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Caravan of Thieves, Chatham County Line at folk festival

Preparations are gearing up for the 16th annual Four Corners Folk Festival, set to take place Sept. 2-4 in Pagosa Springs.

This year’s musical lineup is phenomenal as always, but there is perhaps more variety than ever before, with headliners as diverse as the Keb’ Mo’ Band, Los Lobos and Natalie MacMaster. And the lineup is deep with talent including Jackie Greene, Punch Brothers, Jimmy LaFave, The Infamous Stringdusters, Cousin Harley, the Black Lillies, Joy Kills Sorrow, Anne and Pete Sibley, MilkDrive and this week’s featured artists: Caravan of Thieves and Chatham County Line.

 Festival-goers fell in love with Caravan at the 2010 Four Corners Folk Festival, and begged us to bring this highly entertaining ensemble back for more this year. The band, luckily, had also fallen in love with the Four Corners Folk Festival and readily said yes to a return performance!

 In their first year together, Caravan of Thieves managed to win immediate praise for their new and unique brand of alt gypsy acoustic music and their theatrical, high intensity show. During that time the quartet found themselves performing in premiere venues around the country with world renowned artists such as Dan Hicks, Tony Trischka, Tom Tom Club, Menudo, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Trout Fishing in America and Ryan Montbleau Band. Caravan successfully connected with audiences on each of these diverse and, at times, odd fitting bills proving the music to be a hit with folk, pop, rock and jazz aficionados  alike, as well as all age groups. This became evident when, in only ten months, they went from support act to selling out their first headline show.

 Also in that first year, and in a fit of creativity, the group wrote, recorded and released their debut full length album, “Bouquet,” featuring 12 original compositions. They worked with producer Keith “Touch” Saunders and mastering engineer, Joe Lambert, to achieve the ‘timeless’ sound they were envisioning and the recording also includes a guest appearance from accordion player Bruce Martin (Tom Tom Club). To accompany this collection of dramatic and comical short stories, they built an interactive stage set of percussive junk which delivers the audiences directly into the wild, imaginative minds of Fuzz and Carrie and the Caravan of Thieves.

 Comprised of Fuzz and Carrie Sangiovanni, the singers and acoustic guitar players, Ben Dean the violinist and Brian Anderson the double bassist, this ragtag cast of characters converge from vastly different backgrounds in folk, pop, classical, jazz and rock. Fuzz (who has spent the past thirteen years touring the world with funk and dance groups such as Tom Tom Club and Deep Banana Blackout) teamed up with Carrie in 2004 to create an acoustic duo and their full band Rolla together. In those early years they developed their songwriting and vocal harmonizing skills together, released two records and played hundreds of shows around the country. As their vision developed, the couple knew they needed to expand their palette and in early 2008 recruited Brian, who had toured previously in his experimental jazz trio, Raisin Hill, as well as Ben who had studied jazz and classical violin since an early age and performed in a variety of ensembles, bands and orchestras around Connecticut.

 Together, this group of five known as Caravan of Thieves create fun yet elegant compositions that embody the spirit and swing of early gypsy jazz but with plenty of witty, inventive lyrics and vocal harmonies to serenade the listener. Fiery violin arrangements, thumping upright bass and rhythmic acoustic guitar spanking counteract the sweet, melodic, harmonious male/female vocals of Fuzz and Carrie. Caravan of Thieves will play the main stage on Sunday, Sept. 4, at 2 p.m.

 Ten years in, the four gentlemen of Chatham County Line have a lot to reflect on: sold out shows in the U.S. and abroad, appearances on national radio and TV, four solid selling records, and four really dirty suits.

 “We want to be the band that puts on the most professional show in the business of what we do,” says singer/guitarist/songwriter Dave Wilson. “If you’ve taken your time to be there for us, we are going to prove we are there for you.” It’s that sincerity of showmanship and professionalism that has led to countless miles on the road for CCL.

“We’ve worn out two vans by now and I’ve actually worn out a few ties as well,” says John Teer. “You ever hear of someone wearing out a tie?”

 Teer plays mandolin and fiddle and sings high tenor for the band. It is this commitment that has fans driving hundreds of miles to see Chatham County Line at work on the road. “We’ve had fans travel from another country to catch a show,” reflects banjoist Chandler Holt, continuing, “That’s when you know you’re doing something right.” Releasing IV to critical acclaim in 2008, CCL was invited to be on Later ...with Jools Holland on BBC 2 in the UK, alongside such acts as The Raconteurs, Nick Cave, and Bon Iver.

“Now that was a party,” muses standup bassist Greg Readling. “When you’ve got those guys coming up and introducing themselves to you, all the miles just melt away.”

 The newest addition to their catalog, “Wildwood,” is no departure from the path CCL has been carving during its decade of existence. The record presents another strong batch of songs, with solid melodies and lyrics, telling the tales of what all those years on the road have brought to them.

 “We may never grace the cover of Rolling Stone,” Dave says, “but at this point, that is not something we care about. We might reach for the stars, but we’re mostly concerned with making great music that speaks to us and our fans.” It’s this sense of dedication that fuels songs such as “Crop Comes In,” a great showcase for the addition of drums to the band’s usual all-string lineup.

“Yeah, so we have Zeke Hutchins (Tift Merritt, Sara Watkins, Hotel Lights) sitting there in the studio on a rare break from the road, so let’s put him to work,” Wilson explains. “Though we’re still going to tour as a four piece acoustic band, a record is something special, right? A moment that lasts forever.”

 It’s this feeling of an album as an encapsulated work of art that drives Wildwood for the listener. But where drums creep into the background of a few choice cuts, it’s the acoustic roots of the band that really shine on the record. Evidenced in songs like “Wildwood,” “Honeymoon” and especially “Porcelain Doll” — an ode to the children appearing in their midst.

“Yeah, all my friends have kids and car seats and diapers and can’t go out on the weekends anymore,” states Dave, “so I put a song on there for them, ‘cause I understand the beauty of that little life in your hands.”

As for the future, CCL plans on touring extensively behind Wildwood over the next year as well as continuing to write the songs that got them this far. “As long as they keep building vans and making ties,” Dave says, “we’re gonna keep wearing them out.”

 The band is currently on their never-ending tour, focusing on “Wildwood” as well as their previous four records. One of their stops will be at the Four Corners Folk Festival, where they will play on the festival’s main stage on Saturday, Sept. 3. at 3 p.m.

 FolkWest is a Colorado cultural non-profit that receives financial support from the El Pomar Foundation, La Plata Electric Roundup Foundation, and the Ballantine Family Fund.

 You can purchase tickets and find additional information about the festival schedule, bands and lineup online at www.folkwest.com, or by calling (877) 472-4672.

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