November 16, 2014

#NERFA 2014 (1 of 5): Conference Overview

Just back from the 2014 New England Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) conference, held at the Hudson Valley Resort & Spa, in Kerhonkson, New York (near New Paltz). Although I have been a folk fan for more than 25 years, a Falcon Ridge volunteer for 22, and a crew chief for the past 8 years, it was my first NERFA conference - and what an experience.

First, the facility. Although on first glance, the facility in the off season seems a little gone to seed; I'm sure it's a much different story in the summer, and I definitely warmed to it over the course of the weekend. I shared a room with a friend from Camp / Falcon Ridge, and our "lowest tier" accommodations (our choice, chosen for price and distance from the noisier spaces) were serviceable - a missing overhead lamp globe, a TV remote that did not work, a tiny bathroom, a thermostat hidden behind the TV console were all fairly minor issues. We survived. The price ($302 for three night, including meals) was perfectly reasonable.

And speaking of the meals - phenomenal. We were generally served two solid meals a day: 
  • Thursday - dinner
  • Friday - full breakfast  and dinner, with an afternoon happy hour with tables of appetizers and walk-around hors d'oeuvres
  • Saturday - continental breakfast, full brunch, and dinner
  • Sunday - continental breakfast, full lunch 
Buffet style with plenty of serving lines, some quality protein (chicken, fish, beef), yummy starches, and fresh veggies. Always some soup and salad, always a selection of desserts. Plenty of options for most guest; I did not hear a lot of complaints or concerns (vegetarian, gluten free, etc.)  Although I brought some snackage along, I did not need to dig too deeply into it.

The conference itself was also well run, generous, and welcoming. Each attendee got a nice name badge in a pouch that served as a place for money, business cards, a schedule, and artists cards. Everyone wore these throughout the conference which made for instant familiarity and point of contact.

In addition, registration gifted me with a NERFA napsack, a water bottle, a well produced conference book ( with all attendees' contact info), and (for first timers) a NERFA insulated lunch bag. Swag city....

The facility was 100% dedicated to the conference, which resulted in a kind of spilling over of music and conference material into every nook and corner.

Official conference bulletin boards spread throughout the lobby area were quickly covered in flyers, post-cards, and signs.  The ephemera and marketing quickly spread to other flat surfaces - window ledges, walls, hotel cabinets and decor, chair rails, etc. Several artists left CDs and download cards out for the taking, although most handed samples out to DJs, venues, etc. It was all a little overwhelming.

In addition, every common space was used at some point - as a meeting space, a rehearsal space, a song circle, or a jam session. There was an almost 24 x 7 bluegrass jam going on in the lobby; the only time it got quiet was right after sunrise, before breakfast. I caught a midnight lobby shot on Friday night - it was far busier most of the time.

There were five performance spaces - a large theater that held the entire conference (~800+), a smaller theater, a restaurant / bar, and two additional conference rooms set up for performance. And finally, there were a handful of more traditional conference rooms set up for workshops.

I've decided to blog separately about my conference experiences, including:
  • The festival showcase (two nights, eight artists per night, in the large Manhattan theater)
  • The "quad" showcases (two night, 20 artists per night in one of four performance spaces)
  • Miscellaneous artist encounters (Guerrilla showcases, and random listening opportunities)
  • Workshops
I'll make these linkable once the blog postings are up.

Finally, a few random conference / facility notes. There was, apparently, an indoor pool and jacuzzi, which I never did find or visit, despite bringing my swimsuit. There was morning yoga, taught by a musician / yogi Caroline Cotter - I brought up my yoga toys which meant there was plenty for folks who left their mats at home. There was a formal happy hour (two drink tickets supplied) and a small exhibit space.  And there was a free dental clinic for musicians (had to document a five year career) provided by MusiCares, which I thought was pretty awesome.

There was also an active mentoring program - folks could sign up for one-on-one mentoring on a variety of topic - performance, business, finances, marketing, booking, promoting, you name it. 

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