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Folk Festival features Elephant Revival, The Milk Carton Kids, Rose’s Pawn Shop

The 17th annual Four Corners Folk Festival will happen over Labor Day weekend, Aug. 31 through Sept. 2, on Reservoir Hill in Pagosa Springs.

The festival is centered around 22 live performances from some of the finest touring Americana, bluegrass, newgrass and folk musicians in the country. This year’s musical bill includes Railroad Earth, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, The Wood Brothers, Darrell Scott, Sara Watkins, Loudon Wainwright III, Sarah Siskind, Caravan of Thieves, Anne and Pete Sibley, You Me and Apollo, Mike + Ruthy, The Well Pennies and this week’s featured artists Elephant Revival, the Milk Carton Kids and Rose’s Pawn Shop.

 A simple line atop Elephant Revival’s Facebook page (“Where words fail … music speaks ”) contains only five words, but reveals volumes about the band’s reason for being. Music unites us in ways that no other medium can. Even when we don’t understand one another’s languages — we can be moved by a rhythm, soothed by a song or brought together by a unified sense of purpose, the spirit of five souls working as one, in harmony, creating sounds they could never produce alone.

 The five souls in Elephant Revival are Sage Cook (banjo, guitar, mandolin, tenor banjo, bass and fiddle); Bridget Law (fiddle, octave fiddle); Bonnie Paine (washboard, djembe, musical saw, stompbox); Daniel Rodriguez (guitar, banjo, bass); and Dango Rose (double-bass, mandolin, banjo). All share vocals and write songs. Paine delivers additional beats via foot stomps on plywood, her stockinged feet doing near jigs as her hands, encased in antique leather gloves, rub silver nickel against corrugated metal.

 This Nederland, Colo., quintet is, needless to say, quite a sight — especially when they fall into the pocket of a groove containing elements of gypsy, rock, Celtic, alt-country and folk. The Indie Acoustic Project simply labels their sound “progressive edge.” At least, that’s the category in which it placed the band when it gave their Ruff Shod/Nettwerk Records release, “Break in the Clouds,” a best CD of 2011 award. It’s as good a label as any to convey what Rose has described as their mission: “to close the gap of separation between us through the eternal revelry of song and dance.”

 Elephant Revival also shares a commitment to responsible stewardship of the planet and its inhabitants, working with organizations such as the Conscious Alliance, Calling All Crows, Trees Water and People and other nonprofits supporting humanitarian causes. Their very name was chosen out of empathy for a pair of zoo pachyderms who, upon being separated after 16 years, died on the same day. The band related that heart-rending story during their April 2012 debut on fellow Coloradan Nick Forster’s internationally-syndicated eTown radio show.

 Sitting in the audience during their performance, one music blogger was moved to write, “Elephant Revival serenaded the crowd with arabesque melodies, harmonies and rhythms that braided and coiled into a sublime aural tapestry. Their instrumental dynamics, verse, and even the harrowing story that inspired their appellation, invoked the majesty, mystery and sorrow of Mother Earth.”

 Campout for the Cause festival organizers put it this way in an affectionate shoutout on their Facebook page: “We love Elephant Revival so much,” they wrote, “not just for their incredible music and conscious lyrics, but for their commitment to living up to the standards they set forth and setting positive examples.”

 It’s a paradigm worth spreading, and that’s what Elephant Revival members intend to continue doing as they carry their music around the world, speaking one song at a time. The band will play on the festival’s Main Stage on Sunday, Sept. 2, at 2 p.m.

 The Milk Carton Kids, a harmonizing, minimalist duo, uses two guitars and two voices to create a new combination of back-porch Americana and classic folk. Relying on compelling narrative, the seamless interplay between their 1950s acoustics, well-constructed harmony lines which play more like counterpoint melodies, and their natural stage chemistry, TMCK have drawn in and excited sold out crowds across North America since their formation in early 2011.

 The serendipitous meeting between the two (Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan) led quickly to a shelving of the solo careers each had been pursuing. While neither had been compelled to such collaboration with any of his peers before, an effortless musical complement, fast personal fondness, and like-minded view toward how to present the collaboration to their fans influenced the duo’s formation and, almost immediately, began drawing praise from varied sources. While press has indeed been kind to the duo, their spirit of independence compelled them to release their first two albums on their own label directly to their fans for free. Yes that’s right, you can download the group’s two albums in their entirety on the band’s website: www.themilkcartonkids.com. Better still, you can hear The Milk Carton Kids live at the festival on Saturday, Sept. 1, at 1:45 p.m.

 It may come as a surprise to hear the foot-stomping strains of Appalachian bluegrass channeled through a rock band based in Los Angeles, but heartache, loss and regret have always been the cornerstones of great music and that city has its share. In a town better known for movie stars and face lifts, anything as authentic and heartfelt as Rose’s Pawn Shop is a pleasant surprise.

Singer-songwriter Paul Givant grew up on the disparate array of popular musical styles any late 20th century kid did. And in that mishmash of rock, punk, country, pop, rap and all the rest, it was American folk and bluegrass music that rooted deepest in Paul, transforming him and his songs. Having played in various rock bands since early high school, in 2004 Paul decided it was time to take his growing batch of old style/new school folk songs and build them into something greater, more ferocious.

As so many fortunate events unfold, it was through a series of chance meetings, twists of fate and Craig’s List, that Paul met kindred spirits in Sebastian St. John, Derek O’Brien, Bill Clark, Derek Swenson and John Kraus. And in 2005 they began building the music and the band that would soon be known as Rose’s Pawn Shop. This group of young musicians combined in their collective musical melting pot the old style American sounds of Woody Guthrie, Bill Monroe and Hank Williams, the high energy punk of The Ramones, and The Pogues, and the melodic songwriting sensibilities of Elliott Smith and The Beatles. They were creating something musically unique and yet imbued with a familiarity and accessibility.

 The final ingredient was added one fateful day when Paul’s scorned ex-girlfriend/former band mate in an act of revenge stole the band’s instruments and gear and took them down to the local pawn shop. Priceless. Rose’s Pawn Shop was born.

In spring of 2006, after months of playing live and breaking ground around Los Angeles, the band recorded and released their debut album, “The Arsonist.” The album quickly began receiving critical praise from print and online publications as varied as About.com, The Daily News, Miles of Music, and Music Connection. A month after its release, Rose’s Pawn Shop showcased and won the grand prize in Billboard Magazine and Discmaker’s Independent Music World Series. And in the summer of that year, the members of Rose’s Pawn Shop dared to quit their day jobs and hit the road, and what had started as a slow and steady burn, began spreading like wildfire.

They have been touring the United States nearly non-stop ever since. On any given day you might find Rose’s Pawn Shop playing the Georgia Theatre in Athens, busking the streets of Jackson Square in New Orleans, opening for Jack White and The Raconteurs at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, ripping the walls off the club in their month long residency at the Parkside Lounge in New York City or hitting the main stage of Floydfest in Virginia. On any given day they’re out there, growing their music, igniting their passion and converting an ever increasing congregation of loyal fans.

In early 2010, Rose’s Pawn Shop entered the studio with renowned producer Ethan Allen (Patty Griffin, Better Than Ezra, Counting Crows, Luscious Jackson, The 88, Gram Rabbit) to record the second album, “Dancing On the Gallows.” In recording the new record, Rose’s Pawn Shop found itself rising to new level song craft and sound experimentation, while retaining the same fiery intensity and excitement of their early material.

With an arsenal of banjos, guitars, mandolin, fiddle, pedal steel, upright bass and thundering drums, their sound is a wholesome mishmash of creek mud, rusty nails and your mom’s cookin’. It’s sincere, straightforward and sexy, effortlessly combining such disparate musical styles as rock, country, bluegrass and punk to create an incomprehensibly smooth and accessible sound for true believers and skeptics alike.

With wisdom beyond their years, they fearlessly confront traditional country music themes of loss, lamentation, and redemption, while throwing in some drinking-songs for good measure. Sure, they’re borrowing pages from the books of Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, and Johnny Cash, but Rose’s Pawn Shop takes those pages, tears them up and sets them on fire with breakneck speed, bluegrass instrumentation, three- and four- part vocal harmonies and lyrics that’ll break your heart. Rose’s Pawn Shop will hook you. Like catfish from the creek, they’ll reel you in. And they won’t let you go.  You too can get hooked on Rose’s Pawn Shop when they open the festival on Friday, Aug. 31 at 2 p.m.

 Tickets to this year’s festival can be purchased by phone at (877) 472-4672 or online at www.folkwest.com. Complete festival information, including Main Stage, Late Night, Workshop and Kids Tent schedules, is also available at that website. Children 12 and under receive free admission when accompanied by an adult and can enjoy a selection of free activities and entertainment in the Kids Tent throughout the weekend.

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