My second full day (and night) of music at Folk Alliance began a bit after noon with "The Social Music Hour," organized by Mark Miller of the band Spuyten Duyvil, to emphasize the shared connections of old time music, and featuring shifting, fluid combinations of artists and bands. I got there just a bit late, but in time to catch most of the workshop, including a rollicking version of Greenback Dollar by the band Roosevelt Dime joined by the trio Red Molly. Canadian roots musician Ken Whitely joined Red Molly for the version of Come on in My Kitchen by the band's dobro player, Abbie Gardner. Raising the roof was Spuyten Duyvil, on a high-energy version of One Fine Day, followed by their exciting version of Shady Grove, where they were joined by The Stray Birds. Another highlight was the Stray Birds, joined by Mike & Ruthy, for a very old timey version of Sow 'Em on the Mountain, followed by all hands on stage for I'll Fly Away, with most in the audience joining in -and with so many musicians in every audience, Folk Alliance sing-alongs are usually very high quality.
Spuyten Duyvil - "Shady Grove"
From there, I caught a few of the small showcases that occur in mid-afternoon, starting with Antje Duvekot, who did not let her harmonica holder breaking in the middle of the song keep her from a lovely version of Sleepy Sea of Indigo and Blue. Also impressive: her song Vertigo, about overcoming fear and fear of intimacy. Next up, the wonderful Canadian (originally from Scotland), David Francey, a wonderful singer and very perceptive songwriter, who leaves the musical instruments to others; here a guitarist I did not know plus the fine Chris Coole on banjo. Four of the five songs in this set were brand new, with some being performed in public for the first time. Pandora's Box was inspired by Francey's 90-year-old mother and what she has witnessed in her lifetime, while Cheap Motel was a funny yet pointed commentary on some of the lodgings traveling musicians get to endure. Here, as elsewhere, Francey shows the knack for using spare lyrics which still are very descriptive. Both the other new songs, Weather Vane and A Star Above, were also quite wonderful, before Francey closed with an older song, Long, Long Road, which I heard a number of people humming to themselves on the way out of the room.
A quick dash down the hall to catch old friend Catie Curtis, whose six song set included two brand new ones, including a co-write with Kristin Hall (founder of Sugarland) called Maybe Tomorrow, and one by Catie inspired by playing at an inaugural ball, where she was supposed to follow Queen Latifah, who didn't show and Catie got shoved out in front of the crowd far sooner than she expected. She closed with the gorgeous song Magnolia Street, with its evocative description of that specific time and place where you know you have fallen in love.
After an interlude for schmoozing in the exhibit hall and the lobby, and a quick dinner, it was time for the larger "Performance Alley" showcases, running from 6 to 10:30 p.m. Though I had gotten a tiny taste of them the night I arrived, I made sure to catch the main showcase by The Stacks, with one time Duhks' fiddler Tania Elizabeth and guitarist (both acoustic and electric) and singer-songwriter Andy Stack. From up-tempo fiddle tunes, to original songs, and Cajun and French Canadian music, The Stacks put on a nicely eclectic set, rather mirroring the whole conference in that regard.
Some 15 years ago, by my guess, Cape Breton singer Mary Jane Lamond dropped by the old KANU studios and visited with me on Trail Mix about the traditional Gaelic songs and fiddle music of Cape Breton. It was fun to see her in performance here together with noted Cape Breton fiddler Wendy MacIsaac, guitarist Seth Peters, and award-winning musician Cathy Porter on accordion and percussion for a set which encompassed haunting Gaelic song, lively fiddle tunes, and an exciting closer with MacIsaac's clogging to Lamond's mouth music. I stayed Canadian for my next showcase choice, a duo of dobro player Ivan Rosenberg and clawhammer banjo master Chris Coole. Highlights included a very bluesy, mournful version of Sail Away Ladies, a quite funny song by Coole about the low pay of musicians playing bar dates, 100 Dollars, and a terrific version of Bill Monroe's instrumental, Old Dangerfield.
I barely squeezed into the largest showcase room for sets by Amy Speace and Dar Williams, both of which were superb. Speace, backed by guitar (acoustic and electric) and cello, focused on songs from her forthcoming April CD release, How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat. Based on what I heard, this looks to be a sure bet for my list of best CDs of 2013, and the song The Sea to the Shore, co-written with Robby Hecht, and sung as a duet with John Fullbright on the CD, is one of the finest I heard the entire conference, with its conversation between the sea and shore. Other highlights were the quietly powerful Lullaby Under the Willow, a terrific song co-written with Mary Gauthier, called You Left Me Hanging, and an intense, spooky murder ballad, Hunter Moon.
Dar Williams - "I Am The One Who Will Remember Everything"
Dar Williams, backed by a fine young pianist in New York City’s jazz world, Bryn Roberts, gave a superb overview of songs from her nearly two decades on the scene, including the high-energy, powerful song As Cool As I Am, the haunting If I Wrote You, and the intense I Am the One Who Remembers Everything, from her latest CD, In the Time of Gods. I was quite stunned when Dar singled me out from stage for being very supportive of her when she first started singing After All, a song she had great doubts about performing, as it was such a personal song about depression that she feared people would not understand it. I didn't even know Dar knew I was in the room. A fitting song to follow that was Mercy of the Fallen, and by request, Dar went back to the early days of her career with February and When I Was a Boy. As a highly knowledgeable music veteran said to me right after the set, she's still the gold standard.
Rose Cousins - "The Darkness"
From there, it was the late night crazy quilt of the private showcases, filling three floors of hotel rooms with roughly 40 simultaneous showcases, with mostly 20- to 30-minute sets, from 10:30 until after 3. I saw bits and pieces of quite a few, but the two highlights of the wee hours came in the Canadian Sweet Beaver Suite, from songwriter Rose Cousins and the trio called Dry Bones. Cousins, who I first heard several years ago at a Folk Alliance conference, reminded me yet again why she is one of my favorite young singer-songwriters, with powerful songs like The Darkness, White Daisies and a stunning version of All the Stars.
I had no idea what to expect from Dry Bones, with Duhks banjo player Leonard Podolak, folk-rocker J.D. Edwards, and Nathan Rogers, son of folk legend Stan Rogers. That is a good thing, because whatever I expected probably would have been wrong. They did an upbeat, edgy song called the Lone Shark Blues, two songs with lead vocals by Edwards, and then a wild Prohibition era song about "weed and cocaine" with a 1920s jazz style, complete with banjo and kazoo solos - with a charleston-like choreographed hambone dance by Podolak and Edwards to Rogers' kazoo playing. Like I said, not what I even could have imagined, but great fun, and a good way to close out the night.