, people have wondered - and worried - about whether folk music has a future, and new generations keep proving there’s nothing to worry about. Vivian Leva of Lexington, VA was part of this year’s youth brigade, and she brings both old-time and contemporary sensibility to her debut recording Time Is Everything. She was folk in utero she says, daughter of a well known folk duo. She’s 19 and attending her first Folk Alliance, but she’s already a lifer.