The Lil’ Smokies, The Drunken Hearts and The Accidentals to take Folk Fest stage

By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW

The 22nd annual Four Corners Folk Festival is just three weeks away and takes place here in Pagosa Springs on Reservoir Hill Park Sept. 1-3. Thousands of people from the Four Corners region and beyond will stream into town to enjoy three days of live musical performances from internationally touring musicians.

This year’s lineup includes Los Lobos, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, The Wood Brothers, Sarah Jarosz, The East Pointers, John Fullbright, We Banjo 3, Quiles and Cloud, Session Americana, Freddy and Francine, Ghost of Paul Revere, the FY5 Band and this week’s featured artists: The Lil’ Smokies, The Drunken Hearts and The Accidentals.

Photo courtesy FolkWest
Although not new to Reservoir Hill, The Lil’ Smokies will make their first two Four Corners Folk Festival appearances on Sept. 1 and Sept. 3.

The Lil’ Smokies

With their roots submerged in the thick, buttery mud of traditional bluegrass, The Lil’ Smokies have blossomed into a leading player in the progressive acoustic sphere, creating a new and wholly unique, melody-driven sound of their own.

The quintet, from Missoula, Mont., has been hard at work, writing, touring and playing to an ever-growing fan base for the past seven years.

The fruits of their labor recently culminated with wins at the 2016 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Momentum Award for Best Band and at the 2015 Telluride Bluegrass festival band competition. In 2013, the band also won The Northwest String Summit Band Competition.

With a unique blend of traditional bluegrass, newgrass, innumerable unique originals, sheer raw energy and exquisite musicianship, The Lil’ Smokies weave seamlessly through genres, leaving behind melodies you’ll be singing to yourself for days and a jaw you’ll have to pick up off the floor.

The Lil’ Smokies have no problem captivating large audiences, sharing the stage with heavyweights like Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Keller Williams, Greensky Bluegrass, Yonder Mountain String Band, Sam Bush Band, Fruition, Infamous Stringdusters and dozens of others.

The Lil’ Smokies have become festival favorites coast to coast with highlights including Delfest, Pagosa Folk N’ Bluegrass, ROMP Fest, Hangtown Halloween, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Northwest String Summit, Targhee Bluegrass Festival and many more.

This five-piece bluegrass ensemble features Andy Dunnigan (dobro), Scott Parker (upright bass), Matt Cornette (banjo), Jake Simpson (fiddle) and Matt Rieger (guitar).

Their closing set on Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. marks The Lil’ Smokies’ first appearance at the Four Corners Folk Festival. They’ll follow it up with a 1:45 p.m. set on Sept. 3.

Photo courtesy FolkWest
The Drunken Hearts, a Colorado-based group, will play the Four Corners Folk Festival’s main stage on Sept. 1 at 3:30 p.m.

The Drunken Hearts

From their humble inception as an acoustic trio, The Drunken Hearts have grown into an electric five-piece band that is captivating audiences across the country.

In those few years, the Colorado-based group has managed to make a name for itself in a state that is known for producing and cultivating world-class music. The band fearlessly bottles a tempestuous, yet honest, brand of American music — infusing spirited vocals with electric and acoustic instruments, and crafting thoughtful songs that are resonating with crowds everywhere.

Originally an outlet for lead singer and acoustic guitarist Andrew McConathy, he knew the band needed to expand musically to satisfy his growing songbook of material. With their latest release, “Love and Thirst,” the band’s journey is clear and truthful, letting the listener in beneath the love and loss that has shaped the band and its members. With the track “Want You Back,” their rowdy guitar-riff rock and country influences are showcased, while the title track “Love and Thirst” conveys a more delicate sentiment through both the music and lyrical delivery.

Following the 2016 release of “Love and Thirst,” the band toured the country from coast to coast, with stops at famed venues and festivals, such as Electric Forest, Vertex, Fayetteville Roots Fest, Hangtown Music Festival and the band’s own YarmonyGrass, among others. Very much in their element on the festival scene, Tyra Sutak (Elevation Outdoors Magazine) described her experience as being “Magnetic. It’s one of the only words my buddy and I could agree on to describe the feeling of the first time we caught Colorado-based band, The Drunken Hearts, live.”

The band will soon be releasing a new album, “The Prize,” and is touring extensively across the nation. They will play the festival’s main stage on Sept. 1 at 3:30 p.m.

Photo courtesy FolkWest
The Accidentals will play one set at this fall’s Four Corners Folk Festival, with that performance set for 5 p.m. on Sept. 1.

The Accidentals

Named among Yahoo Music’s “Top 10 Bands to Watch in 2017,” The Accidentals’ adventure began in their hometown of Traverse City, Mich., when Katie Larson, a sophomore cellist, and Sav Buist, a junior violinist, were paired for a high school orchestra event. The gifted young musicians became fast friends and, before long, bandmates. Having both grown up in musical families with professional pianists for fathers and vocalists for mothers, their shared influences bounced between classical, jazz, bluegrass, country, alt-rock, and the obscure. In 2014, Michael Dause officially joined the group as a percussionist/drummer.

Dubbing themselves after the musical notes that fall outside of a key signature, The Accidentals recorded and released a pair of independent albums in 2012 and 2013, the latter funded by a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign.

Their original songs revealed a band with wide-ranging influences but always true to their orchestral roots. National applause and attention followed, as did acclaimed collaborations with some fellow local artists and independent filmmakers.

Other career highlights included scoring arrangements for a 75-piece orchestra to accompany them on their original songs, as well as arranging pieces for an opera/dance production with Jennifer and Ryan Lott (Son Lux).

The past five years have seen The Accidentals perform more than a thousand live shows, including headline dates, festival sets, and shared stages along such like-minded acts as Martin Sexton, Brandi Carlile, Andrew Bird, The Wailers, Joan Baez and others. 2015 saw the band embark on its first full-scale national tour, funded in part by an Indiegogo “online garage sale.” That year’s SXSW debut saw them hailed by Billboard for “displaying a genre-hopping range of influences and some smart songwriting skills to go with their abundant musical chops.”

Now, at long last, The Accidentals unveil their most compelling and finely honed work to date. Co-produced by Buist, Larson, and Dause with engineer Jason Lehning (Mat Kearney, Guster, George Jones, Alison Krauss), “Odyssey” sees the band joined by such friends and fans as acoustic guitar maestra Kaki King, bassist — and fellow Michigander — Dominic John Davis (Jack White, Beck), Carbon Leaf guitarist Carter Gravatt, Keller Williams and The Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee, who spent three days in the studio alongside the band, lending her distinctive organ to a number of the album’s key tracks.

“It was a really collaborative process,” said Larson. “A lot of these songs had been hashed out at our live shows over the past few years, so we had a very strong idea of what we wanted in the arrangements. Jason helped us get outside the box with recording techniques, putting a fresh spin on the songs.”

“I’m so glad we’ve been able to collaborate with musicians who are so receptive to working and playing together,” Buist said. “They added their own artistry to some of the older songs, and it gave them new life.”

The Accidentals’ inviting spirit of shared creativity is perhaps best represented by the album’s audacious first single, “KW,” showcasing the inimitable guitar work of Williams, whose own virtuosic genre-agnostic approach towards music making inspired the song in the first place.

From the orchestrated rock of “Memorial Day” to the album-closing “Ballad Tendered Gun” — surprisingly, The Accidentals’ first instrumental to be included on an LP — “Odyssey” is a strikingly dynamic work, both layered and unhurried, bittersweet yet life-affirming. Rich with literary references, whispers of nostalgia and an unstoppable sense of forward motion, its songs were written independently by Buist and Larson and then arranged and refined by the group, creating a perfect yin/yang between individual introspection and dynamic cooperation, each artist bringing her own unique perspective to the process.

With “Odyssey,” The Accidentals have conjured a truly one-of-its -kind sound and vision, booming with free-thinking musicality, wisdom and an understanding that growth is a process, not something that happens overnight. The Accidentals are already moving forward on their amazing journey, rolling down the windows on an open road towards someplace that’s both true and transcendent.

Don’t miss The Accidentals’ only show performance set on Friday, Sept. 1, at 5 p.m.

More information

The Four Corners Folk Festival is produced by FolkWest, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and is funded in part with a grant from Colorado Creative Industries.

Information on schedules, artists and tickets can be found online at www.folkwest.com or by calling 731-5582. There are still a few volunteer spots open for the upcoming event; volunteers earn three-day festival admission. If interested, check the website for details.

Artist bios and interviews courtesy of The Lil’ Smokies, The Drunken Hearts and The Accidentals.

This story was posted on August 10, 2017.