This is a festival-heavy region. They come most weekends all summer long, impeding your sleep schedule and depleting your bank account while giving you a dose of acoustic-based music. One of the best, The Four Corners Folk Festival, will celebrate 20 years when the festival kicks off today on Reservoir Hill in Pagosa Springs.
As music lovers wander Pagosa Springs (or any festival for that matter), it’s the music getting the attention. Little thought is given to how these large gatherings come about, and where the money comes from to put them together. In the case of this festival, it’s a volunteer base of hundreds that takes tickets, checks wristbands, works in hospitality and keeps the grounds clean, amongother duties during the festival. There are also 11 seasonal employees and two full-time employees that deal with a laundry list of tasks. There’s obtaining land and city permits; insurance; liquor licenses; security; marketing and ticket sales; portable toilet rentals and maintenance; and a dozen other things to make ticket buyers and festival campers comfortable.
It was a vision Dan Appenzeller and Crista Munro had back in 1994, when they were part of the Pagosa Music Association.
“There were eight to 10 of us then. In the beginning, we focused on fundraising and held monthly open mic nights for a year to raise seed money for the festival,” Munro in a recent email interview. “After that, Dan pounded the pavement and raised more than $18,000 in donations from local businesses and individuals to start the first festival.”
Both the budget and the attendance have more than quadrupled since it began. There were 500 attendees in 1995; 2015 will see 3,500 each day. It’s those numbers in ticket sales, along with concessions, donations and grant funding from Colorado Creative Industries, that keep the festival running.
It’s still a small operation, spearheaded by Munro and Appenzeller, who relocated to Oregon in 2011. Aside from hoping the weather cooperates, they’ve dialed the operation in. It’s a favorite among locals who favor a smaller, quainter event over larger festivals.
“The most challenging and daunting part of living so far away is the 2,600-mile road trip,” said Munro. “But we have such a great team in Pagosa Springs, including our board members that we are still very much in the loop with what’s happening there. In many ways, running the festival remotely has streamlined our operations and made us always look for better ways to do things.”
Crowd favorites not to be missed include Shel, The Black Lillies, Railsplitters, The Jon Stickley Trio, Eddie from Ohio and Hot Rize.
The Railsplitters were sleeper favorites at last April’s Bluegrass Meltdown held in Durango. The Boulder-based quintet won the Rockygrass band competition in 2013 and are becoming regulars on the state’s ever-so-busy festival circuit. They’re touring behind their new release, “The Faster it Goes.”
Jon Stickley and his band have built a vehicle bound for jam-band royalty; his guitar playing is at a level of any veteran and at times is the center of the trio, which can move in any direction. Fiddle player Lindsay Pruett swings the trio into Latin and gypsy jazz, while drummer Patrick Armitage drives them with rock beats. It appeals to the hippie crowd for its dance-ability, draws the musician crowd because of the high level of playing, and appeals to the music snob crowd for its genre-crossing. Odd time-signatured songs run right alongside short bursts of flat-picking and and elements of improvisation, but it’s hard to gauge, as the band is tight like an acoustic Zappa outfit and polished like a fusion outfit. Their last Durango performance was a full rock show, loud and driving and proving they could be the center of a jam-band heavy festival.
Eddie From Ohio are Pagosa favorites, a quintessential festival band that’s quirky and talented with songwriting chops and stage appeal. Their performance schedule has slowed down, with this performance the only show on their calendar.
Home-state heroes Hot Rize will close out the festival, with their country alter ego Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers in tow. One-upping their Rockygrass performance will be tough, which was complete with horseback entrance and dancing ladies that could have been moonlighting from a Denver gentlemen’s club. They’re a seasoned bunch, an award-winning bluegrass band that will make way for Knuckles brand of classic country and western.
Despite the bookings, the troubleshooting, the prayer for decent weather and the business aspect of this or any festival, it remains a weekend for fans of music, which encompasses everyone no matter what color or what level wristband you have, and whether you’re on or watching the stage. Fans are mellow, the talent is approachable and the overall mindset is that people are there for the music and the music surrounds you at all times. It’s an equal draw that the talent is worth seeing, and it’s a perennial good time. “Festivals are among our favorite” said Railsplitter Dusty Rider. “Mostly because we get to play for a built-in crowd, there usually because of the headliners or for the reputation of the festival.”
The festival runs through Sunday.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.