Who knows what the Pagosa weather will be like by the time this piece is printed, but as I write this, it’s sunny, about 65 degrees and spring is definitely in the air. In my book that means we’re only about seven weeks away from the start of Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass.
The festival, now in its fifth year (the first two years the festival was called Indiefest), has some terrific artists on the bill. Festivities get underway at the Free Friday concert on Friday, June 4, at 5 p.m. in Town Park. This concert is free and features performances by Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams and The Quebe Sisters Band. Free Friday has become a wonderful beginning-of-summer tradition among local Pagosans.
Matt Flinner has played Pagosa Springs a few times now — the very first year with Sugarbeat — and also with Phillips, Grier and Flinner; the Judith Edelman Band and with his own Quartet. This year, he comes back in June with his latest project, the Matt Flinner Trio.
Multi-instrumentalist Matt Flinner has made a career out of playing acoustic music in new ways. Starting out as a banjo prodigy who was playing bluegrass festivals before he entered his teens, Flinner later took up the mandolin, won the banjo contest at Winfield Kansas in 1990, and took the mandolin award there the following year. Flinner’s decision to focus on eight-stringed instruments, especially the mandolin, was primarily a function of opportunity.
He explains, “I was getting more work on the mandolin.” Sugarbeat, an eclectic quartet that also featured banjoist Tony Furtado, lead vocalist and guitarist Ben Demerath and bassist Sally Truitt allowed him the opportunity to master the mandolin in a contemporary folk and bluegrass context.
Flinner is now widely considered one of the hottest mandolin players on the acoustic scene. He tours actively with his own group and as a member of the new acoustic trio Phillips, Grier and Flinner with bassist Todd Phillips and guitarist David Grier. Flinner’s 1998 debut solo release “The View From Here” drew on such diverse inspirations as Miles Davis, David Grisman and Celtic artists the Bothy Band and was one of the most highly praised acoustic albums of the year. In the words of “Bluegrass Now,” Flinner’s debut was “a musical feast for the ears.”
Flinner’s long-awaited sophomore album “Latitude” expanded on his ability to evoke the sonic textures of the best acoustic jazz while paying homage to his many influences in bluegrass, folk and Celtic music. Produced by Grammy award-winning bassist Todd Phillips and featuring an all-star cast of acoustic players including Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, David Grier and Darol Anger, Flinner and friends created a genre-bending masterpiece filled with memorable melodies. Flinner’s playing exudes an exquisite blend of bluegrass heart and rich atmospheric texturing and all of the guests on the album deliver brilliant, spirited performances.
Following up “Latitude” was to be no easy feat, but Flinner continued to challenge himself, forming the Matt Flinner Quartet. The group made their recorded debut on 2003’s stunning “Walking on the Moon.” On this fascinating disk, Flinner takes his unparalleled musicality in a bold new direction. The Matt Flinner Quartet draws from bluegrass, jazz, funk, and blues influences and combines them with their own improvisational wit for a program of angular, intricate originals and a pair of surprising covers.
An accessible yet original ensemble, the Matt Flinner Quartet is the rare band that plays with all the power of an electric outfit while retaining the sensitivity and empathy of the finest acoustic jazz and bluegrass outfits. “Walking on the Moon’s” nimble exchanges, striking textures, and intriguing subtlety mark the debut of an important new sound from one of the giants of contemporary mandolin.
Although he lives in Nashville these days, Flinner believes that his early years spent in the Rocky Mountains had a very real impact on his music.
“There’s an American harmony in classical music that’s this big wide-open sound — Aaron Copeland’s work, for example,” Flinner says. “So I think there could be something to that, that your surroundings reflect your music.”
With his singular combination of taste, tone and time, Flinner has created a sound that is unique to his vision and makes an important statement in the evolution of acoustic string band music.
Flinner’s brand new project, the Matt Flinner Trio, will perform on the main stage on Reservoir Hill on Sunday, June 6, at 1:30 p.m.
The Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass is supported by a grant from the Colorado Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Colorado General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
Festival tickets and additional information are available on the FolkWest web site: www.folkwest.com or by calling (877) 472-4672.