We had our first taste of the Folk Alliance experience last night. The event is unusual in that all of the showcase gigs (which form about 50 per cent of the event) happen in the actual hotel rooms – so you wander along the corridor on floor 11 and there’s a folk trio with an accordion in room 1179, and next door there’s a ballad singer from Ohio with a keyboard.
Two doors along the corridor from that there’s a room devoted solely to artists from Alberta, where they hand you a Steamwhistle beer and you sit down and listen to everything from mother & daughter harmony trios to hard-time honky-tonk bards.
It’s a great leveller, actually. No matter how many albums you’ve put out, or how good your publicity is, or how great thy beard, you still have to stand up against the curtains with no amplification, in a poorly-lit hotel bedroom and play your songs to the 12 or 14 people who have squeezed in, sitting on the bed or a few assembled chairs. It’s like a rolling audition.
And of course you can NEVER tell – the guy with the cool pork pie hat and the expensive guitar produces three of the most leaden songs I’ve ever heard. I was actually in the act of forgetting them right as he was singing them. But the bewildered looking skinny girl with a mandolin has material you’d give your right arm for.
And the corridors are filled with all kinds of folk refugees – from white haired veterans with ponytails and baseball caps down to bearded Mumford-alikes in Converse sneakers and tweed.
Meanwhile, the ‘official’ gigs are happening downstairs in the hotel conference suites. The Delta Chelsea has a second floor that is nothing but conference rooms of various sizes. Over the course of the next few days, everyone from Sam Baker to Judy Collins will perform here. And we will divide our time between these gigs and the crowded corridors upstairs.
Outside Toronto gleams in the winter sunshine. It’s icy cold here, but the pavements and roads are clear and we’re right downtown, with lots of restaurant and coffee choices if you want to get away from stringed instruments for a while.
We’ve discovered a little eggs & sausage diner down the street from the hotel, and it has become an unofficial Folk Alliance breakfast hangout spot. Everybody’s handing each other fliers over their waffles and coffee.
We’re working the rooms, and constantly bumping into opportunity – this guy runs a series of house concerts, that person books a festival in Colorado. This one has an online radio station looking for new content. And we’re constantly picking up people’s contact details and finding out what they’re looking for – the hard work will be piecing together a plan from all of this when we get home.