The NERFA Experience and the Emerging Artist

Each November for the last three years I have attended the North East Regional Folk Alliance (or NERFA) Conference in the Catskills of New York. I can honestly say that, as an emerging artist, it is the most fun you can have while being sleep deprived. For those readers of my blog that are not familiar with NERFA, it is a regional subset of the Folk Alliance International. It mission is to get artists, booking agents and venue owner or “presenters” to meet and network, listen to music performed in official and unofficial (called “guerrilla”) showcases, and attend workshops on various topics. While a number of artists are selected to perform at official showcases, the vast majority of showcases are the unofficial/ guerrilla variety. This year I appeared for 12 performances in four (I think) guerrilla showcases many of which lasted until 3 am.

Granted, NERFA can be viewed as a very commercial endeavor with marketing materials literally strewn about the entire hotel which NERFA takes over for the 4 days that it lasts. Further granted, that the not-so-subtle undercurrent is that artists want to get to invited to perform at the venues and therefore there is a good deal of “artist solicitation” going on throughout the conference. But these realities are more than overshadowed by the incredible camaraderie between the participants. It can be very hard to be an emerging artist. The pay is less than overwhelming, travel can be a lonely and tiring experience, and there is no guaranty of success. 
Perhaps hardest of all for the emerging artist is the isolation and the nagging doubt that can creep into the back of your mind as to your relevance. NERFA is a deep balm to both the isolation and the doubts that can sometimes plague the emerging artist. Indeed, I was taken by surprise when one participant whom I had never met before confronted me with the seriousness reserved for those having a heart attack and told me that my “songwriting was so important and powerful to [him], that [I] should continue doing it no matter what”. After recovering from my shock, I was deeply gratified and felt validated in a way that I hadn’t realized I had wanted before. Indeed, NERFA is always a moving (albeit exhausting) experience. The communal musical experience is so addictive for me that I’m now seriously considering going to SERFA, the South East Regional Folk Alliance conference in North Carolina in May of 2014. An emerging artist just can’t get enough of that kind of feeling.
Food for thought.
Yours in DADGAD.
Rick Gottlieb