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Old favorites, new faces to grace folk festival stage

The 17th annual Four Corners Folk Festival is just four weeks away now, taking place over Labor Day Weekend, Aug. 31 through Sept. 2, on Reservoir Hill in Pagosa Springs.

The festival will feature 21 live performances on two stages 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, Elephant Revival, the Milk Carton Kids, Rose’s Pawn Shop, The Well Pennies and this week’s featured artists Anne & Pete Sibley, Mike + Ruthy and You Me & Apollo.

Music can go beyond the lyrics and chords when it deeply resonates within us. To the very center of our core it brings us a sense of joy and peace, grounding our lives. Perennial festival favorites Anne and Pete Sibley have had the blessing to share their versions of song and voice around the country and beyond for almost a decade.

 A husband and wife duo that met over 20 years ago through music, they sing with simple accompaniment of guitar and clawhammer banjo. In doing so, their fluid harmonies and songwriting are able to take center stage. Along with an easy going stage presence that leaves space for deep listening, Anne and Pete invite the audience to be part of a music experience — an experience which they hope will call each person to awaken their own simple joyful melody within themselves. They have been humbled by the thousands of people who have supported them on their own journey which started with a simple “yes” to their heart’s passion of singing.

Less than a decade since they released their first album, the Sibleys’ music hit the national spotlight in 2009 with a first-place finish in the “Great American Duet Sing Off” on National Public Radio’s A Prairie Home Companion. The pair’s CD releases include “Coming Home” (2009) “Will You Walk With Me” (2005), “Winter on the Great Divide” (2007) and “Think of This River” (2004).

 Anne and Pete Sibley will open Sunday’s main stage at 11 a.m. on Sept. 2.

 Luckily for festival-goers, Anne and Pete Sibley aren’t the only talented husband and wife musicians featured on the bill this year. As evidenced not only by that couple, but also Caravan of Thieves’ Buzz and Carrie, The Well Pennies and folk rockers Mike + Ruthy, it’s a beautiful thing when two people live and work together in harmony. 

 Woodstock’s Mike + Ruthy have been touring and recording together for 13 years (married for six of them), and the sound just keeps getting sweeter. Maybe it’s their differences that make the whole thing work. Mike is an artfully prolific songwriter with an indie rock soul and feather-touch vocals. Ruthy is an earthy country-blues singer raised by folkies with the unmistakable stage presence of a natural-born performer. For Mike + Ruthy, music is not just a way of living, it’s a way of experiencing life.  

 As a duo, Mike + Ruthy have refined their sound down to the very core of acoustic American music, demonstrating an uncommon ability to create songs as lyrically sophisticated as Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen and as harmonically beautiful as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings or Simon and Garfunkel.

Says Mike, “My musical goals are similar to the ones I try to embody in life: to love the world the best I can. I want to explore the truth and beauty of daily life so that I can become re-enchanted with the world and, in turn, the world can become re-enchanted by me.” 

With their arsenal of fiddle, banjo, guitar, ukulele and their hallmark harmony singing, a Mike + Ruthy concert is overstuffed with soulful songs and stories and a timeless sound that is spellbinding and pure. 

 Their teamwork extends from songwriting and performing to recording and releasing their own albums on their small, independent label Humble Abode Music. The couple recorded their first duo album “The Honeymoon Agenda” instead of going on a honeymoon and followed that up with the acclaimed “Waltz of the Chickadee” and the fan-funded “Million to One,” which rose to the top 20 on the Americana music charts in 2010.  On April 17, they introduced the “NYC” EP a collection of six compelling new songs which includes their newly re-crafted Woody Guthrie ballad, “My New York City.”

 “We have been friends with the Guthries for many years. They are a vastly talented and loving bunch,” says Ruthy. “Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody, operates the Guthrie archive down in the lower Hudson Valley. Last year she sent us a beautiful document: the lyrics and melody to Woody’s ‘My New York City.’ There are thousands of songs in the archive, many with no recording or notated melody, and for various projects Nora has drawn in different artists to collaborate and record some of them. We immediately felt a deep connection to the lyrics, maybe because Mike and I lived in New York City when we first met and made music together.” 

  Mike + Ruthy decided to collaborate with their friends, bassist Jacob Silver and drummer Robin Macmillan, who have converted a Williamsburg loft into an analog recording studio and recently began issuing seven-inch vinyl releases of projects recorded in-house under the imprint Media Blitz Record Company. The collaboration was magic. The Jacob/Robin rhythm section floated on the pretty songs, rocked the old-timey stomps and laid it down smooth on the blues numbers. One session turned into many and the four musicians harvested five more spirited tracks to accompany the shimmering new Woody premiere: Mike’s high-energy, banjo-strummer “On My Way Home,” Lil Green’s soulful “Romance in the Dark,” Ruthy’s sultry “Oh Mama,” Mike’s triumphant “Raise Your Glasses High” and his eloquent “Toast My Memory.” The foursome agreed that Media Blitz would release the two-song vinyl (“My New York City” and “On My Way Home”) and Mike + Ruthy’s independent label Humble Abode would print and release the EP as a CD.  

 In addition to being track one on Mike + Ruthy’s new EP, “My New York City” will be included in “My Name is New York,” a four-CD collection of Woody’s New York songs performed by artists including Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax, Leadbelly, Tiny Robinson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie and Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, which is being released in June by Woody Guthrie Publications.

 As the daughter of fiddle legend, Jay Ungar, and country singer Lyn Hardy, Ruthy is no stranger to roots music and harmony singing. Despite her innate knowledge of American folk and country music, Ruthy opted to steer clear of the musician’s life and in 1997 moved to New York City to pursue a career in the theatre. It was in New York that Ruthy was introduced to Michael Merenda, an aspiring playwright and songwriter from New Hampshire who himself had just recently arrived in the big apple to test his mettle. With this meeting, Ruthy’s interest in music was stoked, with Mike becoming entranced by the deep well of folk music from which Ruthy’s talent poured: the duo began collaborating immediately. A romantic relationship began shortly after the musical partnership was sparked and in 2000 the couple resettled just outside of Northampton, Mass., where they met Tao Rodriguez-Seeger (grandson of the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger) and formed the “subversive, acoustic, stringband” The Mammals.

 The Mammals toured the world for seven years including trips to Australia, Denmark and Canada and even a six-month stint opening for and backing up the great Arlo Guthrie during his 40th anniversary of Alice’s Restaurant tour which culminated at New York’s Carnegie Hall. With the birth of their son, Will, in 2008, Mike + Ruthy, announced a departure from The Mammals to focus on their growing family. During this time, Mike and Ruthy have further explored their joy in playing together. Mike + Ruthy and their band will play the Main Stage at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 2.

 The last featured band this week is brand new and relatively unknown outside of their geographic home of Fort Collins, Colo. But when the festival’s booking director, Dan Appenzeller, saw a video of the group performing live on YouTube, he saw and heard something very special in the up-and-coming group, You Me & Apollo. Dan felt so strongly that the band possessed a unique and undiscovered talent, that he called a few friends at the largest artist talent agencies in the country and by the end of the day the band had been signed by one of the biggest in the business. That’s how good this band is.

 Peter Washington of Concerted Effort Blog says You Me & Apollo, “injects the fury of rock ’n roll and the heartfelt spirit of blues into a folk/Americana sound that really comes alive (during their) performances”

The music of You Me & Apollo ranges from quiet folk to groove-infused rock and has been described as an unholy union of Hank Williams and Otis Redding. The birth of You Me & Apollo, in 2007, consisted of singer-songwriter Brent Cowles. In 2011, Cowles joined with some very talented friends and the result has been a unique and explosive sound something that makes you put your drink down, swivel your bar stool toward the stage and watch with anticipation.

 This exciting group is set to play the festival’s Main Stage on Saturday, Sept. 1, at 12:15 p.m.

 Tickets to this year’s Four Corners Folk Festival can be purchased by phone at (877) 472-4672 or online at 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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