Dozens of Woody Guthrie pin-back buttons with his slogan "This machine kills fascists" greeted visitors to the Tulsa table at the 2019 Folk Alliance International conference last week in Montrèal, Quebec, Canada.
Oklahoma's singer/ songwriter who penned "This Land is Your Land" is revered around the globe for his dust bowl ballads and progressive political activism and T-town's Woody Guthrie Center was Oklahoma's significant presence at the conference. The center's executive director Deana McCloud also serves as Folk Alliance's board of director's secretary. She found time during her busy conference schedule to sit down with the Transcript.
"Oklahoma is the singer/ songwriter mecca," McCloud said. "We're still generating young artists such as John Fullbright and John Moreland, so Folk Alliance is a natural fit for our state."
Part of the Woody Guthrie Center's mission in Montrèal was to keep this Oklahoma tradition and contemporary reality in front of the world. In past conferences held in Kansas City, Missouri there was an "Oklahoma Room" dedicated entirely to showcases for our local talent. That couldn't happen in 2019 because of the considerable personal expense of traveling to Canada.
"But I'm looking forward to next year in New Orleans where it can be a vibrant experience for attendees," McCould said. "It's great exposure of our singer/ songwriters who have amazing talent and our incredible history based in music."
Brian Horton, of Horton Records ("Made in Tulsa"), has organized the past Oklahoma Rooms made those showcases consistent highlights for attendees.
"It brings attention to Oklahoma artists and that's why we are here," he said. "Woody Guthrie is an anchor for all this."
The lone Oklahoma band slated for an official conference showcase was Annie Oakley. The trio consisting of twin siblings Joanna and Sophia Babb on guitars and vocals and longtime friend Nia Personette on violin and vocals were superb musical ambassadors for the Sooner State. Annie Oakley's performance was in the Anne Murray room where they shared with the audience a poignant childhood chronicle of mutual grief in the deaths of their fathers. The trio demonstrated accomplished musicianship and songwriting skills in original compositions including "If I Were a Ghost" and "Pomp and Swell." Annie Oakley also played five private showcases during the conference, informal mini concerts in the host Fairmont Queen Elizabeth hotel's guest rooms.
The 2019 conference featured a first-ever international indigenous music summit, as well. The program guide led off with a welcoming message from Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke. During spoken remarks, a representative from the Montrèal mayor's office observed that the land we were sitting on had never been ceded by the Mohawk Nation.
Indigenous music performances included artists from New Zealand, Australia, the Canadian Arctic and the Sami peoples of northern Europe. These were among the most memorable.
Arctic Song is an ensemble of Inuit musicians from Canada's Qitirmiut and other regions. They performed a breathtaking combination of drum dance, throat songs and contemporary compositions. The soulful players were young and old, all genders dressed in traditional fur-trimmed Arctic regalia.
New Zealand's Mama Mihirangi and the Mareikura are a female trio whose show was fierce and thrilling. Maori martial arts with conch shells, clubs and spears were involved in the performance which one might liken to a sonic cyclone of song and dance.
Sweden's Sara Ajnnak draws her powerful sound from the forests and mountains where her ancestors have herded reindeer for centuries. Her largely solo set reverberated with a heartfelt intensity and burning sense of injustice because of colonial depredations against nature.
Folk Alliance's keynote speaker was Tanya Tagaq of Cambridge Bay, Canada. She's a fireball poet and Inuk throat singer who has received several Juno and other awards for her artistry. Tagaq's poetry was delightfully erotic and her songs transfixing.
"The Moon told me to have your child," she intoned.
Stellar shows were turned in by the USA's Gangstagrass ("Hip hop is folk music"), Cuba's Caravanna Banda, artists in residence Twin Flames, Okan, Shakura S'Aida, New Brunswick's The Lumber Jills, USA's David Wax Museum, Niyaz and the USA's Flor de Toloache.
Montrèal's residents were delightful and gracious hosts for the memorable conference which served as yet another avenue for Oklahoma talent.