This week hundreds of folk musicians and fans will spill into the Sheraton Crown Center and Westin Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City for the Folk Alliance International Music Fair. Several entities will host showcases there, but one of the most eye-catching sets will come from a Lawrence-centered event hosted by Mass Street Music, Silly Goose Records, and MudStomp Records. That’s where you’ll find a host of Lawrence folk musicians, such as 40 Watt Dreams, MAW, and Tyler Gregory. Sandwiched in between all of that is a familiar face you can’t miss.
Nicholas St. James may be one of the most eye-catching, vibrant, and enigmatic folk artists in the area. Everything from his glorious mane and bright red beard to his canary yellow onstage pallet (we’ve never seen him in anything but yellow) is a feast for the eyes, while the wonders he pulls with an acoustic guitar is a feast for the ears. The performer will pull any sound possible out of his acoustic guitar, pushing it through effects, amps, and loops. But St. James, an ever-humble musician, will insist that it’s all smoke and mirrors. “It’s an illusion, a magic trick,” he says. “I’m very much a singer songwriter. I’m absolutely a folk artist. The amps are really just an effect to cover up the fact that it’s a dude with a guitar.”
Making himself stand out as a folk artist in a town overflowing with them was no easy task, so St. James decided to get creative. “I don’t want to play with loops, I want to keep it as folk as possible,” he says. “All that stuff is to cover up, to make it sound like there’s more people onstage with me, hopefully the volume catching people’s ears.”
See if St. James can catch your ears this week at Folk Alliance International’s Music Fair. You can find a full schedule of events and performers online here.
Words and photos by Fally Afani