Now in its 15th year, the Four Corners Folk Festival has grown into a huge festival. Not huge in numbers, but huge in names.
The event sells about 2,800 tickets each year, which by big concert and festival standards is quite a modest number. Compared to larger festivals thats just downright quaint (Tellurides Bluegrass and Blues & Brews festivals, by contrast, average between 9,000 and 10,000 people per day). The annual three-day Labor Day weekend event continues to spotlight up-and-coming bands of the folk, bluegrass and jam variety, while also booking some of the biggest names as headliners.
This year is no different; headlining the Folk Fest this weekend will be Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, The Sam Bush Band and the Infamous Stringdusters. Skaggs and Bush are national superstars, with the Stringdusters (a perennial Folk Fest favorite) on their way to national superstardom as well.
Concert organizers Crista Munro and Dan Appenzeller have created a festival that has musicians wanting to come back. The backstage area that overlooks the town and mountain range, along with the hot springs, makes playing there a working vacation. Add in the fact that instead of standard festival seating with tarps jammed up to the stage theres an actual tent with seating for 1,500, and youve got a concert within a festival complete with an attentive and diehard audience. Artists like that.
Aside from the recognizable big names, the Folk Fest always has prided itself on bringing in some lesser-known names on their rise to stardom. In 1996, an unknown band named Nickel Creek was booked, and the band soon became national stars. Playing a festival perhaps is the best way for a band to get known; music fans who are there to see one favorite act likely will discover a new favorite by the festivals end. Some of the sleepers to look for this year are Milk Drive, an Austin-based Newgrass band featuring former members of the South Austin Jug Band, as well as Caravan of Thieves. The Caravan is a Django Reinhardt gypsy-jazz-swing band based out of southern Connecticut, which is as much of a vaudeville act as it is a band.
Lets not forget about the late-night acts, which come this year with a twist. Anyone whos attended the Folk Fest in the past likely has dealt with a bit of rain followed by brief periods of cold. Thats fine and part of the festival experience if it comes during the day, but at night when the temperature dips below 50 degrees, playing an instrument is difficult at best. Late-night shows now will take place in town at the Pagosa Community Center. That gives fans and musicians a chance to stay warm and dry and ultimately offers a more comfortable setting that allows the festival organizers the chance to accomplish something theyve aimed for since day one to provide more music. Todays late-night acts are the John Jorgenson Quintet (one of the hottest gypsy jazz guitar players this writers ever seen) along with Caravan of Thieves. And late-night Saturday its Milk Drive, Crooked Still and the Infamous Stringdusters.
The campground scene also remains a pickers and music lovers paradise. Whether you like it or not, late-night revelers will play their instruments well into the wee hours of the morning. That may be obnoxious for some of you, but it comes with the territory. Ideally you could see some of the best music of the weekend in the campgrounds without ever going near the main stage. Sleep tight.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at Liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.