On the whole, Folk Alliance is musically a more microcosmic atmosphere, since a lot of the performing is done in dimly lit hotel rooms. (A nice ambience, but no good for video.) So you shoot around the circumstances. In the Annie Gallup clip, for instance, the only usable portion was when I got up very close, because the other songs had too roomy a sound, too much crowd. The Jack Williams clip is dark, but it's so damn good that you simply have to include it, plain and simple.
Clips 1 & 2: Death Came a Knockin and
Down to the River/Jeb's Tune
by The Duhks
Let's start with The Duhks, because they're so good. They can light up any huge concert stage, so to see them in a hotel room was pretty mindblowing. They're an immensely talented and energetic quintet. Dig that there is no bass in this combo, guitarist Jordan McConnell just makes it sound like there is. You can take any one member of this group and say "well, it's really this person who puts this act at the top of the pile." That's not just unusual, it's unheard of.
Clip 3: Martini
by Eric Schwartz with Colin Sapp
Eric Schwarz is a mega-talented songwriter and player. He's incredibly funny on the one hand and gut-wrenchingly topical on the other. (Go find his song "Who Da Bitch Now" and you'll see what I mean.) This was a classic FA moment for me. I jumped off an elevator on my way somewhere and ran into these two renegades running down this badass tune, and got most of it on tape. I heard Eric's doing some standup now, or that he may be involved with FA on the admin level--whatever he's doing, he's doing the living hell out of it. Check him out.
Clip 4: Sucker For Love
by Jack Williams
Jack's my favorite acoustic guitar player. There are so many great ones, I'm surprised that I can say that so resolutely. When I hear him, I can't help but holler or laugh, as the tape betrays. He gets so much out of his guitar, because he commands it, or he just strokes it out of it. And that's just his playing. His writing and his singing are so unique to him, he's nothing short of a living legend. This song is from his latest, the amazingly named Laughing In The Face Of The Blues.
Clip 5: Avalon
by Annie Gallup with Sean Kelly
I moved up close to get away from the crowd noise, and picked up this outstanding song from Annie's new CD Half Of My Crime on the chorus before the bass solo. This artist is in a class by herself as a songwriter. She also happens to be a very original player and profound singer.
Clip 6: Iko Iko
One of the most exciting things I saw all weekend. When women rule the world for real, I hope it sounds like this. This inspiring vocal group is from Winnipeg, Manitoba. (What's going on up there?) Their second record is aptly called Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas metamorphosed by Zeus into stars.
Clip 7: Anna Marie
by Bob Snider
A Canadian gem veritably unknown to Americans. Michael Wrycraft, the great CD designer of that country, introduced Bob to the crowd with a moving story. He said that in 1998 he and Bob and Ron Sexsmith were all going together to the Juno Awards (the Canadian Grammy), because they were all nominated; Bob and Ron happened to be in the same category, Solo Roots Artist. Ron won, and in his acceptance speech, he thanked everyone for the award, and said "But you know, when I go home tonight and turn on some music, I'm going to be listening to Bob Snider."
Clip 8: The Swimmer
by Andrew Calhoun
Andrew is very important in the American folk movement not only because he is great, but because he is the founder of Waterbug Music, a label and a home, and a launching pad for many superior artists for many years. His eyes and ears are very finely tuned. He is a poet and a player of the first order. This song completely knocked me out. At the end, he said so typically, "That's one of my songs of mine that people like, and it's good to have one or two of those in your repertoire." A man and an artist for the ages, fantastic.
Clip 9: One By One
by John Pointer
An brilliant fellow, and an impressive performer. You ought to go to his website to see all that he has already done in his young life, because it's mind-boggling. Aside from being a fierce and diamond-focused multi-instrumentalist, his human beat box antics have landed him in the Cirque du Soleil. He's won numerous awards, and has national commercials for the likes of Walmart, Chili's, Schlotzky's Deli, etc. Worlds away from your normal singer songwriter, but he's also done plenty of work on that circuit. See for yourself, and there are a number of videos on his site.
Clip 10: The Heart Of This Woman, The Heart Of This Man
by The Rowan Brothers
A quintessential example of sibling harmony, these Northern CA brothers are also strong players and songwriters. They are the younger brothers of Peter Rowan, a classic Country and Bluegrass performer. I knew them just a little bit in my CA days, and it's been fun running into them again, in NYC or Austin, and they sound better than ever.
Clip 11: When No One's Around / Will the Circle Be Unbroken
by Darrell Scott
Here we may have saved the best for last. Darrell is certainly the most complete package, to my ears. His songs, his singing, his multi-instrumentalism, and the level of humanity that he brings to all those things are what distinguish him from his peers. In this particular clip, on the Martin stage at the Folk Alliance, he is in a kind of golden light, and the way it accents his mahogany Taylor and his brown jacket, it looks absolutely archetypal. You can't touch that.
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[Designer note: The photos on the tops of these two pages were taken by Neale Eckstein. Although we've let the artists featured in these pictures namelessly represent all of the performers at SXSW and Folk Alliance, that looks like Jimmy LaFave singing in the black & white on page one, and the trio in the shot on this page is (left to right) Colin Sapp, Russell Wolff, and Liz Carlisle. For a cool & unusual perspective on the world of folk, check out Liz's ethnomusicology thesis exploring the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival community, also handsomely illustrated with photos by Neale. I especially admire Neale's way with low-light: dig the "Big Orange Tarp" pictures on the Falcon Ridge movie & thesis page at foxrun.org.]