“NERFA is the northeast regional afiliate of Folk Alliance International (www.folk.org), a Kansas City, MO-based nonprofit organization that seeks to nurture, engage and empower the international folk music community — traditional and contemporary, amateur and professional — through education, advocacy and performance. Our goal is to provide opportunities for our members to network regionally and advance the overall mission of Folk Alliance International to:
- Increase understanding of the rich variety, artistic value, cultural and historical significance, and continuing relevance of folk music among educators, media and the general public. (Education),
- Provide a bridge to and from folk music organizations and needed resources, and to help those organizations link with their constituencies. (Networking),
- Influence decision-makers and resource providers on the national, state, provincial, and local levels — ensuring the growth of folk music. (Advocacy),
- Support and encourage the development of new and existing grassroots folk music organizations. (Field Development),
- Strengthen the effectiveness of folk music organizations by providing professional development opportunities. (Professional Development).
To help accomplish these goals, NERFA holds an annual four-day conference where artists, agents, booking agents, venue and festival promoters, recording industry professionals, graphic artists, folk DJs, journalists, photographers, publicists and production professionals get together to exchange ideas, learn by attending workshops, panel discussions and seminars, participate in an exhibit hall, attend formal showcases of juried performing artists, and go to private and guerilla showcases hosted by performers, agents and promoters. NERFA has expanded its outreach by holding more local one-day conferences within its region, as well as NERFA Showcase concerts at venues around the region and NERFA Presents Young Folk showcases at various festivals in both the U.S. and Canada.”
Guess who went to NERFA for the first time?
Yes, I decided to see if this industry conference lived up to it’s reputation, and found that it does!
Although I was not selected for Formal or Semi-Formal Showcases, there is a proliferation of “guerrilla” showcases that take place in hotel rooms on a designated floor. These are unamplified, acoustic performances in intimate settings for small groups of people. Although I was late to the game, I still ended up with four “guerrillas”, the first on Friday afternoon at 4, the last one “late Saturday night”, really Sunday AM at 2:45. These were fun and well-received.
There was also an “open mic” on Saturday afternoon that I took part in, playing a ukulele on two of my songs, including a new one.
Brushes with fame:
I got to meet the keynote speaker, Dar Williams, and compliment her on her recently published book, “What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities—One Coffee Shop, Dog Run, and Open-Mike Night at a Time“, and she very politely agreed to take a picture with me!
I met Reggie Harris, a songwriter who is known as an activist as much as a performing artist, and who led a workshop on addressing social issues in music.
I got to meet up with David Amram for the first time in 25 years, and was able to spend time with him working on a new song of mine, a blues song loosely based on “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Copland. He helped me whip it into a 12-bar!
I got to chat with Mike Agranoff, a folk legend to me, who told me about how he ended up on the cover of a famous folk magazine because he was giving Arlo Guthrie an imprompto Concertina lesson.
The Real Treasure of NERFA:
Beyond the opportunity to perform for industry folks and comrade artists, there is the most important part of a conference like this: all the amazing people you meet!
Meeting fellow artists, hearing them perform, talking about all that is happening at the conference and more.. it’s a BIG experience. Meeting people who book or promote folk music was a real treat, and finding out about their role and what they are there for was fascinating and instructive. No matter what the reason for being there, so many people were worth meeting, listening to, getting to know, that it’s “an embarrassment of riches” so to speak. What a great community!