Annual conference aims to help folk musicians succeed
STAMFORD — Music filled every nook and cranny of the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Summer Street over the weekend as hundreds of folk musicians from across the country, and around the globe, gathered for the 23rd annual Northeast Regional Folk Alliance conference.
“NERFA is part of an international organization called Folk Alliance International, and it was basically created to get all the people in the business of folk music together,” said Dianne Tankle, the conference director. “It’s more or less turned into a booking conference where performers come from all over — all types of performers — and they showcase (or perform) and hope to book gigs.”
The goal of the conference, Tankle said, is to connect musicians with agents, bookers, promoters and other musicians.
“I’ve had art centers tell me that they’ve booked their whole season here. I’ve had festivals tell me that they’ve booked their entire roster here, and they keep on coming back year after year and booking more artists and discovering more people,” she said. “That’s really the biggest part of the conference.”
The conference also hosts a series of workshops covering topics such as marketing and promotion, songwriting, networking, utilizing social media, finding the right agent, booking venues and financial planning.
“These workshops are really designed to offer guidance as to how to sort of navigate within the music business,” Tankle said.
Tankle said while the conferences focus on business, they have also taken on another role in the folk community, and that’s as a place where artists can come together.
“People come as much to see and support one another as they do to get booking jobs here,” she said. “The folk community is absolutely incredible. It is just so supporting, and rather than being competitive with each other they support one another and that’s the most impressive thing, I think, about this community.”
For Cheryl Prashker, a percussionist and past president of NERFA, the annual conference is sort of like a family reunion.
“It’s about community,” she said. “It’s about musicians meeting other musicians. It’s a place where our community comes together each year and we sort of feed off each others energy. It can really be sort of a spiritual weekend.”
She said the weekend is full of activities, but most people come for the music.
“It’s like an indoor folk festival,” she said. “We have the formal showcases that people apply for, but after midnight until about 4 a.m. people hold these informal ‘guerrilla’ showcases in their hotel rooms. You can walk down the hall and in every room, people are performing and trying to get gigs, and you’ll never see that anywhere else.”
Over the years, Prashker said she has built a solid community through the conference, and in the past 15 years, every gig she’s booked has been generated because of the people she has connected with at NERFA.
But most importantly, Prashker said the conference can be a place of inspiration. Young musicians can come in full of doubt or frustration and leave feeling inspired.
“It’s really amazing to see,” she said. “You know the music business can be tough, there’s not a lot of money to be made, and sometimes you’ll see someone who’s struggling or having second thoughts. Maybe they’re considering getting a day job or giving up on music altogether. Maybe they’re experiencing writers block or they can’t seem to book a gig. And after a weekend here, they’re feeling full of inspiration. They’ve found their community and they’ve got confidence and drive again — their passion has ben reignited. It can be life changing.”