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By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW
Only two more weeks until the sixth annual Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass Festival takes place June 7-9 on Reservoir Hill.
Festival-goers will have the opportunity to see and hear more than 20 live performances from 16 different bands on the main stage and late night stage over the course of the three-day event.
This year’s phenomenal lineup represents a variety of musical styles and genres — from country-western swing to Latino-dance-jazz. The lineup includes The Band of Heathens, The Duhks, Della Mae, The Defibulators, The Black Lillies, The Warren Hood Band, Matt Flinner Trio, Taarka, Front Country, The Haunted Windchimes, Paper Bird, Finnders and Youngberg, Corn Yeti, The Expedition Quintet, The New Shoots Trio and this week’s featured headliner band, The Iguanas. You can find links to all of the festival artists on the festival website, www.folkwest.com.
The word “Americana” gets tossed around rather loosely these days; it can mean anything from a hipster with a recently-discovered acoustic guitar to a decades-long denizen of the Grand Ole Opry. But when you set aside the Johnny-come-rootly types for the real deal, it’s a sure bet that you’re going to stray into Iguana territory. Based out of New Orleans for the past couple of decades — save for a short, Katrina-imposed exile in Austin — the Iguanas define a sound of Americana that crosses cultures, styles, eras … and even languages.
Their latest album, “Sin to Sin,” is their first studio recording since 2008’s “If You Should Ever Fall On Hard Times,” and its release coincided with their recent appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
“The title for the new album,” says sax player/vocalist Joe Cabral, “comes from one of the tracks we cut during the sessions that didn’t make it onto the record.” At this point, the band’s guitarist and vocalist Rod Hodges picks up the trail. It’s a line from a tune called ‘Blues for Juarez,’” he says, “that goes, ‘We rode the back roads from sin to sin.’”
The Iguanas’ two-decade road may not exactly have driven them from sin to sin, but it’s taken them all over the map, both figuratively and literally. While bassist René Coman is the only member of the band who is a native of the Crescent City, a languid swampiness so deeply suffuses their sound that you can almost smell the peanut shells on the floor. But there’s far more depth to it than the N’Awlins patina that rests, sometimes lightly, sometimes heavily, on anything the city touches. It’s almost as if the Iguanas dragged sand up from Juarez and mud from the Mississippi Delta, threw them both into the white-hot crucible of rock, and built their foundation from there, with drummer Doug Garrison anchoring their sound deep in the groove.
“Spanish was spoken around the house when I was growing up,” says Cabral, “but I was listening to all kinds of stuff: Herb Alpert, Boots Randolph, country music, rock, polkas. The area of south Omaha where I grew up was the classic American blue collar ethnic melting pot of Irish, Italians, Poles, Mexican-Americans, who all sort of brought these pieces in the mix.”
“How could we not wind up in New Orleans?” asks Rod Hodges, a little rhetorically. “I mean, at Tipitina’s, they might have Doug Sahm one night and Fela Kuti the next.” And sure enough, even on their first album (The Iguanas, Margaritaville/MCA 1993), the band was comfortable planting Allen Toussaint’s oft-covered “Fortune Teller” cheek-by-jowl with cumbia master Celso Piña’s “Por Mi Camino (Along My Way),” leading Entertainment Weekly to conclude, “Never have accordions and saxophones been so much in love.” People echoed that sentiment in their review of Nuevo Boogaloo (Margaritaville/MCA 1994), saying “any group that can turn on a dime from a gorgeous R&B ballad like ‘Somebody Help Me’ to the steamy tropical funk of ‘La Tentacion’ is clearly here to stay.”
And stay they have, through half a dozen studio albums, countless tours and Jazz Fest appearances, and a flood that did its best to take their adopted city with it. It’s a testament to the band’s longevity and endurance that they’re still configured pretty much the way they were 20 years ago, while their onetime label, MCA, has gone the way of mousse-abused coiffures and Hammer pants.
Joe Cabral is pretty philosophical about the band’s persistence in the face of challenges that would have felled — indeed, have felled — lesser bands. “First of all, this is all we know how to do; we’re musicians. But more than that,” he continues, “we respect the power of the band as an entity, and each individual in the band steps up to play his part. When it’s good, that’s really what it’s all about.”
Rod Hodges agrees. “I don’t want to get all heady and mystical about this, but it’s not really an outward reward we’re looking for. We still all enjoy playing music, we all get along, and finding a group of people who can say that after all this time is a pretty rare thing.”
The Iguanas will close Friday night at Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass with an excellent dance party you won’t want to miss on Reservoir Hill beginning at 9 p.m. Because the music on Friday doesn’t start until 5 p.m., tickets are exceptionally affordable. It’s a great opportunity to check out the festival if you’ve never been.
Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass is supported in part with funding from Colorado Creative Industries.
FolkWest’s other big event, the Four Corners Folk Festival, takes place Aug. 30-Sept. 1. This year’s exciting lineup includes headliners John Hiatt and the Combo and Natalie MacMaster, along with The Wood Brothers, Darrell Scott Band, Jimmy LaFave, John Fullbright, Elephant Revival, the Lone Bellow, Sarah Siskind and Travis Book, Rose’s Pawn Shop, Baskery, New Country Rehab, Aoife O’Donovan Band, Slaid Cleaves, The Giving Tree Band and Halden Wofford & the Hi-Beams. Tickets are currently on sale on the FolkWest website and are selling quickly.
For more information on either festival, or to purchase tickets, visit www.folkwest.com or call 731-5582. You can also find both festivals on Facebook, which is a great way to keep up to date on the latest announcements.