We were truly ready to throw in the towel on Folk Alliance. But this was the year they finally redeemed themselves.

As someone who grew up in a rich international community overseas, I had become weary of seeing mostly Canadian and Irish folk artists dominate the festival year-after-year. Only once in the nine years I covered the festival did I even learn of an artist from my neck of the woods (in the Middle East) performing. Though, let’s be honest, most of the music at festivals like this labeled as Middle Eastern is actually North African.

This year, I entered the festival with a chip on my shoulder and instead left overwhelmed with gratitude. I saw such a rich tapestry of cultures present during the week. Even the Canadian stages were expanding their cultural palette. While we’ve always enjoyed Folk Alliance, we finally saw 2024 as the year they grew into the festival they were always meant to be. Here are the standout acts from the festival.


Mitsune / Photo by Fally Afani

Mitsune wolk Folk Alliance by a wide margin this year. The Japanese neo-folk (but Berlin-based) group caught everyone’s ears and eyes. An explosion of colorful threads and face paint on the stage, they delighted audiences with their unprecedented approach to the craft. Traditional folk collided with psychedelia, and the result was a whimsical adventure that got everyone dancing. They had several showcases throughout the week and maintained that energy the entire time. Plus, it’s a safe bet that if you see the tastemakers in the Kansas City scene (who were volunteering at the event) at every one of their sets, you should go.

Flamy Grant

Flamy Grant / Photo by Fally Afani

Thank God for Flamy Grant. This is a drag artist who is taking the Christian music scene by storm. We love it when queer performers demand a space at the table they grew up at, rather than letting religious fanatics drive them out (former Lawrence trans artist Cuee also still kept religion at the forefront of his music while transitioning). Just prior to the festival, Flamy had played a show in a Lawrence church.

Flamy’s powerhouse vocals are nothing to scoff at, and she very quickly amassed a gathering of fans for that alone (the front row of most of her sets were almost always filled with little old ladies for that very reason). One of the reasons it’s so easy to love queer artists is because they’ll face some of the most dehumanizing moments with extensive talent and wit (don’t we all wish we could do the same?). Case in point: this song she wrote after Libs of TikTok (ew) came after her and said she was just making up her gender, it’s called “Everything’s Made Up.”

Moneka Arabic Jazz

Moneka Arabic Jazz / Photo by Fally Afani

FINALLY, AN ARAB (says this Arab music journalist). I’m going to be completely biased here, but I really don’t need to be because Moneka Arabic Jazz was the other big standout other than Mitsune.

Ahmed Moneka is a Canadian-based Iraqi musician with a band comprised of musicians from various countries (Greece, Turkey, and other Mediterranean regions). This band pulls on so many rich cultural influences in their music. You’ll never get just an Arab song, you’ll get Arab music infused with Afro-beats, jazz, Sufism-influenced poetry, and an Iraqi Jewish song. He was quick to point out that Jews and Iraqis lived together in harmony for a very long time (every Arab knows this).

Moneka Arabic Jazz / Photo by John Knepper

His private showcase sets were unreal. These were supposed to be acoustic sets, but the volume and excitement surrounding his songs had other plans. Moneka Arabic Jazz was one of the bands closing out the official showcases at the end of the week, and it brought everyone to their feet. The band’s jazz-freakout take on “Sidi Mansour” (this is a VERY famous song, every Arab knows the words) was a real barn burner and solidified their position as a band that could close out a festival of any size.

This is a clip from one of their many rowdy private showcases:

Naxx Bitota

Naxx Bitota / Photo by John Knepper

There is something so naturally likable about Naxx Bitota. The Congolese musician knows how to organically grow the vibe and is another one of those acts that were (rightly so) closing out the festival on Saturday. Bitota’s band arrived in style, as Congolese fashion is a joyful experience. A couple of songs in, Naxx announced “I am from Congo, this is how we dance in my village,” and believe me the dancing did not stop from there on out. Eventually, she wound up in the audience to wrap her pagne around members in the audience. Now, something you should know about industry festivals like this is that, well, it’s full of industry folks. So they’ve been there, done that, and don’t always carry the enthusiasm needed for a show. That’s why Naxx Bitota caught our eye, she got these seasoned crusty industry folks up and dancing.

El Pony Pisador

El Pony Pisador / Photo by Fally Afani

El Pony Pisador is another one of those groups that had the private hotel room showcases stuffed to the gills. The reason they landed on our list is because they managed to combine genres from about from different cultural regions into one song (every time). They’re Barcelona-baed, but you’ll hear sea shanties colliding with yodeling within the same song. Plus, their energy is infectious, and man they could play fast. Definitely a band that could hold their own on a festival stage.


Shauit / Photo by Fally Afani

One of our favorite moments of the festival came from indigenous artist Shauit, who brings Innu-aimun language to pop and reggae music (never in my life thought that would be a genre, but Shauit is a visionary).

A highlight of the night came when Shauit handed over a percussion instrument to someone in the audience and started a massive dance circle (this came after a brief and charismatic lesson on Innu dance steps). There wasn’t an empty chair in the house, everyone was on their feet.

The Locals

Bad Alaskan / Photo by Fally Afani

Duh, we heart LOCAL music.

We’ve been covering Folk Alliance for nine years, and only in the first year did I really see any Lawrence artists. After that, they were priced out for the most part (Folk Alliance is a very expensive endeavor). That changed this year thanks to the Doug DuBois fund, which covered the fees of a musically diverse group of Lawrence musicians so they could participate in the Free State Room (full disclosure: I Heart Local Music’s role in the Lawrence Music Alliance also contributed to this room).

Sweet Lil and The Nothings / Photo by John Knepper

Bad Alaskan, Sky Smeed, Spencer and Rains, Sweet Lil and the Nothings, Moonshroom, Miki P, Christena Graves, and Folk in the Flow all represented the Lawrence region.

Mammoth Live, a local production company based out of Lawrence, had a primo corner spot for private showcases and absolutely delivered. Their lineup was always a can’t-miss affair each night, featuring anyone from the above-mentioned Mitsune, to a contestant from The Voice, to Kansas City trombone favorites Kadesh Flow and Trevor Turla.

Other standout acts we loved but don’t have the spoons to write about after a week of musical mayhem: Mireya Ramos, Ingrid Jasmin, Seffarine, The Joy Lapps Project.

In closing…

OKAN / Photo by John Knepper

While Folk Alliance is bit of a playground for industry folks, its contributions to the local music industry are outstanding. We’re sad to see it leave Kansas City. It was never supposed to be here that long anyway. It heads to (surprise surprise…) Canada next year, after enriching the Kansas City music landscape with exceptional sounds and desperately needed connections. The Westin is a bit of an accessibility nightmare (I covered this one year while injured and on a cane, ugh) due to its layout, but walking amongst the musicians in the hall must be what it feels like walking around Eurovision. There are traditional costumes from all corners of the globe, multiple languages floating about the air, and the general knowledge that music transcends borders. Thanks for the decade of fun, Folk Alliance.

Photos below by Fally Afani and John Knepper.



Fally Afani is an award-winning journalist with a career spanning more than 20 years in media. She has worked extensively in radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and more.

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