For the past six years, Sea Cliff singer-songwriter Roger Street Friedman has attended the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) Conference, which celebrated its 25th year Nov. 7-10 in Stamford, CT. This year Friedman was there with his band, which includes Sea Cliff bassist Matthew Schneider, North Shore Middle School orchestra teacher Steve Uh and Staten Island drummer Jim Toscano.
“It feels like coming home to a musical family,” Friedman said. “There is so much talent creating all different kinds of beautiful music that one can’t help but come away feeling inspired.”
More than 700 folk music performers, agents and others in the business attend NERFA each year. The weekend is packed with opportunities for artists to perform in showcases that happen on the formal stage, hotel rooms and even in the hotel lobby.
Rorie Kelly, a singer-songwriter who grew up in Bayville, has gone to NERFA for the past decade. She appreciates that the NERFA community has welcomed her pop-rock music that she says “doesn’t really fit in the traditional folk box.” As a teenager, Kelly spent a lot of time writing and playing guitar in her bedroom and explained that music continues to take her on journeys daily—from NERFA conferences to the Obama White House, where she played her empowerment anthem “If You Teach a Bird to Sing.”
Hillary Foxsong, an Oyster Bay mail carrier for almost 25 years, credits living in Oyster Bay for her success as a professional musician. She attended one of the village’s street fair-like “Cruise Nights” in June of 2005 where outside Canterbury’s, folk-rocker Glen Roethel was playing guitar and singing. Foxsong joined in, singing harmony. Oyster Bay’s famous resident Billy Joel passed by and joined in too, attracting a crowd. Roethel invited Foxsong to sing with him anytime. She did and at a Cruise Night the next summer, the casual duo was this time joined by Roethel’s friend, musician Stuart Markus, who added a third harmony.
“That was my first experience actually performing live with a band,” said Foxsong, who before had sung mainly in school and church choirs and karaoke bars. She had learned to sing harmony from her grandmother, who was a professional singer.
Foxsong, Roethel and Markus formed a band called Gathering Time, which describes themselves as a “high-energy Peter, Paul & Mary or a co-ed Crosby, Stills & Nash.” The trio, now with Gerry McKeveny in place of Roethel, just returned from their 12th NERFA.
“When you hear so much good music, you come away feeling inspired,” Foxsong said. “It makes you a better musician.”
NERFA President Michael Kornfeld, who is a Huntington resident, has held a Long Island Sounds celebration showcase in his hotel room/suite as part of his AcousticMusicScene.com showcase for several years.
“This year, I decided to really spotlight some of the talent that we have here on Long Island by inviting a dozen LI-based artists to close out the musical festivities in my suite during an extended celebration,” said Kornfeld. “Song swaps afford presenters and others an opportunity to hear a few artists in a short period of time and to consider them for possible booking in their concert series and festivals. The extended ones provide folks with a taste of the music of many artists and may prompt them to further check [them] out.”
Foxsong appreciates the support for her music career that she’s received at the post office.
“My bosses are really understanding about my taking a day off here and there to play gigs,” she said. Tony Reyes, her former supervisor, said she inspired him to return to his musical passion—DJ’ing. In terms of musical goals, Foxsong would love to break into mainstream radio and write a hit song.
“Wait a Minute Mr. Postman” and other songs about the mail have been big hits—but Foxsong tends to focus her songwriting on other things. While NERFA isn’t open to the public, shows and gigs are and Foxsong and the other Long Island artists mentioned invite all to check their websites for upcoming events.
“The best way to support local music is to listen to it,” said Friedman. “Streaming numbers are now important for musicians to become more well known and to gain traction outside of their home area. But of course coming out to see them perform live is important as well.” There it is—“Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”