President's Blog - October 2019

Abby Parks.jpg

Music has always played a major role in creating and archiving memories in my mind, and certain songs seem to be inextricably tied to “places.” A prime example stems from a memory I had when my family moved to West Germany in 1980. A child full of wonder and curiosity at this foreign experience, my first sightings of castles, the Black Forest, and the English Channel all held magic and mystique. I remember when we rode a train from Frankfurt to Wiesbaden on a house-hunting excursion and wound up at Wiesbaden AFB (also known at Amelia Earhart AFB). There was a plane displayed on a pedestal and a memorial to her. I asked my dad who she was, and the story he told stuck in my mind of this ill-fated heroine of flight. The following year I studied and did a report on her for a school project.

Years later in high school, in the height of my idolization of Joni Mitchell, I purchased the album “Heijira” and fell in love with track 2 titled “Amelia:”

The drone of flying engines
Is a sound so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons
If it gets through to you
Then your life becomes a travelogue
Of picture postcard charms

Amelia, it was just a false alarm

I can’t convey properly in words how much that song touched my heart, inspired me, brought back memories of planes flying overhead in the German village we settled in just miles from Rhein-Main AFB. The sound was so deafening at times that our child’s play was interrupted to cover our ears. That song evokes memories of the journey to Wiesbaden, my discovery of who Amelia Earhart was, the “travelogue” of my own life. Each time I hear it, my mind flies to that “place” of enchantment. 

I think almost anyone who has allowed music to be a part of their life can relate to this in some way or other, being in that zone where music, memory, and place are intertwined. And I believe that music, especially for the musician, has the ability to create a “place” of belonging, whether it be a locale, a community, or even a state of mind. I’ve always pursued music through learning instruments, singing, and writing songs, and at times had outlets to share with others in high school, college, church. But I found myself at a certain point in my life where I felt like I was pursuing this dream alone. I was singing at open mics and getting local gigs while trying to get advice online amid a sea of differing voices. Then one day I discovered that a conference would be held in Murfreesboro, TN for an organization called SERFA. Little did I know how this organization would affect my life in a positive way, give me a community of like-minded souls to be a part of, give me support in how to achieve goals, and spark ideas for things I’d never even dreamed of doing. SERFA created a “place” for me in the world of music; it made me a part of a wonderfully diverse and inspiring “tribe.” 

Another memory I have, one created courtesy of FAI when it was planted in Memphis, was a private showcase where I first heard Mary Gauthier.  I’d heard her name, but not her music. I remember an atmosphere in the room of hushed respect as she sat down and performed with a fiddler to her right. I remember that feeling of being in close proximity to what I perceived to be greatness. And now, years later, I’ll get the pleasure of hearing her live again, along with many other SERFA members at our 2020 conference, where Mary Gauthier will be our keynote speaker. We are so excited and honored to have her grace our stage and share with us from her wealth of talent and wisdom.

As I said earlier, “place” can represent a state of mind, and Mary Gauthier’s lyrics from her well-known song “Mercy Now” are a prime example of how expert songwriting can convey something larger than oneself, and even promote unity in the face of such great division as our nation is facing. She dreams of us finding a place where mercy is freely granted and received:

My father could use a little mercy now
The fruits of his labor fall and rot slowly on the ground
His work is almost over it won't be long, he won't be around
I love my father, he could use some mercy now

My brother could use a little mercy now
He's a stranger to freedom, he's shackled to his fear and his doubt
The pain that he lives in it's almost more than living will allow
I love my brother, he could use some mercy now

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit it's going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now

Every living thing could use a little mercy now
Only the hand of grace can end the race towards another mushroom cloud
People in power, they'll do anything to keep their crown
I love life and life itself could use some mercy now

Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now
I know we don't deserve it but we need it anyhow
We hang in the balance dangle 'tween hell and hallowed ground
And every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now

Are you seeking a place in the vast world of music to belong, to gain inspiration?  If so, I hope you’ll join us for SERFA 2020 in Chattanooga next May.

Our beloved former president Don Baker is relocating out of the Southeast, and so has resigned from the Board of Directors. His contribution to SERFA is greatly appreciated, and we wish him a smooth and blessed transition. I’d like to announce that Karyn Oliver will be replacing him in the vacated seat, and we are thrilled to have her on board.  Congratulations, Karyn!

We are accepting proposals for workshops for our next conference. Please complete the online form if you’d like to be on a panel, have something you’d like to bring, or would like to see a certain subject covered next year.  We want your ideas and feedback.

Regards from my “Sweet Home” Alabama,

Abby Parks
President of the Board

President's Blog - September 2019

Abby Parks.jpg

I was reflecting on the seasons the other day, and the fact that I was longing for the fall to come. Being a Southern native does not help me tolerate the extreme heat any better than most, I imagine. Fall has always been my favorite season of the year. There are colorful surprises around every bend in the road, and the festivals celebrating the highlights of autumn are hard to top, often showcasing wonderful music of varied genres, including (and noteworthy to my taste) folk.

I was also thinking of the fact that you can attend a regional or international Folk Alliance conference almost every season of the year. Coming up this month is SWRFA, the first of the fall regional conferences, set for September 25-29 in Austin, Texas. Right on its heels is FAR-WEST taking place October 10-13 in Woodland Hills, California. If you are looking to cool off, the following month you can attend FARM October 24-27 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Can’t get enough of all things folk-related? Then how about traveling to NERFA in Stamford, Connecticut November 7-10? Or you can celebrate the first of 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana where Folk Alliance International will be located January 22-26. Wow, all of that in just two seasons of the year! Can I hear a shout for spring? SERFA takes place in late spring, almost teetering on summer, in Chattanooga, Tennessee May 13-17.  For more information about these conferences, visit  

Any kind of a “move” is going to be tough and require a lot of hard work. In looking back, I am thrilled with how smoothly our transition went from North Carolina to Tennessee, and how much the new community embraced us. Highlights of our 2019 conference included Ellis Paul as keynote speaker, and Norman and Nancy Blake and David Wilkes on our panel for Wisdom of the Elders.  Norman and Nancy were also award recipients, along with Fletcher Bright and JT Gray. And we were especially grateful to award Mark Schatz and Eileen Carson Schatz for their legacy, as many of you know that Eileen passed away a short time later, on July 11.

We appreciate each FAI member who followed us this past year to our new location in Chattanooga. We had lots of positive post-conference feedback from attendees and will work hard this year to bolster our strengths and improve any areas that need tweaking. One item that has already been improved is our room rates for next year, TBA once registration is close to opening. While spring is a ways off, the volunteers who work behind the scenes to make the conference a success are excited about what’s in store. In the next month or so we are hoping to announce our keynote speaker for 2020, who I believe will excite you all! We are also looking to add new volunteers on planning committees and beyond, and two seats will be coming open on the Board after our 2020 conference, so if you have an interest in being a part of our planning process or running in the election, please email

I also wanted to mention that SERFA will be presenting a private showcase room at FAI in NOLA next January.  If you are attending and are a member of the Southeast region, you are invited to apply for a private showcase spot in our room on one of three nights. Once you are registered for the conference, you can check this link for more information about how to apply for our showcase as well as others:

Till we meet again, enjoy the upcoming seasons!

Abby Parks
President of the Board

SERFA Announces Award Recipients and Elders

SERFA will honor Jim Rooney, Ginny Hawker & Tracy Schwarz, and veteran broadcaster Michael Stock on Friday, May 18 during our 11th Annual Conference in Montreat, NC. The SERFA Awards, which immediately follow the 2:00 PM keynote address by Rooney, are open only to conference registrants. Registration at the lowest super early bird rate will open on December 1st at Official showcase applications open the same day.

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