NERFA Report

The Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) is a regional affiliate of Folk Alliance International (FAI) and holds an annual music business conference in Stamford, Connecticut each November.

This year I attended as a Singer-Songwriter and Performer, and also as a Folk DJ, since I am co-host of a radio show called Folk Talk, a weekly 1 hour folk music & talk radio show hosted by Rik Palieri on WBTV-LP 99.3 FM, Sundays @ 4PM.

The Rix
The Rix

Other things I did differently from my first NERFA, last year:

  • Came as early as possible on Thursday and stayed through lunch Sunday.
  • I got an exhibit hall table, which I shared with The Rix, and which also served for promoting Folk Talk, as Rik Palieri, the host, is a member of The Rix duo. Our table was next to Zoe Mulford, who has appeared on our radio show, and it was a delight to get to talk with her and her husband.
  • I have physical CD’s of my new album, Common Man Blues, and was able to give it to DJ’s with a Track Card and Press Release folded and tucked inside the CD sleeve.
  • I bought the extra meals and made time for at least one nap.
Zoe Mulford
Zoe Mulford

I also did something NOT recommended: I seriously cut one of my fingers on my right hand carelessly reaching into my bag (shaving razor got loose) and had to detour on the way to an urgent care facility to properly bandage it up, as the single band-aid I had in the car could not contain the flow of blood. I had a GIANT bandage on the ring finger of my right hand.

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Comically Oversized Bandage

I attended a songwriter swap called “Unsung Songwriters” with my hand like that, and was glad I had the ukulele! I was able to swap the comically-oversized bandage for two normal fabric ones and at least I didn’t look as weird playing. Good thing I use my thumb and index finger for most picking!

Jason Baker and Alice Hasen
Jason Baker and Alice Hasen

Another new thing: playing a guerrilla showcase with a new accompanist with a single rehearsal! A violinist named Alice Hasen put out on the NERFA Talk Facebook group that she was available to join other artists in their showcases, so I, and apparently a lot of other people, took her up on it. She did a phenomenal job on everything she played on, and her own showcases were delightful! I was very excited to meet a young musician of this caliber, and although she is based out of Memphis now, she is originally from Shelburne, Vermont, up in my neck of the woods, so I am hopeful we will get to work together in the future.

Murder Ballads on a all-metal, round-neck resonator!
Murder Ballads on a all-metal, round-neck resonator!

Another way I stepped out of my comfort zone was signing up for the Crab Donkey “Murder Ballads” showcase. I specifically learned two songs for this: “Stagger Lee” and “Banks of the Ohio” and played them on a round-neck, all-metal resonator guitar on loan from Rik Palieri.

The showcases wrapped up, in classic NERFA style, at 3 AM, but we had people singing along even at that hour!

Vance Gilbert harasses Alice Howe and Freebo while my showcase buddies Susan & Ray look on…

Workshops I attended included Vance Gilbert‘s Performance Workshop (as usual, pure genius, not long enough) a DJ workshop about new digital platforms, and a workshop by Liz Stookey-Sunde, Founder of Music to Life, about connecting activism and music.

Hoping to get Vance to come up to Burlington to do his workshop and maybe a show. Also hoping to connect with Liz at Music to Life to develop a plan for a “Social Change Music Academy” concept.

“Folk Talk” is already part of the offerings on Folk Music Notebook, a new 24-hour folk music internet radio station created by Ron Olesko, DJ and Founder of  “Traditions”, now WFDU-FM’s longest running program.

NERFA is an interesting opportunity to connect with the community in a way that is different from the rest of the year, and I look forward to the next one!

What’s a NERFA?

Well, according to their website:

“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!