2020 Conference in Review

For the sixth straight year, attendance figures eclipsed the previous year’s record with 3,332 attendees representing 41 countries on site. The conference was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, at the Sheraton New Orleans. Catch the highlights below or read the Post-Conference Report. View the Official Showcase Artist list here. You can view the Attendee List here.

New Branding

Folk Alliance International (FAI) unveiled and implemented its new branding at the 2020 conference. The new logo and visual assets present FAI as a contemporary, professional, and dynamic organization rooted in tradition.


Legendary performer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples provided a mainstage keynote interview hosted by NPR’s Melissa Block. Sharing anecdotes that spanned her 70 year career in folk, blues, soul, and gospel music, Staples addressed cultural equity issues through the lens of activism in song, commenting that “Freedom Highway is even more powerful and necessary today than when it was written”. A 2008 recipient of FAI’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Staples was announced as the winner of the member-voted 2019 Album of the Year award during the International Folk Music Awards. Watch the full interview here.

Rhiannon Giddens, a GRAMMY award-winning songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, gave this year’s keynote address, delivered in word and song. A clarion call to action for the folk community in the face of a ‘world on fire’, Giddens’ presentation urged all who attended to embrace a consciousness shift ‘born of compassion, of empathy, and of love above all else’. She also showcased in support of her nephew Demeanor. Giddens is a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a member of Our Native Daughters, a 2017 MacArthur Genius Fellow, and two-time winner in the Album of the Year category at the International Folk Music Awards. Click here to watch the full address.

International Folk Music Awards

The 2020 International Folk Music Awards (IFMAs) were hosted by celebrated New Orleans musician Leyla McCalla. The show began with a welcome address and land acknowledgment by local Indigenous (Houma) elder Grayhawk Perkins and featured performances by Cha Wa, Quique Escamilla, and Lula Wiles. The full show is available to view online.

In addition to the awards announced earlier in the year, the member-voted Best of 2019 awards were presented as follows:


Black Myself

(by Amythyst Kiah – performed by Our Native Daughters)


We Get By

(by Mavis Staples)


The Small Glories

Artist in Residence

FAI’s 2020 AIR project was developed in partnership with the Denver office of the IRC (International Rescue Committee), an organization which responds to some of the world’s worst crises, delivering aid that saves lives while paving the way for long-term recovery. Folk artist Rebecca Folsom, working with IRC staff member and translator Mireille Bakhos, was commissioned to coach high school student and poet Roqaya Alfaris in a songwriting workshop exploring and articulating her experience and perspective as a refugee. The end result was the creation of a song called “I am the Power of Love” which they performed during the conference. A video of the song and process is available here.

Cultural Equity Summit

Hosted by Jorge Arévalo Mateus, Executive Director of The Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) and co-presented by Kaisha S. Johnson, Co-Founding Director of Women of Color in the Arts (WOCA), this core summit related to the conference theme of The Story of People and Place. The summit was open to all delegates and provided an overview of global issues related to concepts of cultural equity, identity, intersection, and influence. Summit content dovetailed with conference-wide programming to address the role of constructive allyship and collective engagement in the development of FAI’s cultural equity committee and plan in 2020.

International Indigenous Music Summit

FAI was honored to hold space for the 2nd annual International Indigenous Music Summit. The summit’s purpose was to celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of Indigenous music to art and culture worldwide. Hosted by community leaders ShoShona Kish and Amanda Rheaume, the summit provided the opportunity for artists, knowledge keepers, and community builders, along with invited allies, to nurture connections, share resources, and build networks to promote Indigenous music across the global music community.

2020 Conference Program Book

Read the full Post-Conference Report here: