Folk Alliance 2014 Report


Don't let the title of this article mislead you.  I am the least qualified person to evaluate and report on the talent that came to the Westin Hotel in Kansas City for the 2014 International Folk Alliance Conference.  The problem is not my judgment of talent.  On that end, I think I'm pretty good!  The problem is that I was just so damn busy.  The conference was a total trip, but that doesn't change the fact that there's still only 24 hours a day and that that's not an adequate amount of time to hear everything.  Yes, Graham Nash was there.  Yes, I had every intention of hearing his keynote speech. Was I able to catch him? No. 

That said, it was impossible not to hear great musicians 24/7.  Literally impossible.  You could walk through the Westin lobby, ballroom, mezzanine and bar and there would be a 100% chance of hearing either an organized performance, impromptu jam session or an acoustic guitarist riffing around like a maniac by the elevator.  And in the elevator—and in the men's room.

One thing's for sure:

51 weeks out of the year this would never fly.  If this wasn't a contracted thing, literally every single registrant would be kicked out of the hotel for totally valid, repeated noise violations. To call this a liberating musical experience would be an understatement.  If for some reason you were a grinch who hated folk music, this conference would be hell.  At noon you would be suffering.  At midnight you'd be suffering.  At 5 am?  You better believe you'd be suffering.  For people like me though, this was heaven.  Albeit a very busy version of it.

But when I wasn't busy I heard some great music by some great artists.  Below are just some of them.  I recommend you check them out.


Whiskey Shivers

The Appleseed Collective

Star and Micey

John Fullbright

The Midnight Roses

Carolina Story

And, of course, Gangstagrass—the reason I was even there.



Keep Your Wig On By Fastball

Since 2000, I'm guessing more than 50 percent of blogs and articles about the Austin, TX trio known as Fastball begin something like this: Fastball is a prominent late 90's band that is most famous for the hits "The Way" and "Out Of My Head."  It probably irritates the band to no end.  It was so long ago and such statements suggest that the band ran out of fuel and has nothing more to offer.  It was also a period of great tension between singer/songwriters Tony Scalzo and Miles Zuniga.  Scalzo composed the aforementioned hits and while Zuniga did have himself a top 20 hit with "Fire Escape," he has admitted, since then, that there was jealousy.  

Let's get on the same page...



Scalzo and Zuniga weren't even friends.  They barely knew each other.  It was a partnership not a bond.  But their partnership didn't extend to songwriting collaborations.  Miles did his songs and Tony did his.  And then after their platinum record went into the vault of time and their subsequent release didn't do nearly as well, Fastball broke up for a short time.

Everything changed in 2003.  The two songwriters sat down, became friends and began an entirely new process of co-writing together.  And the effort really shows on 2004's Keep Your Wig On, which was released on the Warner Music Group's subsidiary label Rykodisc.  If there's any indication that the band is on a major label on Keep Your Wig On, it's that literally every single one of the album's 12 songs is filled with such strong hooks and assertive performances that they all could be on the radio.  And I'm not kidding.  The results on this pop/rock album may not reinvent the wheel, but they are absolutely unreal. 

Keep Your Wig On opens with the appropriately short "Shortwave," which serves as a reminder of the band's previous commercial success.  The harmonies are close and the lyrics detail hearing your hit on the radio—"the strangest music"—and realizing that you're in Oklahoma and "it's too close to home"—aka Austin,TX—and it probably doesn't mean your career is about to have a rebirth.  This song seamlessly leads into a wonderful gem called "Lou-ee Lou-ee," which borrows a hook from "Brother Louie" by Stories, but succeeds in creating a whole new one, in the process.  

And from there, Fastball never misses it's mark.  Tony Scalzo sounds irresitable on "Drifting Away," the McCartney-esque "I Get High" and "'Til I Get It Right," the best song about going to the record store, which features a spectacular, intriguing and musical guitar solo by Miles Zuniga.  It should rank as one of the best of the decade.  Absolutely expert playing.  When Zuniga sings, he sounds like a street smart combination of Lou Reed and John Lennon.  There is no better example of this than on "Perfect World" and the album closer "Red Light."  But he sounds downright sweet on the Lennon-esque "Someday."

Keep Your Wig On's best and most inspired song is "Our Misunderstanding."  It's a truly incredible and original song about a breakup, which unselfishly places the blame on both parties.  It's the first song I've personally heard to address a breakup so objectively and I'm confident that most songwriter's will love this one.   It's a reminder that Scalzo and Zuniga are veteran hitmakers.  

Fastball may not have experienced a career rebirth as indicated by the small commercial results of Keep Your Wig On, but artistically they have acheived something otherworldly.  It's a smart and creative pop/rock record which will move any serious music listener who listens to it.

 I try my best not to make big absurd claims on, but I've been waiting to figure out how to review this album for a very long time.  To be totally transparent, I didn't want to mess this one up.  I listen to a lot of music, and I've determined that Keep Your Wig On is not only criminally overlooked, it is one of the best albums of the previous decade.  I can't recommend it any higher.  

Keep Your Wig On By Fastball