The early bird gets the worm, or in this case, you can get five days of international folk music for the cost of your time as a volunteer in Kansas City, Missouri. Volunteers will be busy, but the cost of early general admission to the world’s largest gathering of the folk music industry and community is $250 and escalates to $450 for those who wait too long to register.
There will be 200 official showcases and more than 3,000 private showcases, 70 educational panels, 85 music camp classes, an international exhibit hall and around the clock jam sessions, so you cannot possibly see it all anyway and you might just as well get in for the cost of your time and get to listen to at least some of it.
The conference is at the Westin Crown Center Hotel. The music camp classes are at the Sheraton Hotel which is a few minutes away. For the uninitiated, an official showcase is a musical performance in one of the many conference rooms in the Westin Crown Center Hotel. So if you are assigned to watch the doors to one of the rooms, you will hear a separate performance every 45 minutes.
Your job as a door checker would be to check that everyone entering the room has a wrist band to prove that they had paid their admission. You usually work in teams of two at each door. In the years that I have done it, no one presented a problem. The official showcases run from about 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. That is a lot of music.
From about 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., the private showcases are going on in individual hotel rooms. That is a lot of music and you are authorized as a volunteer to hang around and enjoy it. I usually quit at 11:30 p.m. because I have to be back the next day.
Of course, musicians will be hanging out in corners and nooks and crannies just about everywhere performing and jamming during the day and evening. I really enjoy having supper in one of the restaurants so that I can sit and enjoy a group or two in comfort.
Go online to Folk Alliance International and volunteer. The first year that I did it, they were still looking for volunteers, but last year they had to set up a waiting list. So act quickly if you want the best shot at getting in. I joined FAI as a member so my hours were fewer and I had more free time to go everywhere.
One place that you might enjoy is the annual silent auction tent where you can bid on lots of music-related items, including some pretty nice instruments that are donated by industry groups. Remember, this conference is not only for musicians. It is also for the industry in general.
This is the 30th anniversary of the conference and the last one to be in Kansas City for a while. The conference moves to Canada next year. FAI also started a Sunday-only folk festival which is actually after the official conference closes on Saturday. The Kansas City Folk Festival is open to the public at about $25 per person, but you get in for free if you are a volunteer.
This is a no-brainer if you like folk music, which is a pretty wide open genre, really. Do not delay, though, because the volunteer list may fill up quickly and you will be left out or will have to pay to get in. I hope to see you there Feb. 14-18, 2018.
Matt Nowak is a retired natural resources specialist and lives in Lansing.