The 16th annual Four Corners Folk Festival will take place Sept. 2-4 in Pagosa Springs. This year’s diverse musical lineup includes headliners Keb’ Mo’ (with his band), Los Lobos and Natalie MacMaster plus Jackie Greene, Punch Brothers, Jimmy LaFave, The Infamous Stringdusters, Caravan of Thieves, Chatham County Line, Joy Kills Sorrow, Anne and Pete Sibley, MilkDrive and this week’s featured artists: The Black Lillies and Cousin Harley.
In addition to sets on the festival’s main stage, Cousin Harley and The Black Lillies will be the featured bands at the Ross Aragon Community Center shows on Friday, Sept. 2, with The Black Lillies starting things off at 9: p.m. followed by Cousin Harley at 10. There will be a limited number of tickets available to the public for $10 at the door on the night of the show, but those with a valid festival wristband for that day will be admitted free of charge.
The Black Lillies take their name from a song on their debut record, “Whiskey Angel.” After filtering through several lineup changes, bandleader Cruz Contreras assembled a crackerjack team of pickers, players and singers who have what it takes to put meat on those songs. Tom Pryor made a name for himself playing pedal steel for just about any band that could talk him into it; drummer Jamie Cook anchored the rhythm section for Americana darlings the everybodyfields; harmony vocalist Trisha Gene Brady can wail like a hellcat or purr like a wildcat, and everybody who’s heard her sing agrees it only makes sense that someone with her pipes can provide the perfect counterbalance to Cruz. Bassist Robert Richards is the latest addition to the band, and under his steely-eyed gaze, no bass, stand-up or electric, stands a chance.
And then there’s the bandleader himself. Standing in front of the pack, he guides his team with the dignified aplomb of those greats of old — Buck Owens with the Buckaroos, or Bob Wills commanding his Texas Playboys. He knows how to work the crowd, at ease behind the mic, in front of a piano or caressing the necks of a mandolin or guitar. In fact, it’s rare for Cruz to be presented with an instrument he doesn’t play, and everything he does finds its way gently worked into The Black Lillies’ aesthetic with all the swirls and flourishes of brush strokes on canvas laid down by a master painter.
With “Whiskey Angel,” The Black Lillies established themselves, and it didn’t take long for them to make their mark on the national scene. They kicked off their first national tour at the Ryman Auditorium, the hallowed mother church of country music, and have since labored through three cross-country treks, with a fourth planned for the summer of 2011. They’ve performed on National Public Radio’s Mountain Stage and on two episodes of PBS’s Jammin’ at Hippie Jack’s, and they’ve conquered numerous festivals — Pickathon, the Americana Music Association Festival, Bristol Rhythm and Roots, even Bonnaroo. And in June 2011, the show that made country music famous — The Grand Ole Opry — invited the band to make their debut on the historic circle of wood where so many other legends have performed.
Along the way, the scribes who keep tabs on what’s worth listening to in this day and age have taken quite a shine to “Whiskey Angel.” It topped 2009 best-of lists across the country and is currently nominated for Best Americana Album by the Independent Music Awards. It isn’t uncommon for listeners to say that the music has taken hold of their soul. It’s earthy and gritty and melancholy in a way old mountain music was a century ago, speaking of pain and love and revenge and revelry with such spirit, such genuine celebration and sorrow, that it seems to be an album carved out of the planks of a backwoods cabin abandoned during the Great Depression more than a thing recorded in a living room studio.
And as good as it is … as great as it is … it’s a drop in the bucket, because the group’s newest record, “100 Miles of Wreckage,” is here. The album takes what Cruz built in “Whiskey Angel” and fortifies it, a rustic sound without name and place, unbeholden to geographic region or easy classification. It’s an album crafted with precision and care by musicians who are masters of their trade, who believe in The Black Lillies’ vision and who hold fast to the notion that good music — music with heart and purpose and purity of spirit — is still a valued commodity.
In addition to their Friday night opening set at the community center, The Black Lillies will play on the festival’s main stage on Saturday, Sept. 3, at 12:15 p.m
Cousin Harley is the rocking hillbilly persona of Paul Pigat. You’d never think it to look at Pigat, but behind that unassuming grin and underneath those Doc Watson glasses lurks one of the most restless, combustible musical imaginations ever crammed like so much canned heat into a single body. Blessed with a jazz man’s sheen, a rockabilly heart and a hobo’s soul, there aren’t many genres of music that don’t pull at Pigat’s wayfaring imagination like a magnet. In many ways, it’s a mystery why Paul Pigat isn’t a household name yet. Maybe he’d be a lot easier to pin down if he wasn’t so darn good at so many different things.
One could be forgiven for thinking that up until now Paul Pigat has spent his whole career flying under the radar while creating sweet sounds for some of the best artists in the country. Still, you’d have to have been hiding under a pretty big rock to have never heard the immediately recognizable sound of his distinctive guitar playing, as over the last several years this unassuming Vancouver native has quietly compiled a list of credits that would be the envy of anyone in the music business.
Cousin Harley has a hard-earned reputation for delivering everything from hot-rod rockabilly to foot stomping vintage country and western swing. Paul is joined by Keith Picot on upright bass and Jesse Cahill on drums to create an unstoppable rock ‘n roll wrecking crew. From classic honky tonk and cow punk rippers to a helping of western swing and classic jump blues, Cousin Harley plays in the old tradition — slugging it out hot and heavy in roadhouses across the land. The band’s fifth album, “It’s A Sin,” was released on May 18, 2010.
You can catch Cousin Harley at their first festival set at 10 p.m. at the Ross Aragon Community Center on Friday, Sept. 2 and again on the festival’s main stage on Saturday, Sept. 3, at 1:45 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.
To purchase tickets or for additional information about the festival schedule, bands and lineup, visit the festival website at www.folkwest.com, or call (877) 472-4672.