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Crooked Still and Sarah Jarosz to perform at Four Corners Folk Festival

Hard to believe that July is already more than half over and the 15th annual Four Corners Folk Festival is a mere six weeks away!

We are getting more excited with each passing day to herald the start of this milestone celebration with yet another spectacular musical lineup: Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Sam Bush Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, Solas, Over the Rhine, Caravan of Thieves, John Jorgenson Quintet, Sarah Siskind, Anne and Pete Sibley, The Black Lillies, MilkDrive, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, Sweet Sunny South and this week’s featured bands, Crooked Still and Sarah Jarosz.

The festival takes place Sept. 3-5 on Reservoir Hill Park, with late night sets on Friday and Saturday nights at the Ross Aragon Community Center.

Crooked Still is one of today’s most compelling alt-bluegrass bands. The addition of fiddler Brittany Haas and cellist Tristan Clarridge in 2008 allowed the band to prove itself to be even more adventurous, breathing cosmic fire into their old material.

“Brittany adds another female presence to the band; I can hear my voice in her fiddling. Tristan has a refined cello tone, with a powerful, restrained energy. They bring a fresh outlook to the arrangements that keep the music exciting,” said lead vocalist Aoife O’Donovan.

Crooked Still is an ensemble effort of inspired music making that moves the bands’ impossible-to-pigeonhole style in new directions while honoring their folk roots. “It’s hard to pin down our music,” bass player Corey DiMario says. “We play improvised old time music, bluegrass, folk and our own songs within the broad context of a string band. Like a lot of today’s bands, we have modern and traditional influences that confuse the boundaries. We want to keep blurring those lines to make something all our own.”

Crooked Still’s genre-bending sound is the combination of five distinctive talents who are not content to limit themselves to any one project or style of music. While Crooked Still is the main band for these talented players, all are involved in other projects.

On their latest release, “Some Strange Country,” Crooked Still has honed its unique refraction of roots music, recording the band’s most personal, visionary album yet.

“As we worked on the songs, we realized there was a lot of loss and mortality in the lyrics,” banjo player Greg Liszt adds. “You can’t make a folk album without delving into what’s happening now and we were surprised at how current the songs sounded.”

“The music is not just ‘alternative bluegrass’ or whatever people used to call it,” fiddle-player Brittany Haas remarks. “It’s at another level now: artful, but still grounded in that funky, string band thing.”

The genesis of the group continues to evolve. Much like moonshine distilled in the apparatus that inspired their name, Crooked Still is still fermenting. 

The band will be featured on the late night stage Saturday, Sept. 4 at 9 p.m. and on the festival main stage on Sunday, Sept. 5, at 2 p.m.

The other featured festival artist in this week’s installment is a guest vocalist on Crooked Still’s latest CD so I’d be surprised if there isn’t some collaboration onstage at the festival between the two.

Sarah Jarosz turned 18 a few weeks before her debut CD, “Song Up In Her Head,” was released by Sugar Hill on June 16, 2009. Surprising for one so young, Sarah Jarosz (juh-ROSE) has a fine, supple singing voice, occasionally reminiscent of such disparate artists as Natalie Maines, Patty Griffin and Rickie Lee Jones. She has a deft writing voice, unusually assured and observant in her debut, and it is more than telling that the album’s two covers (the Decemberists’ “Shankill Butchers” and the Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan co-write, “Come On Up To The House”) fit unobtrusively next to her own 11 songs. And of course she can play: mandolin, clawhammer banjo, guitar, and piano.

Born in Austin, Texas, and raised in Wimberley, 45 minutes south and east of Austin’s city limits, Jarosz began singing at two, playing piano at six, took up the mandolin at 10.

“Then,” she says, “I found out about a weekly Friday night bluegrass jam in Wimberley. My parents took me to that once, and I was just hooked. I asked them to take me back every week. Once I showed an even greater interest in this music thing, they made it possible for me to be able to travel around the country and learn and grow as a musician.”

 It worked like this: For the last seven years Sarah has attended the weeklong academy which precedes the RockyGrass festival in Lyons, Colo. Last year she performed at the festival itself.

“It’s all just really built upon itself,” she says of her career. “I feel like I’ve never had to push or force anything to make it happen. It’s been a really beautiful, natural thing.”

Already she’s played Telluride and Wintergrass, Old Settler’s Music Festival in Austin, Grey Fox, and, even, the Country Music Association Festival. She joined Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs on national television during the 2005 CMA salute to the father of bluegrass banjo, and was a special guest at the Del McCoury Band’s 2008 New Year’s Eve party at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

 Sarah’s star is rising fast, so you should definitely plan to check out this remarkable talent on Sunday, September 5 at 12:30 PM on the festival main stage.

 The Four Corners Folk Festival is supported with funding from Colorado Creative Industries, a state agency and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

 For complete schedule and lineup information, or to purchase tickets online, visit www.folkwest.com. Tickets are also available by calling (877) 472-4672.