If one were to print off a who’s who list of Oklahoma Americana and folk singer-songwriters, it would closely resemble the roster of talent set to pass through the annual Oklahoma Room showcase at this year’s Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.
The conference has been compared by some to a purer and less corporate version of the popular South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
It runs Feb. 15-19 at The Westin Kansas City at Crown Center. Room 718 in said hotel will be converted for the duration of the week into a private showcase highlighting some of Oklahoma music’s best talents.
More than 30 acts, including names like Travis Linville, Jesse Aycock, Wink Burcham, Jacob Tovar and John Fullbright, will pass through The Oklahoma Room as it enters its fourth year at the conference.
The showcase is made possible through the combined efforts of Horton Records’ Brian Horton, KWGS 89.5 FM’s Scott Aycock, Woody Guthrie Center’s Deanna McLoud and music industry veteran Larry White.
However, hosting a showcase and covering travel costs takes money.
To help out, several Folk Alliance artists are teaming up with other musician friends to host a series of fundraiser concerts across the state; all proceeds will benefit the attending Oklahoma artists and April’s Norman Music Festival 10 (NMFX).
The Chouse, a historic Norman landmark and converted church, will host one of the fundraising shows.
The line-up includes Kierston White, Jesse Aycock & Lauren Barth and John Calvin Abney & Kalyn Fay. Music begins 7:30 p.m. Saturday at The Chouse, 717 W. Boyd St., in Norman.
For every marquee Folk Alliance attendee or well-known Oklahoma Room participant that makes music his or her sole focus, there is at least one or more musicians at the annual folk gathering who are just trying to fit it into the shuffle of day-to-day life.
White, the first artist scheduled to play at Saturday’s Norman fundraiser, will be attending her first Folk Alliance this year. When she’s not playing or writing music, White is enrolled in nine hours a week in Oklahoma City Community College’s nursing program and working part-time at the veterans center in Norman.
The Shawnee-born singer-songwriter, who released her quality debut Don’t Write Love Songs in 2014, never previously attended the conference because it was always too expensive to register alone.
This year, she said Horton invited her to play in The Oklahoma Room and she couldn’t refuse the offer.
White will play at least five individual showcases at Folk Alliance, including three in The Oklahoma Room.
“It’s kind of hard, especially for a first-timer, to get private showcases,” she said in a recent Oklahoma Gazette interview. “The Oklahoma Room is giving me a few, so that’s worth my while right there. Anything on top of that is bonus.”
White spoke with Gazette on the first day of OCCC’s new spring semester. While some musicians use Folk Alliance as a time to party, White said she will likely be busy studying for an exam scheduled soon after her performances.
The singer-songwriter completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Oklahoma in 2009 with the intention of studying pharmaceuticals, but after working at a pharmacy for a while, she decided to pursue another path in medicine.
White said nursing, and particularly end-of-life care, is a field she feels particularly passionate about. She sometimes plays songs for the veterans center residents.
“[Nursing] is a job that can go with music pretty well,” she said. “I could work for a few months and then would be able to go and do my music or go to another state.”
Many musicians use Folk Alliance as a networking opportunity. White hopes to use her time at the conference to connect with people in regions and cities in which she has not had previous luck booking shows, like those in the Northeast.
“My plan is to have plenty of stuff to give away,” she said. “I’ve got a new batch of stickers and an album. I feel like if I can do that and get people to come to my showcases — even if they’re not very long — I think they will see that I can hold an audience.”
In the digital age, networking with like-minded musicians and music professionals from outside one’s local area is not difficult through the power of social networks. It’s possible to connect with someone in another state — even on a personal level — without ever actually seeing them in person.
Part of Folk Alliance’s appeal for White is the chance to make a real-world bond with some of those distant contacts.
“I have plenty of internet friends whose music I like, but we’ve never met before,” she said. “A lot of those people are going, so I’m excited about that.”
White might have a lot on her plate at once, but she’s far from an unestablished artist.
Don’t Write Love Songs, her first and only studio album, made several 2014 year-end “best of” lists in and outside of Oklahoma. She has toured with John Moreland and is the driving force behind local all-female folk-rock supergroup Tequila Songbirds alongside a rotating ensemble cast including artists like Samantha Crain, Ali Harter, Camille Harp and Eliza Bee. The group plans on playing at NMFX in April.
One of White’s goals for 2017 is to record a follow-up album to Love Songs, but she’s not making any promises. She wants to make sure she has every song written before she commits to recording.
If and when a new album does occur, it is bound to please a fan base that even expands across national borders.
“Somebody wrote me from Brazil not too long ago,” White said. “He said, ‘I just want you to know you have a fan here.’”
The musician said she has no regrets yet about trying to balance music with her other life pursuits. In a way, it’s even more fulfilling.
“I feel like I’ll be able to work and play music while I’m doing this,” she said. “I think it will be worth it.”
Oklahoma Room and Norman Music Festival Fundraiser
7:30 p.m. Saturday
717 W. Boyd St., Norman
Print headline: State spotlight, The annual Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, gives Oklahoma artists a chance to shine and connect.