That’s Annie Capps in the chicken suit next to our Award Recipient, Dave Siglin at the FAI conference ca. 2005. The chicken suit belongs to and was the marketing genius of John & CJ Milroy (The Milroys).

“…you guys have created something wonderful … down in Kansas City I walked into a big room full of genuinely friendly, supportive, and PHENOMENALLY talented people, all interested in creating a vibrant community and extending a helping hand to their fellow musicians.”

 – Rev. Judi Hendricks,
FARMette 2017 attendee

We had so much fun and we were just truly blown away by the supportive and friendly FARM community.”

– The Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers, 2016 Official Showcase Artist

“We are America’s Heartland, and our conference exudes a certain relaxed, charming, and simple approach to Folk and roots music …This community comes together once a year and it is a treasured time. Come back ! OR, join us as a first-timer. Either way, I think you’ll be recharged in ways that will surprise you.”

–  Tim Grimm, Songwriter, Performer, Actor
2014 Key Note Speaker

“FARM made me see and feel that I’m part of a songwriting community. This was such an exciting and a happy realization. I came away with renewed energy and resolve for my own work, and who doesn’t need that?”

– Michael P. Smith, Songwriter, Actor, 2011 Key Note Speaker

Sound Advice

Mostly for, but not only for First-timers

There is a whole lot of great advice out there from long-time attendees of these networking conferences. If you’re new to FARM or any music conference, you would most surely benefit from checking out this advice. We’ve shared a lot here and you may read the same thing in more than one person’s take but we think it’s all valuable. In fact, we think its worth revisiting regularly, whether this is your first time or not.

Guide for First Time Attendees

FARM is a regional affiliate of the Folk Alliance International (from which we borrowed much of what you see in this document).

A much smaller and less intimidating version of the 5 day 3000+ attendee conference FAI produces each year, Folk Alliance Region Midwest’s annual gathering is a professional showcase and networking event, but it is also a community gathering, a family reunion of sorts for those who play and present folk music in all its variants (world, roots, old-time, blues, bluegrass, celtic, songwriters, etc).

Still, events of this kind, require preparation, a multi-year approach, and an investment of time and money. What you get out of it depends largely on what you put into it. Moments of unexpected magic can be found everywhere, so hold on to those moments, temper your expectations and you’ll be fine!

Below are some tips and ideas to assist you in getting ready for FARM.

  1. Determine your goals for attending
  2. Come with a plan and agenda to attain those goals
  3. Attend the daytime events (not just the late night shows) with a great attitude and pace yourself
  4. Make your follow-up as thorough as your pre-planning

Decide what your agenda and goals are for attending FARM.

Questions to ask yourself… 1. Why are you attending this year? 2. What do you hope to achieve? (be specific) 3. Who are you planning to meet to achieve these goals? 4. What daytime events will you attend? Read the website thoroughly. Posted there you will find a plethora of information such as:

Conference Attendee list: Available online and updated weekly, you can scan this to see who is coming, and what they do. Identify people you want or need to meet. Look up their websites and drop them a note (email, handwritten, phone call…whatever is your best method) and invite them for a coffee or to meet in person at the event. Shy? Invite them to your showcase or workshop. Make sure to attend theirs as well. FARM is a great communal event where people reciprocate enthusiasm for each other and share knowledge/support.

Schedules: Review the schedule and map (available online in advance of the conference). Read the workshop descriptions and special event listings before attending the event. You’ll have a print version in your bag when you register onsite.  The program is a great resource for the event and year-round.

Making a pre-schedule of what panels, showcases, and special events you’d like to attend is extremely useful. It makes the long days of programming much less overwhelming. Also, check out a map of the grounds. It makes it easier when arriving to find your way around.

Remind yourself to pace yourself along the way. There are so many talented people, informative speakers, great smiles, and educational efforts that one can forget to sleep and hydrate. A little pre-planning can go a long way.

Communication (Email List, Listserve, Social Media): FARM offers an old-school listserve (reaches most people) as well as a Facebook Group (smaller but growing) at for communication amongst its members and attendees. The listserve is where you’ll introduce yourself, solicit Private Showcases, find rides, roommates or share ideas.

Review the conference program in advance of the conference:

First Timers’ Panel: A first timer orientation is available at the event. Ask questions and listen to other’s questions.

Official Showcases: These are juried showcases that have been selected to play the official slots at the conference. They take place in the main ballroom of the hotel. The submission processes for these slots takes place April – June and are selected by end of July.

Private Showcases:  Hotel rooms are rented and set up as mini venues. Individuals, venues, organizations and others host and book these showcases. It is a great time for artist to showcase their talents while industry and community roam through the event. Do not be shy. Visit the rooms, they are set up to invite you in to hear the talent they have programmed and many offer hospitality. If you are showcasing, do not worry if a person does not stay in your room for the whole set. It is about quality not quantity of visitors. It is customary for people to wander in and out. If you are a spectator, we recommend not exiting until the end of a song to assist the performer in staying focused. The showcases run in the evenings from 11:30pm – 2:30am. At any given point, one can walk the halls and hear over a dozen performers simultaneously.

Things to remember on these floors: act responsibly, use your indoor voices

For more information on how to host a showcase room or play one, visit our Private Showcase page.

Volunteering: One of the best ways to get involved with FARM is to volunteer at the event for a few hours. We are always in need of folks from the very beginning to help set up and stuff Tote Bags and Registration badges and throughout the conference in roles such as monitoring workshops, checking credentials, registration, merch sales, instrument check, clean up and more. Volunteers receive partial or full conference registration discounts.

Instrument Check: As your arms grow weary and you want to catch a panel or showcase. In the main conference area, FARM offers an instrument check daily (check the schedule for hours) where you can check your stuff in similar to a coat check. Items must be picked up the same day and cannot be left overnight.

Marketing yourself at the Event

There are tons of opportunities to market your self, band, company, or organization at FARM. It of course depends what your goals are and what your budget is for marketing. There are no wrong answers in the area as long as you are prepared and courteous to your fellow attendees.

Exhibit Area: FARM currently offers FREE exhibit space in the main conference area. Tables line the perimeter and attendees are welcome to put out demo CDs, showcase cards, and other swag. Keep in mind this space is not monitored so don’t put anything out you don’t want people to take for FREE.

Advertising: Program book advertising is a great resource at the conference and post conference. Registrants utilize the program book year round as source of research for individuals/organizations in the community. Various sizes are available for ad space. We also are offer web banner ads for promotion in advance, during and after the conference.

Tote bag inserts: Every attendee receives a conference tote filled with various promotional materials. For a small fee, you can place your item in the tote as well.

Other (handbills, postcards, flyers, etc.): Guerilla marketing is always fun and creative. There are no incorrect answers in this area as long as respect is shown to fellow attendees, the hotel, and the organizers. Handbills/postcards are great. Small posters are great (small). When posting materials, please be aware that only painters tape is allowed (we do not want to replace any wallpaper or paint at the hotel). There are designated areas for promotional materials along the main floors (table tops, coffee tables, credenzas, and such). Be mindful not to tape your poster over another poster. Have some fun with it and be reflective of your mission.

Unique ideas: band-aids or breathe mints with packaging listing showcase times, a large chicken (mascot) handing out hand bills, roaming mannequins, simple and great postcards, etc. Have fun but be yourself. What makes FARM special is accessibility, creativity, and community.

Great Eye Contact and Personal Introduction: Introduce yourself to people. If you are playing a showcase, remember to tell people who you are and maybe a fun fact that will make them remember you.

Go to a mix of events. Every event, meal, workshop or showcase is a place to meet fellow attendees.

Organization: It is easy to become a collector of promotional material at FARM. Keep the business cards you collect each day in a safe place. Make notes on the back so you can recall the conversations you had with each person. You will have a great deal of valuable interactions each day. Take notes, and follow up with email or written note after the conference.

Being Healthy at FARM: Often after conferences, people talk about having the conference cold, after being surrounded with thousands of your favorite people and running on little or no sleep. Some advice to curb the possibility of illness for ourselves and others.

  1. Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water.
  2. You’ll be shaking lots of hands… stay healthy by washing/sanitizing yours.
  3. Remember to eat. Eat healthily.
  4. Sleep. There is great programming from everyday. Decide on a good schedule that gives you a proper amount of sleep.
  5. Fit a few moments of exercise into your day.
  6. Need a quick picker upper? … Change your shoes!
  7. Lastly, go outside. Grab some fresh air every few hours. It’s good for your heath and your soul.

Above all, enjoy yourself!

Ask the staff or volunteers for assistance when you need it. We are happy to be here and want you to get the most out of your time in Grand Rapids.

Thank you for joining us!


Read also this post from concert presenter and long-time NERFA attendee Paul Barker (the link below is to a follow-up written by Ann Arbor Singer/Songwriter, Mike Vial who makes a good point.

Mike’s Follow up:



Zoe Sez

If this is your first conference of any kind, we’d like to share some wise advice from conference veteran,  Zoe Mulford (who also happens to be one of our 2011 Showcase Artists). This is taken from a post on the NERFA listserv and is reprinted here with her permission. 

Other artists are not the competition. They are potential allies.

Convince yourself of that and you will have a happier and more productive weekend. Most of the benefits I’ve gotten from {Conference} have been from connecting with other artists.

It’s a mistake to think about {Conference} as being divided into “talent buyers” and “talent sellers”.  A lot of the people who are there as presenters or dj’s are also musicians and you may well connect with them in a jam circle. A lot of the people who are there to promote their own music also set up concerts, write reviews, screen song contest entries, volunteer at festivals, etc. They’re also recording engineers, graphic artists, photographers, publicists, luthiers, and teachers. Everyone is worth talking to.

If you are there as an artist, YOU are also a talent buyer. You’ll be in a hotel packed to the rafters with excellent musicians. Who would you like to be on stage with? Who would you like to open for? Who would you like to open for you? Who would you record with, write with, form a band with? Who would you recommend to your local presenters?

Look for the people you would camp with at a festival, swap gigs with, carpool with, room with at next year’s conference, invite to sleep on your sofa.

So prepare your materials, plan your schedule, practice your elevator speech, print your business card … and then stop worrying. Come and be a musician.”

Other general thoughts.

Without a doubt, a first ever conference experience can be extremely overwhelming and intimidating. The perceived pressure to maximize your investment, make something happen, get results, book a gig, self promote, etc… is palpable.

Our volunteer staff is always front-loaded with FARM veterans who are on hand to answer questions, point you in the right direction and offer a hug (whether you want it or not).

We’ve heard from a number of first-timers who find FARM to be easy and comfortable while still having much to offer music professionals who wish to connect with fellow artists, DJs, venues and promoters in the Midwest.

We’ve worked hard to create a productive environment for networking, career building and going about the business of making and buying music. In that way, each of the regional conferences, are a great introduction to the larger International Folk Alliance conference.

But let’s not forget the shear bliss of being surrounded by like-minded folks, participating in impromptu song swaps and jams, being inspired by performances from your peers and ultimately making lots of new friends.

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