I have been attending the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference (NERFA) since the late 1990s. This annual gathering of artists, DJs, promoters, presenters and fans has been a gathering that has a profound influence on me. NERFA provides an opportunity to meet with old friends, hear “new” artists and to experience performers I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing in person. In addition, the workshops, peer groups and general schmoozing that take place at NERFA exposes me to new ideas and sounds. It goes without saying that NERFA helps guide me when producing my radio show or booking the Hurdy Gurdy Folk Music Club. It is also an enjoyable family gathering where all are welcome.
One of the highlights of any NERFA is the Formal Showcase. Held over two nights, a number of artists are selected by a jury of DJs, presenters and folk music shakers and movers. I had the honor of serving on the committee for several years, so I know how difficult the task can be. Several hundred performers apply and the judges have to select a handful that represent the contemporary folk scene. The artists are performing for their peers plus a contingent of venue operators, festival organizers, DJs, agents, press and others who help promote this genre.
The 2017 NERFA Conference will be held November 9 through 12 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut. The lineup for the Formal Showcase has been announced:
FORMAL SHOWCASE ARTISTS
Andrew Collins Trio
Bettman & Halpin
Mari Black and The World Fiddle Ensemble
The Early Mays
The End of America
Rod MacDonald & Mark Dann
Aeaders few names on the list should be recognizable to contemporary folk fans. Emma’s Revolution, David Roth and Sloan Wainwright are veteran artists who set standards for both their writing and performances. Groups like The End of America and The Early Mays are more recent additions to the community, but they are quickly gaining attention by word of mouth and critical acclaim.
While the singer-songwriter community continues to dominate contemporary folk music, the judges at NERFA should be commended for putting together a group of artists that on paper at least, represent the diverse makeup of our folk community. While the NERFA formal Showcase includes a number of singer-songwriters who represent alt-folk, Americana and whatever label you would like to place on contemporary stylings, this year’s list also shows the continuing influence of roots and traditional styles. The melding of these folk styles create unique contemporary sounds that reflect the creativity of the artists and the makeup of the community they serve.
This year’s NERFA showcase includes a number of performers that I am anxious to see for the first time, based on their reputations and music that I have heard from recordings. A few artists that I am particularly looking forward to seeing for the first time:
Mari Black and the World Fiddle Ensemble – an ensemble that blends a variety of fiddle styles – celtic, klezmer, jazz, tango and energetic original tunes, all are geared to get audiences on their feet.
Elage Diouf – a native of Senegal who has been living in Canada since 1996. A percussionist and singer-songwriter whose resume includes touring with Cirgue du Soleil’s Deliur show, Diouf blends pop, blues, folk and world music and has released two solo albums that have received enthusiastic critical response.
The Andrew Collins Trio – a group from Toronto that weaves bluegrass, jazz, celtic and classical music.
There are always surprises galore at NERFA. Each year I leave NERFA thinking that it can’t get any better, but the following year always exposes me to something new and exciting. Folk music is alive and well, and NERFA is a gathering that helps perpetuate and grow our community. For more information, visit their website at www.nerfa.org.