When Folk Alliance International first held a conference in Kansas City in 2014, musicians and onlookers were blown away.
“I had someone from Hungary, Argentina, Mexico, someone representing Ireland and West Africa, Cuba,” musician Beau Bledsoe told KCUR of directing. a panel on world music. “I was able to play with people from all over the world.”
The event combines workshops and networking events with formal concerts and intimate late-night performances in hotel rooms – featuring world-class musicians.
“If you go up to the hotel rooms for the private shows, there are guitars, basses and violins littering the hallways and in every room,” musician Jacob Prestidge told KCUR, “and that is just kind of a crazy, fun festival – vibe.”
The organization’s annual conference rotates to different cities. But Kansas City is hosting the event from Wednesday through Saturday (and again in 2023 and 2024) at the Westin Crown Center Hotel.
This year, due to COVID, it is a hybrid conference with a mix of in-person events and virtual performances with approximately 130 artists presenting showcases. And, with attendance capped at 2,000, there aren’t as many opportunities for audiences to sample the music.
Here are three ways to enter anyway:
1. Stay up all night looking at virtual storefronts
Conference registration is capped at 2,000 in-person (community members are welcome to volunteer), and attendance is at capacity.
But there is no limit for virtual access and it is paid, free of charge for ISP members and from $50 for non-members.
The conference offers two types of showcases: official and private. Officials are 30-minute sets on full production stages. The private ones are more intimate and “transform hotel rooms into listening rooms”.
Official virtual showcases will be available to stream via Pathable, the virtual conferencing platform, Wednesday through Saturday, 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. CST.
The Westin Crown Center Hotel’s official window displays will be “shown and filmed in full production at the host hotel’s ballrooms and later released for online attendees.”
Other online offerings include The Black Opry Hour, Thursday through Saturday, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
According to conference organizers, most of the in-person content — from panels to networking sessions to official and private showcases — will be made available online.
Limited in-person volunteer opportunities may still be available for people aged 16 and over. And perks include free conference registration.
Proof of vaccination is required, as well as wearing a mask during conference activities and in conference spaces.
According to the FAI website: “In order to create a safe and comfortable environment for all, we have taken into consideration our many international participants who have testing requirements to cross borders, and those who are at high risk of complications from the COVID-19. This is why we have chosen to continue to require masks at our event, despite the host city or hotel not having a mask mandate in place.
Virtual volunteers are also sought after with skills in “hosting/facilitating online meetings (and) troubleshooting online meeting issues.”
If you’re not needed this time around, check back in February 2023 or 2024 when Kansas City hosts the conference again.
3. Go to the Sunday folk festival — it’s free
In 2016, FAI launched a child-friendly event open to the public called the Kansas City Folk Festival. The festival continues, but this year marks its first as a new community-led organization.
Look for national, international, and Kansas City-based musicians such as Nilko Andreas and Friends, Just Angel, Elexa Dawson, Charly Lowry, Ani Mal, Cary Morin, Nina Ricci, Mac Sauce, plus tales of Philip Blue Owl Hooser.
The Sunday festival from noon to 6 p.m. also features arts, crafts, food trucks and painting at Washington Square Park, located near the Crown Center. It’s free, although donations are welcome.