SERFA RECAP

Southeastern Regional Folk Alliance was held May 15-19 in Chattanooga, TN. This was our first time attending a Folk Alliance Conference together. The executive director of SERFA is Art Menius. Art and Frank go way back. Art was a tour manager for The Freight Hoppers many years ago. We recently hired Art to help us promote Roll On, Clouds and Gourd Head to radio DJs. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to attend the conference and visit with him.

The idea of Folk Alliance conferences is to bring artists, DJS, concert presenters, and other industry professionals together. Performers apply for Official Showcases. We applied and were accepted, which was our personal condition for attending the expensive conference.

In addition to Official Showcases, performers can get booked for "guerrilla showcases". These occur late at night in private rooms hosted by different people. The max number of total showcases is 4. So were were able to do three guerrilla showcases in addition to our Official Showcase.

 

The conference was full of wonderful people and experiences we could have never expected.

Thursday

We had a parent-teacher-student conference for Willow at 1:00pm, so we hit the road after that. We listened to an audiobook, 13 Moons, which takes place around Valley River, Euchoria, Hanging Dog - some areas we drove through on the way.

We arrived too late to get our name badges at the registration table, but just in time to catch the end of the dinner buffet. We sat at the closest table with people at it. It took us a minute to realize it, but we were sitting with someone we'd just met a few weeks ago in Floyd, Virginia. It was Rachel from County Sales! She was there to showcase with her band After Jack. I am pretty sure I ran into their group or at least heard of them in my Whipstitch Sallies days also. Fun!

We stepped outside to read the program book and found Art Menius (right) and Al Kinola (left). Al is a DJ in Goshen, IN whom we've run into a few times. 

Rachel (right, banjo) and After Jack performing in their Official Showcase on Saturday night.

Next up in the Official Showcases was Andy Cohen. Andy is a blues guitar player and singer. He was part of our Benefit Festival for Amber Rogers back in March. He has done the Home Routes tours in Canada, which we are considering doing next year. Plus, he was one of the few traditional musicians at the conference. He lives in Memphis, so it was fun to hear him play a Memphis Minnie Song. I didn't video that one, thought. Here is a bit of his performance of "My Creole Belle."

We watched Rod Abernathy's showcase next. We were part of a slide guitar workshop with him at Fox Valley Festival in Illinois a few years ago. His style is much more contemporary than ours. He writes songs, some instrumental and some with vocals. I was sitting there thinking how much guts it would take to get up and sing such personal songs when he started singing one called "My Father Was A Quiet Man." What are these leaks coming out of my eyes? Weird! 

After Rod's showcase, we ducked out to get a drink of water and definitely not tissues. In doing so, we ran unto a smiley, dark-haired lady named Cara. Cara recognized us from when we played Spice on Snow Festival in Maine with The Freight Hoppers. She lives in Maine and is a fiddler. But that's not all...she also co-owns a historic sailboat with her partner. AND she is booking musicians to perform for a week on the boat! We will definitely be keeping in touch with Cara. Maybe in a few years we'll announce our Victory Chimes Cruise Tour!

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How beautiful is this ship! And how cute are they!

We spent a little time preparing for our first guerrilla showcase, which was scheduled for Matthew Sabatella's room.

 

Matthew is a traditional musician living in south Florida. He had also invited us to join him in his "300 Years of Banjo" presentation on Friday. So it was good to get to meet him and play in his showcase. He coordinated the whole "Traditional Music" track for the conference this year.

 

We had a small but attentive audience for our 4 songs in Matthew's room. We played "Travelin' Down This Lonesome Road," "Elkhorn Ridge," "Little Sadie," and "Stagger Lee." I think. Art popped in and took this picture.

Then we ambled down the hall to our next guerrilla showcase. This one was hosted by Denise and Rick Williams who live in Lebanon, TN. They had created a lovely backdrop for the stage!

We played "Turn Your Radio On," "The Farmer Is the Man," "Can't Nobody Hide From God," and "God Don't Like It."

I played Frank's guitar so that we didn't have to carry three guitars around. Frank tuned the metal guitar to standard for the first two songs and then back to open tuning for the blues piece.

We caught a few other guerrilla showcases before the long walk back to the van for the night. One was Jackson Grimm and Old Sap.

 

Jackson's dad is Tim Grimm, who is an actor and songwriter living in Allie's hometown Columbus, IN. Jackson is a songwriter who went to Warren-Wilson college in Asheville.

 

Old Sap (stage name) is Jackson' friend and is also a songwriter. He had a banjo he had made in a workshop with Patrick Heavener (Pisgah banjos near Asheville), so that was neat.

 

They back each other up on their songs. I'd say they have an Avett Brothers kind of sound. Indie folk-pop with banjo, guitar, and harmonies.

We turned in for the night and slept very well on the street in our trusty 1997 camper van!

Old Sap (left) and Jackson Grimm (right)

Friday

On Friday morning, we woke up and had to do some hurrying. We had purchased breakfast passes in advance, but not lunch passes. So we had to get to breakfast before it closed at 10:00am. We also had to move into our hotel room and then be ready to teach our banjo workshop at 10:00am. We couldn't find our breakfast passes, but thankfully since breakfast was about to close they let us in anyway.

Nine people showed up for our banjo workshop! This was more than we expected. Dean Robinson had let us borrow an extra banjo, so that was helpful (and it sounded great too!). One gentleman was willing to go with me to learn the basics, so we went down the hall to work on the basic strum while Frank taught "Twin Sisters," "Sandy Boys," "Careless Love," and "Reuben's Train".

Participants included Old Sap, Jackson Grimm, Matthew Sabatella, Hannah Roper, and Rachel Blankenship-Tucker.

At 11:30, it was time for Matthew's "300 Years of Banjo" presentation. Matthew had put together a very in-depth slideshow using resources such as the book Banjo Roots and BranchesHe brought a few interesting banjos also, including a reproduction of the first gourd banjo.

Frank had borrowed a Jeff Menzies gourd  banjo from our friend Jeff Delfield. He demonstrated its sound in the workshop. Watch the video to see the repro banjos and a cool slide from the presentation.

Matthew Sabatella. Photo by Mark Smith.

If you know of a conference, workshop, festival, or organization that might enjoy a "300 Years of Banjo (in 90 minutes!) presentation, get in touch with Matthew. It was really well-done and informative.

Then it was time for lunch, and since we hadn't purchased lunch through the conference, we decided to go off-campus. We found a little spot called Dos Bros and enjoyed a burrito and a taco salad while reviewing the program book. We also put some thought into our plan for our Official Showcase that night.

If you know of a conference, workshop, festival, or organization that might enjoy a "300 Years of Banjo (in 90 minutes!) presentation, get in touch with Matthew. It was really well-done and informative.

We did our sound check in record time and learned that we had 15 minutes exactly to share however many songs we could fit in. We hadn't been sure of the rules since every other Showcase had been three songs. We decided to shorten some of the pieces so that we could squeeze in more songs and more instruments.

Dinner was delicious. All the meals were delicious, with lots of options. Here's the room where we ate dinners.

After dinner, we went backstage to hang out and wait for our Showcase to begin. This turned out to be a good move because we got to visit with David Davis and the Warrior River Boys. Frank's known these fellows from the days of touring through Rounder Records. We had a blast visiting, hearing stories, and talking about our cats. Frank got to check out Robert's bowtie banjo.

The Warrior River Boys are a classic-sounding bluegrass band. They're currently touring in support of their new album on Rounder Records Didn't He Ramble: The Songs of Charlie Pool. We were excited to hear their arrangement of "Didn't He Ramble" because we've been singing it lately too.

Frank playing Robert's banjo while Stan the guitar player hangs out.

The crowd loved the Warrior River Boys' Official Showcase.

Our plan for our Official Showcase (aka 15 minutes of fame) was to play four songs. First up was "Gallows Pole," which we shortened by omitting the third verse. 

"Gallows Pole" video courtesy of Cara Lauzon.

Then was "Turn Your Radio On," and we could see some folks singing along. 

"Turn Your Radio On" video courtesy of Cara Lauzon. It's possible we played this a little too fast! 

"Somebody On Your Bond" was up next, and we omitted the second verse.

We lit into "Darlin' Corey," and when that was over still hadn't seen the 5-minute warning. So we threw in "Standing On A Mountain" and finished five songs in under 15 minutes.

Official Showcase photos courtesy of Cara Lauzon.

With our Official Showcase behind us, it was time to relax and enjoy the rest of the night. We stepped outside and found Eileen Carson Schatz, her husband Mark, their longtime friend Rodney Sutton, and Eileen's niece Kathleen.

It was my first time meeting Eileen, Mark, and Kathleen. Eileen and Mark were at the conference to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award. Unfortunately, we had missed the awards ceremony because we had been napping. Thankfully, we got to spend quite a bit of the rest of the evening with this fun crew.

Mark and Eileen have an amazing story, and since I was the newbie to the group, they were happy to fill me in a little about it. Eileen and Rodney were part of the Green Grass Cloggers years ago. They were married and eventually left that group to start their own group. That team was called Fiddle Puppets, which then was renamed (from what I can gather) to Footworks, and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with a big concert June 8.

Frank, me, Eileen, Kathleen, and Mark enjoying the evening.

Eileen is still very passionate about dancing. Kathleen was doing some steps, and I tried to copy her. Eileen said, "You need to be lighter on your feet, Allie." She was absolutely right! I could tell she is a great teacher and has a deep love for dancing.

It was clear that although Eileen was engaging and funny and smart, she did not feel well. She has been diagnosed with stage III pancreatic cancer, and chemos and surgeries have been ineffective. In Eileen's presence, I felt peace and reverence. Her acceptance of the short time she has left on earth radiated from her and resonated with me deeply. I felt honored to get to meet her, and quite sad that it was at this point in her journey.

(Please visit her CaringBridge page here).

Their group took a little walk to visit the nearby footbridge, and Frank and I went back inside. We relaxed in the hall outside the Official Showcases for a while.

We walked back to the elevators to go to our room when we saw Mark. Their group had returned, and he asked us if we wanted to come up to their room to visit. We followed him up and settled in. Eileen was lying in the bed. I noticed a beautiful leather banjo case in the corner, so when the small talk dwindled, I asked about it.

Mark grinned and pulled out the banjo. He noodled a few songs, and soon enough a tune emerged that launched Eileen and Rodney into a long story. The story started with how the tune "Briar Picker Brown" became one of their favorite choreographed dance routines, but to get there it covered the back story of Rodney and Eileen's Green Grass Clogger days and the secret story of how Green Grass Clogger dance moves got their names. The story was so revelatory that Kathleen, a dancer familiar with many of the dance moves, was very shocked. Of course, it's not really my story, so I shouldn't share it here!

It was Frank's turn to play the banjo. Mark started doing some hambone accompaniment.

That started a fun session. Rodney pulled a dance board out and started tapping. Mark got out his upright bass and started playing along. I just sang...and documented the songs using the voice memo app on my phone. Hopefully we will be able to share those songs with you soon!

By now it was quite late, but Eileen wanted to go check out the guerrilla showcases. We all trooped downstairs and did some watching, listening, and snacking. Soon, though, Frank and I headed back upstairs to turn in for the night.

Saturday

We got up, got ready, and went down to breakfast. We were almost finished when we saw that Eileen, Rodney, Kathleen, and Mark were across the restaurant. We joined them and the stories continued. I got to learn why Rodney's nickname is "Possum"! 

The friendship and love among Rodney, Eileen, and Mark was heartwarming. I later learned that Rodney and Mark call each other "husbands-in-law". 

Next we had to move out of our hotel room. Then we found Andy Cohen in the lobby. We'd been meaning to get together to play music with him, so we figured now was as good time as any. Andy played fiddle, Frank played banjo, and I got to play Andy's old guitar.

Our jam expanded! Photo by Mark Smith.

By now it was about 2:00, and Andy was scheduled for a workshop, so the jam ended. Frank went to the hotel bar for lunch while I attended a workshop. He brought me some wings when the workshop was over, and then we went in search of water. Luckily, there was a spread of waters, cookies, and chips waiting for us in the nearby Exhibition Hall! 

Frank just loves old guitars.

We headed back inside and heard some Official Showcases. We also spent a while sitting in the hall visiting with Art.

Our friend Gloria Holloway (and her partner Craig) stopped by to visit too.

Boomtown Trio, the Resonant Rogues, David Davis & Warrior River Boys, and The Roper Sisters were the acts we most enjoyed.

There was also a booth of old restored Harmony guitars!

How convenient! We had fun checking those out for a little while.

After browsing the booths in the Exhibition Hall, it was nap time. We went back out the van for a little rest.

We woke up in time for dinner (can you tell our days are built around eating?). It was a delicious spread once again! We sat with a group that books house concerts in Alabama.

The Official Showcases were next, but we felt the urge to sit outside and play a little bit. We had brought the fiddle along but Frank hadn't gotten to play it yet. 

Courtyard tune time. Video by Cara Lauzon.

Familiar faces wandered by, and we had a little chat with Gloria Holloway and her partner Craig. They  hosted a house concert for us in south Tampa this past winter.

It was time for the guerrilla showcases. Ours wasn't until 12:20, so we enjoyed watching some other bands and visiting with new friends. 

Boomtown Trio is a chamber/indie band from Columbia, SC.

Fiddler and bassist from Boomtown Trio join Resonant Rogues.

David Davis (mandolin) and the Warrior River Boys play "Didn't He Ramble" off their new album.

Twins Emily and Hannah Roper (The Roper Sisters) perform "The Storms Are On the Ocean." 

The Roper Sisters were the perfect "last act" for our SERFA experience. Twins singing harmony on classic bluegrass songs? Can't top that! We called it a night and went back to the van for a good night's sleep.

Sunday

After one more quick hotel breakfast, we were ready to hit the road. As we were leaving the lobby, Rachel from After Jack was walking by. We encouraged her to come visit us, and she did the same.

 

While we didn't walk away with any gigs promised, SERFA was a fun and laid-back conference. We felt like we were exactly where we were supposed to be. And that we made some great new friends!

 

Thank you so much for sponsoring our trip and for reading our reflections! We hope you enjoyed this little summary and feel like you've made some new friends, too.

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