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MilkDrive and The Black Lillies to perform early FolkFest show

I can always tell how close the festival is by how many items on my “to do” list are checked off. I’m rapidly approaching that time of year when the major projects are but a memory and I’m mostly concerning myself with ticket sales, last minute details and minor glitches. By the time this article comes out, the festival program, merchandise and wristbands will all be in production and the festival will be a mere three weeks away.

The 15th Annual Four Corners Folk Festival will take place Sept. 3-5 on Reservoir Hill with a spectacular musical lineup: Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Bush Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, Crooked Still, Solas, Over the Rhine, Caravan of Thieves, John Jorgenson Quintet, Sarah Siskind, Sarah Jarosz, Anne & Pete Sibley, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, Sweet Sunny South and this week’s featured bands, MilkDrive and the Black Lillies.

This year, FolkWest will be hosting a concert at the Liberty Theater on Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. (doors open at 5). This will be a night of incredible music in our hometown venue with Durango band Waiting on Trial (featuring Robin Davis) kicking things off, followed by festival bands MilkDrive and the Black Lillies. While the show was created with the idea in mind of giving early campers in line something to do on Wednesday night, it is open to anyone and all seats are just $5 at the door. It’s a great way to get a tiny sample of festival music on a limited budget.

MilkDrive is this year’s selected Sonicbids band, meaning that they were chosen from amongst nearly 200 bands who submitted their electronic press kit online to FolkWest for festival consideration. Each year, the selection becomes more difficult as more and more extremely talented bands throw their hats into the ring.

Austin alt-folk-progressive acoustic string band MilkDrive got its start in the northern climes of Idaho, where principal songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Noah Jeffries grew up playing bluegrass and gospel in his family’s family band and started writing amazing tunes at age 14. The first band he put together, 36 String Swing, toured the state as Jeffries studied jazz performance at Boise State University.

Jeffries moved to Austin and moved in with fiddling champion-mandolin player Dennis Ludiker — a member of South Austin Jug Band that Jeffries had met long ago when both were competing in the National Old-time Fiddle Contest in Weiser, Idaho — as well as the young Brian Beken, who would also ultimately join the band.

Jeffries began recording his own tunes under the name The Noah Jeffries Project and then with Ludiker, with the duo trading duties on guitar, mandolin, fiddle and bass on an underground demo called “BoLth on the Rampage.” Soon after, Beken, fiddler for South Austin Jug Band and The Gougers and a multi-instrumentalist himself, joined the band so it could perform live. 

With the addition of Matt Mefford on bass, the band was complete and became MilkDrive. It released its debut CD in June 2009, “MILKDRIVE LIVE ‘09,” with arrangements described as “impeccable” and picking so fast it’s “unbelievable.”

Ludiker won the 2009 RockyGrass Mandolin Contest and holds fiddling championship titles from the 2008 and 2009 Texas State-Fiddlers Frolics, 2002 Walnut Valley Music Festival and 2001 Washington State Open. Beken was 2004 Texas Flatpick Guitar Champion. Jeffries won a Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival Jazz Guitar Competition.

Awards are a great measure of technical prowess, but they reveal nothing about the musical soul that is so palpable in MilkDrive’s music. The quartet’s sound is a textural, multilayer mix of rhythms, tempos, flavors, downbeats, improvisation — and it mixes well with the confidence each player possesses. In addition to the Wednesday night show mentioned above, MilkDrive will open the festival’s main stage on Friday, Sept. 3 at 2 p.m., and will also be featured on the late night stage at the Community Center on Saturday, Sept. 4 at 9 p.m.

The Black Lillies first played Pagosa Springs this past June at Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass, where they were the Sonicbids selected band. They were so well received (they sold every last CD they brought with them) that we decided the larger Four Corners audience deserved a chance to hear the Black Lillies as well. This band is literally back by popular demand!

Born in the rumbling cab of a stone truck and aged in the oak of Tennessee’s smoky night haunts, The Black Lillies have come to the forefront of the Americana scene in little less than two years. Founded by multi instrumentalist and vocalist Cruz Contreras, co-founder of Robinella and the CCstringband, The Black Lillies have created their own unique brand of country, roots, rock and blues via Appalachia. The group, formed in 2008, also includes bassist Taylor Coker, electric guitar and pedal steel whiz Tom Pryor (the everybodyfields), and drummer Jamie Cook (the everybodyfields).

In April of 2009, The Black Lillies released “Whiskey Angel,” their debut recording. The album was recorded live in Cruz’s living room by Sparklehorse drummer Scott Minor, and features Billy Contreras on fiddle. The band toured regularly throughout 2009, with highlights including two performances at the Bonnaroo Music + Arts Festival, two performances at Bristol’s Rhythm and Roots Reunion, and appearances on the Music City Roots and Tennessee Shines live radio shows. The host of Tennessee Shines, legendary songwriter and musician Jim Lauderdale, called The Black Lillies “a true Americana supergroup.” The band kicked off their first national tour in November in front of a packed house at the storied Ryman Auditorium, the “Mother Church of Country Music.”

The Black Lillies will bring their unique style of Americana music to the festival audience at the Liberty Theater show on Wednesday, Sept. 1 and on the Reservoir Hill main stage on Friday, Sept. 3 at 3:15 p.m.

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 can be purchased by cash or check at Moonlight Books and the Pagosa Springs Area Chamber of Commerce or with a credit card by calling (877) 472-4672.