We all know the saying, “It takes a village.” In the folk music community, village means a global community.
This is exemplified by the digital festival “Folk Unlocked” which takes place from February 22-26. It features over a thousand performers offering over 800 hours of music. The musicians represent each of the 50 states and 30 countries throughout the globe. It is one of the largest virtual concerts – ever.
“Folk Unlocked” is part of the annual convention of Folk Alliance International. It is an important music industry conference that features panels, workshops and free exchanges of ideas about marketing, finance and talent.
Sarah Craig, the executive director of Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, calls it “the most important conference for independent acoustic folk and pop artists.” One reason for its importance is the opportunity to see new talent.
An important part of the 5-day meeting has been giving exposure to performers. The multiple, simultaneous showcases were a constant presence which venues, agents and recording companies could attend in the convention’s hotel.
This move to digital is an extension and enlargement of those in-person showcases. For a suggested donation, a donor will have access to all the 800 hours of talent on display.
And, it’s all for a good cause. All donations will go to Folk Alliance International’s charity, Village Fund. They have already given 200 $500 grants to folk musicians and industry professionals in financial need. This event promises to greatly enlarge that initial $100,000 support.
Without question, the move to digital is a very positive asset for music lovers. It offers an opportunity to discover new acts and actually overdose on an abundance of music. Still, very few people, especially within the industry, think digital performances are as effective as is the live experience, Craig included.
She is appreciative of the positive aspects of the event saying, “I thank all those who organized it, and those who are contributing content to it and I look forward to connecting virtually with my community as a participant.”
However, she calls it a “stopgap measure that is the best available option under the circumstances.” This opinion is based on the fear that the virtual experience might become accepted as an alternative to live performances. It’s her attitude that though creating music is mostly a solitary act, it is inherently non-solitary in performance and demands a live audience.
“Folk Unlocked” will be a mix of live and recorded shows that run at various lengths ranging from 20-minutes to an hour in length. The acts include familiar national acts like Los Lobos, Terrance Simien, The McCrary Sisters and Keb Mo. Joining them will be regional groups that represent various genres of folk music.
One local group is Honeysuckle, from Ballston Spa. The duo consists of Holly McGarry and Chris Bloniarz. They call their style “progressive folk,” which means they blend older influences with modern effects and inspiration. They’ve been performing professionally for 10 years at venues throughout the country, including Caffe Lena in Saratoga.
They attended and performed at the Folk Alliance conference about 4 years ago, and it remains a vivid memory.
McGarry recalls it “as an amazing experience.” She says that besides doing their showcases they also saw many other groups perform. From a business point of view, the event presented them an opportunity to meet people in all aspects of the business – venue managers, agents and representatives from recording companies.
This year they have one slot. They are performing at 11 p.m. Monday, February 22. Though it’s their only appearance, McGarry finds solace that this set is 25-minutes long. At the convention they attended they had only a 5-minute set, which they performed 16 times. Obviously, a longer set offers an opportunity to show more range and a variety of music.
About their music, McGarry describes it as an emotionally-based positive force that urges moving forward, even after negative experiences. She believes a power of story-telling through music is that it permits people to realize their problems are shared problems. She adds that in this time of isolation because of COVID, that’s especially helpful.
Moving forward is an appropriate sentiment for “Folk Unlocked.” It’s not what the majority of performers, or even audiences, prefer. But it is an amazing opportunity for the public to find new favorite entertainers. Plus, it helps provide financial aid to those in need and keeps the art form healthy until music can be safely played at live performances.
To register for “Folk Unlocked” go to folk.org/showcasedonation
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.