Folks for the Folks 

A civilian's guide to the International Folk Alliance Conference.

The International Folk Alliance Conference convenes at the Marriott Memphis downtown Wednesday, February 18th, through Sunday, February 22nd. It's the third consecutive Memphis conference since the Folk Alliance relocated its headquarters to Memphis, and it will bring musicians, label owners, producers, publicists, journalists, and other music-industry insiders from across the continent to Memphis.

The conference kicks off in a big way with a Thursday-morning keynote address from former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn, who will then be interviewed by acclaimed critic Dave Marsh. There will also be high-profile interviews with country great Charlie Louvin and guitar sideman extraordinaire James Burton.

Among the notable artists slated to perform at official showcases and other events throughout the conference are Rodney Crowell, Kathy Mattea, John Sebastian, Bela Fleck, and punk legend Tommy Ramone's bluegrass band Uncle Monk.

Memphis will also be on display, with a wide range of local artists — including Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jim Dickinson, William Lee Ellis, and Valerie June — performing and with the Folk Alliance busing attendees to must-sees such as Graceland, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and Al Green's Full Gospel Tabernacle.

Most of the activity is restricted to conference attendees (registration is $375 for Folk Alliance members and $750 for nonmember), but the Alliance is partnering with three local venues for several public concerts. If you're not a conference registrant, here's where you can go for a slice of the action:

Friday, February 20th

Center for Southern Folklore — Act of Congress, Deering & Down, and Stacey Earle & Mark Stuart play a free show (donations to the Memphis Food Bank requested). Act of Congress is an acoustic roots-pop quartet from Birmingham in the vein of crossover stars Nickel Creek. Earle (who is Steve Earle's sister) and Stuart are a twangy Tennessee-based folk-country husband-and-wife duo. Rounding out the bill are locals Deering & Down, whose guitar-vocal interplay has lots of classic-rock echoes.

Hi-Tone Café — Dynamic Canadian folk-rock quintet the Duhks are one of the genre's breakout bands of the past decade. They'll be headlining a three-band bill at the Hi-Tone that also features Philly-based indie-roots band Hoots & Hellmouth and local bluegrass band 2 Mule Plow. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $10.

Otherlands Coffee Bar — Longtime local fixture Jimmy Davis (formerly of Jimmy Davis & Junction and the Riverbluff Clan) will host a song-swap with assorted performers in town for the conference. Showtime is 8 p.m. Admission is $5.

Saturday, February 21st

Center for Southern Folklore  Featuring fiddle, banjo, and washboard, the New York-based Ebony Hillbillies are a rare sight these days: an African-American traditional swing band. They'll evoke one of Memphis' most important but least celebrated musical legacies by evoking such classic Memphis string bands as the Memphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers. Joining them at the Center for Southern Folklore are a couple of locals: Valerie June, purveyor of self-described "organic moonshine folk music," and blues revivalist Andy Cohen. The show is free, with donations to the Memphis Food Bank requested.

Hi-Tone Café Ian McLagan was classic-rock royalty as the keyboard player for the Small Faces (later just Faces), the band that launched Rod Stewart to stardom. After a minor solo career and work as a session player for heavyweights like Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and Bruce Springsteen, McLagan has settled down in Austin and put together a touring/recording outfit known as the Bump Band. McLagan & the Bump Band will wander over from the conference for a Hi-Tone set alongside likeminded locals Jack O & the Tearjerkers. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 day of show.

Otherlands Coffee Bar — Memphis ex-pat Cory Branan takes over host duties from Jimmy Davis for Saturday night's show at Otherlands. The now Austin-based Branan came home early for a show in Oxford, Mississippi. He said he doesn't know yet which "friends" will be joining him at Otherlands, so there's no telling. Showtime is 8 p.m. Admission is $5.

Sunday, February 22nd

Otherlands Coffee Bar — Just as alt-country has sometimes been a haven for former Nashville hopefuls uninterested in playing that game (Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam, etc.), the folk/roots scene his lately become a comfortable resting place for aging alt-rockers — an arena of similar idiosyncrasy and musical authenticity at a lower volume. You won't find a better tribute to that than this terrific double-bill at Otherlands.

The opener is Uncle Monk, a bluegrass duo consisting of Claudia Tienan (formerly of the band the Simplistics) and Tommy Ramone (of the Ramones, natch), the lone living original member of arguably punk's most important band. The headliner is the duo Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, who collaborated in the semi-classic early-'80s college-rock band the dB's before Stamey left the band and Holsapple became the principal frontman. Holsapple then went on to a varied career as a sideman/auxiliary member of both R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish and then as one of the leaders of the New Orleans roots-rock band the Continental Drifters, which served as a sturdy, elegant musical safehouse/career resurgence for former members of the Dream Syndicate, the Bangles, and the Cowsills. Showtime is 8 p.m. Admission is $8.

International Folk Alliance Conference

Wednesday-Sunday, February 18th-22nd

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