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Natalie MacMaster, Jackie Greene, SHEL at Four Corners Folk Festival

Can it really be only 14 more days until the 16th annual Four Corners Folk Festival is here?

It is hard to believe, but the festival will take place starting just two weeks from tomorrow, Sept. 2-4, on Reservoir Hill. It’s not too late to get your tickets to enjoy this year’s powerful lineup of diverse musical talent: the Keb’ Mo’ Band, Los Lobos, Punch Brothers, The Infamous Stringdusters, Jimmy LaFave, Caravan of Thieves, Chatham County Line, Cousin Harley, The Black Lillies, MilkDrive, Anne and Pete Sibley, Joy Kills Sorrow and this week’s featured artists: Natalie MacMaster, Jackie Greene and SHEL. This year’s lineup truly has something for everyone and promises nothing but incredible music from start to finish on each of the three days of this nationally renowned festival.

Natalie MacMaster first performed at the Four Corners Folk Festival in 2003 and was already noted as one of the world’s foremost fiddlers. Eight years and four children later, MacMaster — just as energetic and somehow even more talented and entertaining than ever — will make her return to the festival to headline on Friday.

 Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster is an electrifying performer whose passionate proficiency on the beloved four-string amplifies the traditional East Coast sound for contemporary times. Hers is a signature sound that has resonated with world audiences through 10 albums, multiple gold sales figures and 27 years; numerous Juno and East Coast Music Awards; two honorary degrees (from Niagara University, N.Y., and Trent University) and an honorary doctorate (St. Thomas University); the Order Of Canada — and a reputation as one of Canada’s most captivating performers.

She also has the respect and admiration of the creme de la creme of top-notch musicians: master violinist Mark O’Connor, whose camp MacMaster frequents as a guest instructor; legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma — who recently invited her to participate as a guest performer on his 2008 holiday-themed album “Songs Of Joy and Peace;” banjo prodigy Bela Fleck; fellow fiddling marvel Alison Krauss; spiritually electrifying superstar guitarist Carlos Santana — the list goes on.

But to Natalie MacMaster, her beloved family now shapes and informs her musicianship as much as the jigs, reels, air, waltzes, strathspeys, marches and traditional folk that feed her spiritual soul. If anything, family has reinvigorated Natalie MacMaster’s commitment to the stage and her audience.

“I like being on stage even more,” she enthuses. “When I appear onstage, that’s my departure from Momhood – and I transform into Natalie MacMaster: the entertainer, the fiddler, the performer.  “I relish that now more.”  As do her audiences, who are left clapping, hollering and screaming for more as MacMaster and her band wow them with stylistic diversity as reflected in such top-selling CDs as the Grammy-nominated “My Roots Are Showing,” “Blueprint” and “Yours Truly.”

The applause only increases in excitement when MacMaster incorporates step dancing into her performance. But it’s her majesty with the bow and her intricate technique in making the fiddle sing and championing the Cape Breton tradition that floors her admirers for over 100 shows per year.

“I guess culture and tradition never go out of style,” MacMaster explains. “For my crowds, they’ve been there for so many years — they just keep building and hanging on. I think they’ve seen me go from a very youthful new sound into a maturity and a confidence through the years. I also think they receive whatever it is that I give, not through me trying, but only through the nature of music itself. I always get the sense from them that they deeply understand the unspoken essence of what I do.”

Born June 13, 1972, in Troy, Inverness County, Nova Scotia, Natalie MacMaster’s impressive musical lineage includes a cadre of amazing fiddlers, including her uncle, fiddle prodigy Buddy MacMaster (with whom Natalie recorded the 2005 gem “Traditional Music From Cape Breton Island”) her cousin Andrea Beaton and the late, great Canadian folk icon John Allan Cameron.

However, MacMaster forged her own sound, debuting her fiddling prowess at the age of nine-and-a-half years at a concert in Glendale, Cape Breton. She delivered her first album, “Four On The Floor,” at the age of 16. Today, at a youthful 39, her strength and confidence in performing the fiddle continues to drive her passion and hunger to explore her love of music even further – and satisfy her audiences, and herself, in the process. 

 Natalie will perform on the festival’s main stage on Friday, Sept. 2, at 7:15 p.m.

Jackie Greene is less and less keen on defining himself in a world that wants him to be its latest “New Dylan.” Instead, 27-year-old Greene is thinking big — about death or, more accurately, transformation. He named his new, game-changing album “Giving Up the Ghost” for a reason. “The phrase refers to the destruction of certain notions and practices that I used to hold in high esteem,” he says. “I’m just sorta sick of being the kid with the harmonica rack. I don’t want to be Bob Dylan.”

 Discussing “Giving Up the Ghost,” his fifth album and first on 429 Records, Jackie Greene — singer and songwriter, guitarist and keyboard player, acoustic solo artist and electrifying band leader — hesitates to spell things out too much.

“Could we leave some questions unanswered?” he asks. “So people can make up their own minds about things?” Many people have already made up their minds about Jackie Greene, the Americana phenom from Sacramento who made his first album only six years ago and has steadily built up a passionate following among both rank-and-file fans and some of the biggest names in music.

 Tours with a who’s-who of American roots music — Buddy Guy, Elvis Costello, Susan Tedeschi, Willie Nelson, B.B. King and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott among them — and performances everywhere from the Newport Folk Festival and the Monterey Jazz Festival to Bonnaroo, have meant that Greene was recognized quickly by those who know talent, and who saw something rare and promising in him. Their early enthusiasm has only grown with each new album.

Greene is a road warrior who will this year play some 150 dates. He’ll play with his own crack band as well as with Phil Lesh and Friends, who he joined in 2007, taking most of the lead vocals as well as playing keyboards and guitar — his playing of which Lesh has described as “impeccable.”

Lesh’s enthusiasm for Greene’s playing was matched by his affection for Greene’s own songs, a number of which Lesh incorporated into the band’s set, as he did with former “friend” Ryan Adams. And when the surviving members of The Grateful Dead reunited to play for presidential candidate Barack Obama in February 2008, Greene was playing with the band.

Adept at acoustic finger-picking and ripping it up on the electric, coloring a song on the electric piano or firing up a jam with a swirl of notes from the Hammond B-3, Greene is above all a working musician, and with “Giving Up the Ghost” he gave himself permission to do things musically that he hadn’t dared before.

“I’ve always been a folkie guy,” he says. “Most of my songs have been pretty standard changes, and I’m trying to not do that anymore. I want more unique changes that might not fall into that category. I’m trying to challenge myself to make the music different.”

But despite those changes, Greene’s passionate fans need not fear: “Giving Up the Ghost” also delivers plenty of the unvarnished Americana that has made Greene such a sensation. Backed alternately by his own touring band and the same crack studio band assembled by producer Steve Berlin — Elvis Costello’s rhythm section of Pete Thomas and Davey Farragher, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, pedal steel giant Greg Leisz, and fiddler Larry Campbell — Greene still brings it all back home.

And as he prepares his band to head out for another year of serious touring, Greene is giving himself and his band the same sort of license he gave himself as a songwriter. “The recording is the recording, and the live show is the live show, and in my mind that’s different, it sounds way different, and that’s good,” he says. “Live is still the best way to experience music, because it’s pretty pure. If you want to hear something the same way over and over, you can listen to the record, but if you want to hear the song, you go hear it live.”

Fans can hear Jackie Greene perform live at the Four Corners Folk Festival on Sunday, Sept. 4 ,at 5 p.m.

 Each year, FolkWest invites new artists to apply through Sonicbids, an online electronic music submission platform, to compete for one guaranteed performance spot at the Four Corners Folk Festival. This year we received more than 200 entries, making the decision process a tough one. The amount of talent to choose from speaks highly of the band that was ultimately selected as this year’s Emerging Artist: SHEL.

 SHEL is Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza, four classically trained musicians who happen to be sisters. From the artist colony of Fort Collins, Colo., SHEL is sophisticated and youthful, emotional and lighthearted, classic and eccentric. SHEL’s engaging live show is marked with a prodigy’s creativity and a veteran’s instinct for entertaining. Audiences delight with their unique songwriting style and fresh, new sound.

 Sarah (violin, bass) is immensely gifted as a violinist and vocalist and shines with her bass chops. She is the primary designer of SHEL’s original graphics and videography. Hannah (piano, keyboards) is an award-winning young composer and pianist. She sings and helps arrange SHEL’s unique vocal harmonies and has been studying piano performance and composition at Colorado State University. Eva (mandolin, electric mandolin, cello) is the band’s lead vocalist and one of the primary writers. Eva is involved in every phase of arranging and production and records much of the band’s tracks in their home studio. Liza (drums, percussion) is equally proficient on the djembe and Roland Hand Sonic drum. Her natural polyrhythmic ability was spotted at an early age and adds depth and richness to SHEL’s sound.

 This talented group will play on the main stage on Saturday, Sept. 3, at 11 a.m.

 This is the second year that the festival has used a ticketless system, which cuts down on paper waste and protects buyers against lost or forgotten tickets. Advanced admission can only be purchased by phone or online through a simple, easy and secure process. To purchase tickets in advance, or for additional information about the festival schedule, bands and lineup, visit the festival website at www.folkwest.com, or call (877) 472-4672 (locally 731-5582). A limited number of tickets will also be available at the gate on the day of show for a slightly higher price.

 FolkWest is a Colorado cultural non-profit that receives financial support from the El Pomar Foundation, La Plata Electric Roundup Foundation, and the Ballantine Family Fund.

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