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Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, and Jimmy LaFave featured at Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass Festival

Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass is less than a month away, opening on Friday, June 8, on beautiful Reservoir Hill.

The popularity of the festival continues to rise, helped along this year by the addition of a third festival day on Friday and another terrific musical lineup including Mountain Heart, David Wilcox, Sierra Hull and Highway 111, Bearfoot, Elephant Revival, SHEL, Larkin Poe, The Deadly Gentlemen, Lake Street Dive, the Phoebe Hunt Project, Finnders and Youngberg, Jayme Stone’s Room of Wonders and this week’s two featured performers: Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, and Jimmy LaFave.

 The roots of Cahalen Morrison and Eli West are strong; their branches are shady; and the guitars, banjos, mandolins, and harmonies will carry you far off the beaten path to a place under open Western skies.

 With a handful of acoustic instruments and the clear harmonies of bluegrass song traditions, Cahalen and Eli have created an entirely new strain of roots music. Their sound crosses the warmth of old-time with the fierceness of bluegrass, and high lonesome harmonies that would fit into any evening at the Opry — think Tim and Mollie O’Brien or Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Together, they’ve taken time-tested musical traditions and bent them into new shapes to fit a new world.

 Cahalen Morrison is a genuine, old-time musician, who blends his love of American roots music with the dusty land of his childhood in rural New Mexico. Building on influences like Norman Blake, Greg Brown and Tim O’Brien, his music twists and turns in familiar, yet unexpected ways.

Eli West, a distinctive multi-instrumentalist with bluegrass roots, has found common ground with Cahalen from which many beautiful ideas have grown. Based in Seattle, Eli enjoys arranging and writing with an addiction to syncopation and crooked harmonies.

 In just over two short years of knowing each other, Cahalen and Eli have bred a new brother duo sound, employing old-time and bluegrass to deliver original songwriting. Well received, their debut record “The Holy Coming of the Storm” hit No. 34 on the Roots Music Report’s top folk albums of 2011. The record features Cahalen and Eli both on guitars, banjos, mandolins and bouzoukis, as well as the production of legendary mandolin player Matt Flinner.

 When the duo played live on Bob Harris BBC Radio 2 in London, the host’s comment was, “This is quite extraordinary.”

The road has become familiar for the two, with multiple tours to the UK (including the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow), and appearances in Germany, the Netherlands and Czech Republic … all between domestic touring throughout the U.S. They are excited for a great year of festivals and shows in 2012. Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass fans will have two chances to catch this rising duo on the main stage: Friday, June 8, at 6:15 p.m. and Saturday, June 9, at 1:15 p.m.

 Our second featured artist is not new to music lovers in Pagosa; in fact this will mark his third Pagosa appearance and second one at the June festival.

Jimmy LaFave was born in Wills Point, Texas, a small town 30 miles east of Dallas. He began school down the road in Mesquite and by junior high was making music perched behind his Sears & Roebuck drum kit. It wasn’t long before his mother traded a drawer full of green stamps for his first guitar and the switch to singer–songwriter was in progress.

 His family later moved to Stillwater, Okla., where he finished high school. Although he has now lived in Austin for over 20 years, many people still think of him as being from Oklahoma, because of his strong musical ties to the state and what he often refers to as its “red dirt music.” It was in this landscape that he began to define his sound and soak up a combination of his experiences among authentic songwriters from the tradition of Woody Guthrie. Before leaving Oklahoma for Austin, Jimmy did some independent recording and toured the southwest with the first version of his band, Night Tribe.

 LaFave moved to Austin in 1986, where he continued to write songs and to develop his musical ideas. Shortly after arriving he was asked to help launch the songwriter nights at the new performance venue Chicago House. In 1988 he recorded his self–produced tape, “Highway Angels...Full Moon Rain,” which won the Austin Chronicle Reader’s Poll Tape of the Year Award. This led to a recording contract with a small independent label and allowed LaFave the opportunity to work with Bob Johnston, producer of several of LaFave’s favorite albums including Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” and “Nashville Skyline.” By 1990, LaFave had put together an Austin version of Night Tribe and had become, according to the Austin American–Statesman, “a perennial presence upon the Austin music scene.”

 In 1992 Jimmy released a self–produced CD, “Austin Skyline,” which drew international attention to his songwriting and vocal talents, and led to a publishing agreement with Polygram Music. Due to his growing popularity and radio play on more than 200 stations, “Austin Skyline” and its label, Bohemia Beat, received national distribution through the Rounder Record Group. His second album, “Highway Trance,” was released in 1994 followed by his third CD, “Buffalo Return to the Plains,” in 1995.

 The grass roots demand and critical acclaim for Jimmy’s music, which led to extensive touring in the United States and Europe, was recognized in 1996 when he was asked to tape a performance for the PBS musical series Austin City Limits, and was invited by Nora Guthrie to appear in Cleveland at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute to Woody Guthrie. That same year LaFave won his second consecutive Austin Music Award for Best Singer–Songwriter. His fourth CD, “Road Novel,” which was released in early 1997, received many glowing reviews. That year he was asked by Nora Guthrie to speak and perform at the induction of Woody Guthrie into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

 LaFave kicked off 1999 with the release of the CD entitled “Trail,” a 15-year retrospective of bootleg tapes, live performances, radio shows and studio out takes. The double CD contains 31 tracks recorded in Texas and around the world. Including 12 Dylan songs, it answered the demand of fans for a “LaFave does Dylan” CD. In the liner notes Dave Marsh noted, “Jimmy LaFave has one of America’s greatest voices, and this album is the story of what he has learned to do with it. It’s a unique instrument, with startling range and its own peculiar sense of gravity, liable to swoop in and wreck your expectations at any instant.”

 In 2001, Jimmy released “Texoma.” The CD received some of the best press of his career including reviews by the Associated Press, VH–1, Billboard and Playboy. The ballad “Never Is a Moment” from the album, a radio favorite, became his most requested song ever. That year, when not playing his own musical dates, Jimmy toured with a Woody Guthrie tribute project he conceived entitled Ribbon of Highway–Endless Skyway. The show features a rotating cast of notable musicians performing Woody’s songs interspersed with narrations from his many writings. He also appeared that year at the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. Jimmy serves on the advisory board for the festival, and has played it 12 straight years.

 In 2005 Jimmy signed with the indie label Red House Records, and released “Blue Nightfall.” This stunningly soulful album received many favorable reviews. In April, Jimmy was then honored when one of his musical heroes Bruce Springsteen invited him on stage for a duet at his show at the Nokia Arena in Dallas.

 In early 2007, “Cimarron Manifesto” was Jimmy’s second release on Red House Records where it spent several weeks as number one on the Americana music chart. Later that year Jimmy, along with two partners, established Music Road Records. The label’s first CD release was “Ribbon of Highway–Endless Skyway,” a two disc set from the Woody Guthrie tribute tour. Music Road also owns and operates two Texas based recording facilities — Cedar Creek Recording in Austin and Cherokee Creek Recording in the Texas hill country.

 Music Road has recently released “Favorites 1992-2001,” a compilation CD from Jimmy’s Bohemia Beat Records back catalog, complete with bonus tracks, and LaFave is currently putting the finishing touches on a new release for Music Roads.

You can catch his headline set at Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass on Sunday, June 10, at 6 p.m.

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