The International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis was an amazing and overwhelming experience. Rita Hosking was there with the full band, Cousin Jack, to showcase and network with the goals of increasing awareness of the band in the folk community as well as getting gigs. Our showcases went well, so we’ll just see what happens!
As usual for large gatherings of musical folks, Canada had an extremely strong showing. The caliber of music coming from our neighbors to the north is truly mind-blowing. However, this isn’t that shocking given the Canadian government’s strong support for the arts. It’s not like they’re throwing money at every musician up there, but there are grants and other means of getting government backing while pursuing a career in music. Good work Canada; America, let’s try a little harder on this.
One violin highlight from the Great White North was Jaron Freeman-Fox and his band, The Opposite of Everything. The guy is an incredible violinist and nice to boot. His performances are virtuosic, dynamic, musical, energetic, and his backing band has no problem keeping up. The world music fusion sound coming from this group is amazing and definitely worth checking out if they ever get close to your area.
The conference also provided me with the opportunity to meet a bunch of musicians from Austin. It was a bit easier than actually meeting them in Austin because they were all gathered in one hotel and everyone was there to network. Of the Austin groups I managed to catch, I especially enjoyed the western-swing originals coming from the Carper Family, Brennen Leigh’s incredible country songs, and the Atomic Duo’s smart and poignantly-political approach to the brother duet style.
After the conference, Bill and I wandered up and down Beale St a bit, where the restaurant hosts aggressively pursue clients as they walk by. We ended up eating at a place where most things came fried. I had chicken and waffles for the first time. It’s a pretty sweet combination, but I’m in no hurry to do that to myself again.
Following our meal, we wandered through several blocks consisting mostly of abandoned buildings on the way to the Mississippi River. Right along the bluff looking over the river, the architectural landscape took a sharp turn toward gentrification. The contrast between large, modern homes looking out on the water and the abandoned brick buildings a mere block away was stark.
Another startling and sobering image greeted us when we arrived at the Civil Rights Museum. I was ignorant of the fact that the museum is built on the site of the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The motel has been preserved, with the new construction consisting of the museum added on to the north end of the motel. I highly recommend this museum. It provides a thoughtful and informative history of civil rights in the US since the founding of our country. After making my way through the first part of the museum, the exhibit continued across the street, at the building that was formerly a boarding house from which MLK Jr. was shot by James Earl Ray. This part of the exhibit focuses on the investigation of the assassination, including the web of evidence that led to the eventual capture and conviction of James Earl Ray and the alternate theories of the crime that were investigated and later disproven.
All in all, I had a fantastic time in Memphis. Next year, the conference is in Toronto. If I can afford it, I will be there!