NERFA Music Concert
By Richard Skelly
If you’re an acoustic blues musician or a budding singer-songwriter, looking to take your talents to the next level, you should know about a great organization that has been in existence for more than 25 years now, Folk Alliance. Previously called the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance, the group is comprised of acoustic and low-volume electric music enthusiasts from all over Canada and the U.S. This includes solo, duo, trio, quartets and much larger ensembles. Folk Alliance gatherings typically present a healthy dose of ethnic folk groups as well, including Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Irish and Scottish Americans, and dozens of other ethnic groups. In fact, at the international Folk Alliance gathering held every year in two massive hotels in Kansas City, one can find groups from every major ethnic group.
Fabled, late, legendary Philadelphia DJ Gene Shay first urged me to join Folk Alliance back in 1991-92. I finally got around to it in 1993, and my first conference/festival was in Boston in February of 1994. A fellow DJ at WRSU, Mark Corso and I, made the quick drive to Boston to the downtown hotel and spent the next three days at showcases and small concerts in the hotel’s rooms and many smaller ballrooms.
Folk Alliance grew so big so quickly that sub-chapters were formed in the 1990’s, including Southeast Regional, Southwest Regional and Northeast Regional Chapters. One of the strongest chapters with booming membership from the get-go was the Northeast Regional Chapter, as many fans and volunteers from the Philadelphia Folk Festival – where Shay was a co-founder of the festival and beloved M.C. for five decades – jumped on board and got involved with Folk Alliance.
I recall a number of friends and I did get out of the hotel for some fresh February Boston air by getting over to House of Blues in Boston one night, where the featured act was Roscoe Gordon. This would mark my one and only time meeting and seeing this brilliant blues man in concert. Interestingly, he is buried in Linden, N.J. in the same cemetery where the late great blues-rock guitarist Bernie Brausewetter is buried. Teo Landesmeyer, Johnny “Clyde” Copeland’s keyboardist for many years, had relocated to Boston and worked as House of Blues entertainment manager for a number of years in the 1990’s, bringing in a wide array of talent from all across the blues spectrum. Gordon had a role in influencing so many pioneering reggae musicians, because reggae music began to take shape in Kingston, Jamaica in the early 60’s, when it was then – don’t know if it still is—popular to listen to FM radio stations from New Orleans.
Last year’s Folk Alliance gathering, based at the Berkeley –Carteret Hotel in Asbury Park, also used nearby clubs like the Stone Pony for musical showcases. Singer-songwriter-jazzman-classical composer-conductor and multi-instrumentalist David Amram was presented with a lifetime achievement award from authorities at NERFA last November. NERFA is held annually, always on Veterans’ Day Weekend, so people traveling from states like Maine and New Hampshire have some travel time. Past NERFA gatherings have been held at resorts or larger hotel complexes in the Poconos, Connecticut and New York State.
Last year at the Stone Pony and in showcase rooms at the Berkeley-Carteret Hotel, I witnessed a huge array of talented musicians from all over the Northeast. Among the impressive acts I witnessed at both venues were the Kemp Harris Group, Billy Woodward, Rees Shad & The Conversations, Joseph Alton Miller, Ned Gaine and Larry Kaufman and his group. Longtime New Jersey –New York folk singers Rik Palieri and Rik Nestler were also in attendance and the Berkeley’s smaller conference rooms hosted many informal jam sessions as well as educational seminars that ran the gamut from how to use the internet to promote your band or venue to various approaches to recording, touring and performing on a range of differing budgets.
This year’s Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference will take over the Berkeley-Carteret Hotel on the waterfront in Asbury Park from Thursday, Nov. 9 through Sunday, Nov. 12. It’s not too late to register and get tickets and the hotel may not yet be sold out, either.
All kinds of answers to common questions for musicians, venue operators, radio DJ’s, producers, concert promoters and just plain fans of acoustic blues and folk music can be found on the organization’s website: www.nerfaconference.org. All conference participants are listed in an online directory for easy follow-up with people you’ve met or hung out with at the gathering.