Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Gathering of Folk

The OCFF (Ontario Council of Folk Festivals) Conference is a gathering of 600+ folkies, mostly young, earnest folksingers trying to get the attention of a handful of festival producers and a few other presenters. I didn't recognize hardly anybody on the list of "official" showcases but there are lots of other showcases, some sponsored by organizations like the Blues Society or Folk Music Canada and then many other "guerilla" showcases in hotel rooms, just a guy and a guitar with (maybe) a few people listening.I was parachuted in to host the Blues Society's official workshop when Danny Marks called in sick. I got to play a few tunes in between the showcasers and I believe I had a "moment" or two. As "band coach" Tom Jackson preaches at Music Week and/or NXNE, our job as artists is to "create moments" and it's true, that's what people take away with them.

The folk community's answer to Tom Jackson is Vance Gilbert and he's full of tips about how to stand and hold your guitar and he had the best quote of the week-end, "you'll get a lot richer selling guitars than playing guitars." I had never seen him in action - he's hilarious. I didn't get to take in much of the daytime activities since I was staying up so late and driving back and forth from Mississauga to TO. Friday night I didn't make it home till 6am.

I enjoyed playing bass at the 3am Campfire in HOTCHA's suite and didn't realize 'till after, that some of the folks that dropped in were big deals in their home territories (ie Australia). Bev was playing a solid snare and Howard had some great material that is not part of the usual HOTCHA repertoire. We rocked.

There were panels for first-timers, mentoring sessions, how to get your music into film & TV (don't bother, it's a closed shop) and getting an agent and manager (don't call us, we'll call you). One of the highlights was a photo exhibit from the golden age of coffee-houses. What a treat to see folks I knew looking so young and fresh (sort of like most of the attendees at the conference).

Here's me standing next to a pic of Allan Fraser & Sue Lothrop (aka Breakfast) who I managed in the 60s.

After the photo exhibit I slipped up to Russ Kelley's room with Sue and Bill Garrett and we had a wonderful session swapping songs from 40 years ago - one of which I didn't even remember writing (thank goodness Sue wrote it down)

The blues, neither the showcase nor the jam, were a big draw for the folkies, regrettable because it's such a big part of folk music - but maybe it's kinda like a poor cousin. No respect and not much interest. One of the official showcases was Sue Foley and Peter Karp and I got there in time to hear one acoustic tune and one electric tune. Karp did all the talking and most of the singing. Not very bluesy to my ears and short on the "Three E's" - Energy, Emotion and Engagement (hey, I just made this up).

Before them, I saw a tune by a singer-songwriter who looked good but sounded kinda generic to me. His name was Ian Sherwood and I mention him because a little bit later CBC honcho Ann MacKeigan came up and said "did you hear that guy?" I said I heard only one tune but she was admitedly quite touched by this guy's music. So there you go. If you ever get discouraged because there's only 20 people in a room that holds 200, remember one of them might be Ann MacKeigan. That's the nature of "industry showcases" like this.

I didn't apply for any showcase, never have, and it's my feeling that showcasing at this (and most) music conferences is not really worth it unless people already want to see you (I'll let you know when I get there). If you keep applying over and over you might eventually get accepted but then you will be put in a time slot that is not likely to have a lot of traffic It's up to you to bring your own traffic, like every other gig in the music business. A play at a big festival can look great in your press kit but what's the point if you're on the big stage at 11 in the morning before the audience gets there.

Following the event, I saw a lot of discussion on the internet about the "app" and I depended on it quite a bit because I didn't get my hands on a printed program book until Saturday when I collected my goodie bag. Many said last year's app was better - I can't compare because I didn't have a smartphone last year but I am a great admirer of Trevor Mills, who developed it. Both Trevor and Favequest, the quys who did this year's app, have created boilerplates so that they don't have to re-invent the wheel for every client. Of course, this means there will be limitations but it keeps the cost down. In the case of Favequest, they had 3 models and I think the one we used was the most basic (for which they charge $900/yr). The schedule was good but It had only bios for the "official" showcasers and in this age we expect every occurrence of an artist's name hot-linked to a bio/description. And while we're at it, each occurrence of a venue should be hot linked to a map/directions of how to get there. I got lost on the way to the conference centre and I got lost once I got there and was nearly late for my hosting duties.

Like all these events it's mostly musicians playing for musicians and what's wrong with that? It was a veritable love-in for the folk community.