The lobby in Kansas City’s Westin Hotel is full of folks: folks in jeans and glasses, folks in plaid and boots, folks on computers and cell phones, and folks lugging around various musical instruments. There are the dredlocked folks by the escalator, picking on guitar, fiddle, and banjo, and other folks just milling around, socializing. It’s the annual Folk Alliance International gathering, and everyone in the folk-loving world is here.
Sit still and watch for five minutes, and you’ll see record label executives like Compass’s Gary West walk by, followed by singer-songwriters like Tim Easton, Kristin Andreasson, and BettySoo. Grant Peeples is in town — he just happened to be passing through on his way to Oklahoma and Texas, and figured he’d swing by for the Folk Alliance.
Amidst all of this folks-centric chaos, I find myself seated in the corner of the hotel bar talking about music with Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, better known to most of these folks as the Milk Carton Kids. The duo have a record coming in May (more about that later) but as we talk about music, they suggest that talking about music — like writing about music — is, in and of itself, not a particularly interesting endeavor. They’re right, of course, and the topic intrigues me.. Just talking about music to talk about music is not all that compelling. But, we all seem to agree, there is something meaningful in discourse about music when it connects people, when folks are compelled to see something of themselves in the discourse, which can, in its own way, be a sort of art.
So, with that solved and all made clear, after about an hour (there’s much more to that story, which will also come later), we part ways and I emerge back out into the chaos, where I meet with another group of people, and then another, and the next thing I know, my entire first day at the Folk Alliance gathering has passed with me sitting on a chair somewhere, talking with folks.
It’s the kind of honest-to-goodness human stuff that drives this kind of music, and the community of people who make it, after all. The music itself will come later, in showcases, be they official or not, and in hotel rooms where people have pooled some money and thrown their own showcase. The music will come in the wee hours, when everyone has been talked out, when hands that were full of handshakes earlier in the day take to fretboards and bows. The music will come when there’s really nothing left to say, as it should.
If anyone’s wondering what the phrase “folk music” means anymore, that’s it right there.
I’m in Kansas City for three days at the annual Folk Alliance International gathering, and will be sharing daily reports in this space. I reckon tomorrow’s report will include a whole lot more of the actual “music” part of “folk music.”