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By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW
If you haven’t purchased your festival ticket yet, or lined up your volunteer spot for the weekend, I’m giving you a gentle reminder that we are now officially in the final two weeks before the 18th annual Four Corners Folk Festival comes to town once again.
The festival takes place Aug. 30-Sept.1 on beautiful Reservoir Hill in downtown Pagosa Springs.
This year’s amazing lineup of musicians includes the legendary John Hiatt and the Combo, Natalie MacMaster, The Wood Brothers, Darrell Scott Band, Jimmy LaFave, Slaid Cleaves, Aoife O’Donovan Band, Sunliner (Sarah Siskind and Travis Book), John Fullbright, New Country Rehab, Rose’s Pawn Shop, Baskery, The Lone Bellow, The Giving Tree Band and this week’s two featured artists, Elephant Revival and Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams.
Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams will be helping FolkWest officially kick off the festivities with an appearance at Preview in the Park, a free concert on Thursday, Aug. 29, at 5 p.m. at Town Park. Also appearing on the Gazebo Stage that evening will be New Country Rehab. The Chamber of Commerce will be serving up food, and beer and wine will be available for purchase.
On Friday, the festivities will move up to Reservoir Hill when the main stage music gets underway. Because we don’t have a huge tent in Town Park like the one on Reservoir Hill, the concert will be weather dependent.
Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams ride out from the cutting edge cowtown of Denver. Rootsy and real, neither revivalist nor retro, the Hi-Beams’ brand of country music is as boundless and electrifying as America itself.
Equal parts Hank Williams and Johnny Depp, front man Halden Wofford pours forth a potent mix of rocked-up honky tonk, Western Swing, Dylanesque originals and spaghetti western epics. There is no creative limit to the songwriter, illustrator, author, storyteller and singer. But Halden has met his match in the Hi-Beams. Each outrageous tale he spins is met by the whine and wail of the steel guitar, the furious double-neck electric guitar and mandolin, and the relentless thump of the upright bass and drums.
Halden Wofford was born in Los Angeles in 1966, but was quickly transplanted to Fort Worth, Texas, where his mother’s family stuck like weeds. Once in Texas, the heat, constant local television, and eventual rattle of a ’73 Barracuda fused his brain cells into a receptor for honky tonk and Western Swing musical compositions. Halden has been playing country music in Denver since 1995, singing for American Legion audiences and bar flies in obscure bars in questionable neighborhoods until hooking up with the members of the Hi-Beams in 1999.
Halden’s classically country voice and his distinctive, original songwriting provide the cornerstone of the Hi-Beams sound, and he also holds the rhythm section together with rock-solid acoustic rhythm guitar. His influences include the late and the great songwriters like Cindy Walker, Harlan Howard and Don Gibson, and stretch to encompass contemporary honky-tonkers like Paul Burch, Jim Lauderdale and the sad, sad music of Gillian Welch.
Bret Billings, a.k.a. the Man of Steel, is a Denver native with an extensive and impressive background in the local country music scene. His parents bought him his first steel guitar while he was a teenager, and he became a student of local steel guitar legend Dick Meis when he was 16. Bret has played locally and regionally since 1977 with the Desperados, Kenny Brent and the Texas Express, Briar Rose, the Red Eye Band and many others. Bret was heavily influenced by the California country rock scene of the ’70s — the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Poco, New Riders of the Purple Sage and, a little later, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Rodney Crowell and others.
Greg Schochet is an integral part of Colorado’s Front Range music scene. Making his home in the Boulder area, he is in demand as a performer, producer, teacher and session musician. Greg began playing guitar in his early teens, inspired by the folk of his parents’ records, and the rock of FM radio. It was in Boulder that Greg was first exposed to bluegrass, and began focusing on the mandolin. Several bluegrass bands evolved into Runaway Truck Ramp, a group whose four-year existence included nationwide touring and two CDs.
Freed from the immersion of a full time band, Greg’s musical compass led him to country and swing, and he quickly became active within the Front Range’s burgeoning roots music community. Greg has most recently been playing lead guitar in the All Night Honky Tonk All-Stars and mandolin in Greenwich Gulch, in addition to countless performances with local and regional bands. He and appears on dozens of recordings playing both guitar and mandolin in a wide variety of styles.
Ben O’Conneris a New Mexico native who grew up listening to his mother’s country music collection. An accomplished and popular fixture in the Colorado roots music scene, Ben has played upright and electric bass with a number of prominent Colorado country, rockabilly and bluegrass bands.
Ben’s heroes and influences include Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Gary Stewart, Charlie Rich, Charlie Pride, Keith Whitley and many other classic country performers. When not playing with the Hi-Beams or sitting in with other local acts, Ben teaches web design at Colorado State University and spends evenings at home with his daughter, Lily Dale.
Damon Smith was born in Okinawa, Japan, and had seen most of the U.S. before turning 8 and shipping out to Africa. Damon’s folks had a country band in Africa with a few like-minded servicemen called “The Buffalo Chips.” Moving all the time gave Damon access to a wide spectrum of music from traditional and indigenous, to contemporary and counter cultural. Mostly though, he just wanted to rock. Damon taught himself to play the drums while listening to Foreigner. “It was hard. You couldn’t play too loud or the record would skip.”
It’s been rock, rock and more rock since 1989. Touring the U.S. several times with punk groups Abaisser and Someday I, Damon has satisfied a need to keep moving. Always lurking in the shadows were those memories of country music. They finally came flooding out and now Damon is rediscovering the music of his parents. Playing with Halden Wofford & the Hi-Beams, he’s been able to study the roots of country, from Bob Wills to Earnest Tubb, honky tonk to gospel. Rounding out this musical journey is Turn4, allowing Damon to write in his own country voice and explore modern country artists like Uncle Tupelo, the Back Sliders and John Wayne.
From Red Rocks to rodeos, the Fillmore Auditorium to the back of a flatbed truck, Prairie Home Companion to performing arts centers, Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams deliver an unforgettable and original night of American music. They’ll be bringing their high energy show to the festival with a 5 p.m. set on Thursday, Aug. 29, in Town Park (free), a main stage set on Friday, Aug. 30, at 2 p.m., finishing up later that night with a set on the Late Night stage at 9.
“Where words fail … music speaks.”
That simple line atop Elephant Revival’s Facebook page contains only five words, but reveals volumes about the band’s reason for being. Music unites us in ways that no other medium can. Even when we don’t understand one another’s languages — we can be moved by a rhythm, soothed by a song. Brought together by a unified sense of purpose — the spirit of five souls working as one, in harmony, creating sounds they could never produce alone.
The five souls in Elephant Revival are Sage Cook (banjo, guitar, mandolin, tenor banjo, bass and fiddle); Bridget Law (fiddle, octave fiddle); Bonnie Paine (washboard, djembe, musical saw, stompbox); Daniel Rodriguez (guitar, banjo, bass); and Dango Rose (double-bass, mandolin, banjo). All share vocals and write songs. Paine delivers additional beats via footstomps on plywood, her stockinged feet doing near jigs as her hands, encased in antique leather gloves, rub silver nickel against corrugated metal.
This Nederland, Colo., quintet is, needless to say, quite a sight — especially when the members fall into the pocket of a groove containing elements of gypsy, rock, Celtic, alt-country and folk.
The Indie Acoustic Project simply labels their sound “progressive edge.” At least, that’s the category in which it placed the band when it gave their Ruff Shod/Nettwerk Records release, “Break in the Clouds,” a best CD of 2011 award. It’s as good a label as any to convey what Rose has described as their mission: “To close the gap of separation between us through the eternal revelry of song and dance.”
Elephant Revival also shares a commitment to responsible stewardship of the planet and its inhabitants, working with organizations such as the Conscious Alliance, Calling All Crows, Trees Water and People, and other nonprofits supporting humanitarian causes. Their very name was chosen out of empathy for a pair of zoo pachyderms who, upon being separated after 16 years, died on the same day. The band related that heart-rending story during their April 2012 debut on fellow Coloradan Nick Forster’s internationally syndicated “eTown” radio show — like Elephant Revival, a blend of music and social consciousness.
Sitting in the audience during their performance, one music blogger was moved to write, “Elephant Revival serenaded the crowd with arabesque melodies, harmonies and rhythms that braided and coiled into a sublime aural tapestry. Their instrumental dynamics, verse, and even the harrowing story that inspired their appellation, invoked the majesty, mystery and sorrow of Mother Earth.”
Campout for the Cause festival organizers put it this way in an affectionate shout out on their Facebook page. “We love Elephant Revival so much,” they wrote, “not just for their incredible music and conscious lyrics, but for their commitment to living up to the standards they set forth and setting positive examples.”
It’s a paradigm worth spreading, and that’s what Elephant Revival members intend to continue doing as they carry their music around the world, speaking one song at a time. The popular band is back in Pagosa for a third time this festival with a main stage set on Sunday, Sept. 1, at 2 p.m. and a late night set on Saturday, Aug. 31, at 11 p.m.
The Four Corners Folk Festival is supported in part by a grant from Colorado Creative Industries. The grant provides assistance with performer fees, allowing FolkWest to keep ticket prices low and admission free for children 12 and under.
There are still a handful of volunteer positions left at the festival; work for a few hours and you’ll earn free admission to the festival for the entire weekend. Call the number below if interested.
For tickets or additional information about this year’s Four Corners Folk Festival, including schedules, performer web links and more, visit www.folkwest.com or call 731-5582.