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Folk ’N Bluegrass Festival kicks off with Free Friday concert

The fourth annual Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass Festival will kick off with the traditional Free Friday concert on June 3 beginning at 4 p.m. in Town Park.

The concert will feature music from three festival performers: MilkDrive, The Grant Farm and Warren Hood and the Goods. The gates will open at 3:00 PM on Friday, with food provided by area non-profits and micro-brew beer available in the Breckenridge Brewery beer garden. Free Friday promises to be a wonderful opportunity to come out and hear some great music, dance and visit with friends – and there’s no admission charge. All ages are welcome.

 Also on the festival lineup this year are nine other phenomenal bands: Eddie From Ohio, Solas, Crooked Still, Joy Kills Sorrow, The Dixie Bee-Liners, Town Mountain, Rockin’ Acoustic Circus, Spring Creek, and Finnders and Youngberg.

 Free Friday’s first band is Austin-based alt-folk-progressive acoustic string band, MilkDrive. The band recently put the finishing touches on its recently released debut studio album, “Road From Home,” produced in Nashville. MilkDrive actually got its start in the northern climes of Idaho, where principal songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Noah Jeffries grew up playing bluegrass and gospel in his family’s band and started writing amazing tunes at age 14. The first band he put together, 36 String Swing, toured the state as Jeffries studied jazz performance at Boise State University. He also played with Jason Boland and the Stragglers for seven years.

 Jeffries moved to Austin and moved in with fiddling champion-mandolin player Dennis Ludiker, whom Jeffries had met long ago when both were kids competing in the National Old-time Fiddle Contest in Weiser, Idaho — as well as the young Brian Beken, who also would ultimately join the band. Jeffries began recording his own tunes under the name The Noah Jeffries Project and then with Ludiker, the duo trading duties on guitar, mandolin, fiddle and bass on an underground demo called BoLth on the Rampage. Soon after, Beken, also a multi-instrumentalist, joined the band so it could perform live.

 With the addition of bass player Matt Mefford, who was in the South Austin Jug Band with Ludiker and Beken, the band was complete and became MilkDrive. Ludiker, who has toured with Asleep at the Wheel, won the 2009 RockyGrass Mandolin Contest and holds titles as the 2010 World Fiddle Champion, 2009 and 2008 Texas State-Fiddlers Frolics and 2002 Walnut Valley Music Festival Winner. Beken was 2004 Texas Flatpick Guitar Champion. Jeffries won a Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival Jazz Guitar Competition.

 While awards can be a great measure of technical prowess, they reveal nothing about the musical soul that is so palpable in MilkDrive’s music. The quartet’s sound is a textural, multi-layer mix of rhythms, tempos, flavors, harmonies and improvisation. Fingers flying at breathtaking speed, original tunes that feel familiar at first but go beyond extraordinary, songs with themes universal but unique, heart and brains behind dynamic performances: It’s an uncompromising musical journey the members of MilkDrive are on. You can catch MilkDrive at Free Friday beginning at 4: p.m. and on the festival’s main stage on Reservoir Hill on Saturday, June 4 at 2:30 p.m.

Free Friday’s second band, The Grant Farm, is an exciting new collaboration of two of the hottest acoustic musicians on the scene today. Tyler Grant (guitar) and Andy Thorn (banjo, guitar) have been band mates in the Emmitt-Nershi Band for the past two years. But when not on the road with Billy and Drew, these two musicians need a creative outlet for their own music. Since Tyler moved to the Front Range last summer, the duo have performed dozens of shows in the area sometimes joined by Eric Thornin or Benny Galloway on bass and Jordan Ramsey on the mandolin.

 Tyler Grant is a versatile guitarist who has made his mark on the flatpicking scene, winning most major contests including the National Flatpicking Championship in 2008 and the Merlefest Doc Watson Guitar Championship in 2009. He was an original member of Adrienne Young and Little Sadie, has performed internationally with April Verch and Abigail Washburn, and has been the guitarist for the Drew Emmitt Band for four years. Andy Thorn was raised in hotbed of musical activity in the Raleigh/Durham area of North Carolina. After graduating from UNC-CH with a music degree, he made big impressions on audiences across the country as a member of Larry Keel and Natural Bridge. Although banjo is his specialty, Andy is an outstanding multi-instrumentalist with a powerful approach to guitar, mandolin, and fiddle.

 His first western stints were with The Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band and the Colorado Playboys, but since moving to Boulder two years ago to join the Emmitt-Nershi Band, Thorn has become a musical hero of the Colorado scene. You can catch The Grant Farm’s Free Friday set at 5 p.m. and see them on the festival stage on Sunday, June 5 at 12:15 p.m.

 Austin-based musician Warren Hood is accomplished at violin, fiddle and mandolin, and composes and sings as well. Well-known to the FolkWest festival crowd as the fiddler for popular band The Waybacks, Warren’s current solo project, Warren Hood and the Goods, plays a crowd-pleasing fusion of jazz/blues/newgrass and acoustic music.

 In 2005, Warren was voted Best String Player and his band garnered second place in the Bluegrass category by readers of the Austin Chronicle. Hood began playing fiddle at age 11 and studied classical violin for a number of years.  At age 17 he won the Austin Youth Award and performed as soloist with the Austin Symphony. Later he honed his playing and singer/composer abilities with several of his former bands including Warren Hood and his Allstar Band, Blue Light Special, and the South Austin Jug Band.

 Warren graduated from Berklee School of Music, where he was awarded the String Achievement Award, Berklee’s highest honor. His musical influences range from Ray Charles, Stephane Grapelli, Walter Hyatt and Uncle Walt’s Band to his dad, Champ Hood. Champ (who played in Uncle Walt’s Band) was a big influence on Warren from an early age. Champ was the sideman for many years for Toni Price at Austin’s famed Continental Club Tuesday Hippie Hour. Warren used to sit in with Toni Price, along with his cousin — Marshall Hood (formerly of The Belleville Outfit and currently part of The Goods), at Toni’s Hippy Tuesday show and delighted a new generation of Hood fans. 

Champ once said, “I don’t know where he gets that gypsy thing,” remarking about Warren’s favorite music key: Gypsy G.  “He’s so good, it’s spooky.”

 Pagosans shouldn’t pass up their opportunity to enjoy this young talent’s performance at the Free Friday concert, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Warren Hood and the Goods will also appear on the Folk ‘N Bluegrass stage on Saturday, June 4 at 5:30 p.m., as they open for Eddie From Ohio.

 If you are involved with a non-profit organization that would like to have a food booth at the Free Friday concert, call Crista at 731-5582. To purchase festival tickets, or for additional information, visit www.folkwest.com or call (877) 472-4672.  Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass is supported by a grant from Colorado Creative Industries, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

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