My own recollections of the early conferences are hazy, as I was an attendee, not a mover/shaker.
I first attended in 1992 at the Travel Lodge in Aurora, and in 1993 at East Lansing. I remember Phyllis attending those conferences, and I vividly recall the open mikes and workshop sessions with Lee Murdock and Joann, Mike Yuhas, Mark Dvorak, and others. I remember Joan, how busy she always seemed. Now I know why.
The East Lansing conference was a little different – the conference was at a school, and the motels were several blocks away. Tom Paxton was the keynote speaker at lunch, and he sat around with us after lunch talking about songs. Also, it was the weekend of the Ohio State-Michigan game.
In 1994, I had basically stopped touring and was busy in Cleveland with family stuff, but remained an FA member and was a general member of Folknet, our local folk org.
In 1998, I knew that the regional conference was supposed to be held in Cleveland, and I wanted to be part of that. I made some inquiries and went to a meeting of Folknet, only to find that the local person involved early in the planning had reserved the Holiday Inn in Wadsworth, Ohio for the conference. This was not what the Midwest folks had in mind – they were hoping for a Cleveland setting anticipating the 2000 International Conference there. Wadsworth is in Medina County – a long way from the airport and from just about everything else. By this time, though (May 1998) it was too late to book a new site in the Cleveland area. The person who had booked the Wadsworth site had dropped out of the planning committee in a huff. We decided to go ahead with Wadsworth since nothing else seemed feasible. I recall many many emails on the subject and much straining of our collective patience.
Victoria Parks took over chairing the local site preparation, and I volunteered to help her with some of that. Probably due to its obscurity and a civil war in the Cleveland folk community, the 1998 Wadsworth conference was the most sparsely attended in our history (58 attended) and it was the only one ever to lose money. However, Victoria did a terrific job, having had the whole project dumped in her lap at a very late date.
At that point (post conference 1998) the Midwest movers and shakers, who included Phil and Althea Doolittle, Joan Hellmann, Joel Mabus, et. al (and perhaps Dev Singh?) – decided wisely that it might be a good idea to form a board to plan these conferences instead of doing it with an ad hoc committee every year. FARM was formed, and one of the new board members was Susan Weber.
The 1999 Conference was planned for Lake Geneva (George Williams Conference Center). I attended that conference. When Susan decided not to seek reelection to the board, somehow my name was mentioned to replace her, which I accepted. During this time (1999-2000) I was also president of Folknet in Cleveland.
I served on the board fro two years (2000 and 2001), and remain active as the FARM Finance committee chair. It is my job to compile the financial statements sent each year to assure FARM’s inclusion in the Folk Alliance Group Exemption.
We have come a long way since those early days. Hopefully we can continue to keep the Folk Alliance mission growing and active in the Midwest.