By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW
Here at FolkWest, we are in the midst of a bout of spring fever as we count down the days until our first festival of the season, the ninth annual Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass. The event gets underway on Friday, June 6 (though you’ll see campers lined up in the field below Reservoir Hill beginning on Wednesday), and runs through Sunday, June 8, on the gem of Pagosa Springs’ park system, Reservoir Hill.
This year’s lineup is made up of 16 bands showcasing a wide variety of musical styles, everything from straight ahead bluegrass to newgrass, folk and indie-pop. The roster includes: Peter Rowan’s Twang an’ Groove (featuring Yungchen Lhamo), the Claire Lynch Band, the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band, the Tony Furtado Trio, MilkDrive, The Deadly Gentlemen, The Steel Wheels, Pierce Pettis and Grace Pettis, SHEL, the Jon Stickley Trio, Finnders and Youngberg, The Railsplitters, Moors and McCumber and this week’s featured bands, Shook Twins and Cahalen Morrison and Eli West.
Cahalen Morrison and Eli West are two of the most innovative and subtle roots musicians today. Their music draws from old folk sources, but sounds vibrantly alive.
Cahalen Morrison writes songs that sound like a Cormac McCarthy novel: simple, beautifully crafted and seemingly formed from raw natural elements. Eli West brings jagged, angular arrangements based in bluegrass and old-time, but refracted through a 21st century lens.
Like Ansel Adams’ photography, their music is instantly accessible and built from the simplest materials, but at the same time seems to transcend its base fundamentals. Together, Cahalen and Eli tap the root of the old country and bluegrass duets. As the sparse landscapes of Cahalen’s vocals reflect the warm glow of Eli’s voice, it’s clear that this duo was made to sing together.
Cahalen Morrison and Eli West’s new album, “Our Lady of the Tall Trees,” is a stunning example of the power of great songwriting and musicianship. They’ve been building buzz first and foremost among the top echelon of roots musicians, with Tim O’Brien, Dirk Powell and Aoife O’Donovan actively singing their praises and spreading the gospel.
Cahalen Morrison and Eli West’s music sounds eminently familiar — for they’re drawing from our common love of American roots music — but it also sounds entirely different. Even on traditional covers they sound totally unlike the many, many roots music bands covering this same hallowed ground. Gone are the twangy accents, gone the overplayed search for the “old, weird America,” and gone the banjo-as-a-prop theatrics. This is music built on the joy of the craft, made by hand by two young masters with love for the traditions, but a bold vision for how the old sounds can fit into new soundscapes.
Cahalen and Eli will bring their old-time magic to the festival main stage twice, first on Friday, June 6, at 6:15 p.m. and again on Saturday, June 7, at 11:15 a.m.
Born and raised in Sandpoint Idaho, Shook Twins are an Indie folk-pop band now hailing from coniferous forested Portland, Ore. Identical twins Katelyn and Laurie Shook, Kyle Volkman and Niko Daoussis form the core quartet. Central elements of the Shook Twins’ sound are a wide range of instrumentation, including banjo, guitar, electric and upright bass, mandolin, electric guitar, electronic drums, face drum (beatbox), glockenspiel, ukulele, banjo drumming and their signature golden EGG. Beautiful twin harmonies, layered upon acoustic and electric instrumentation coupled with Laurie’s inventive use of percussive and ambient vocal loops, and Katelyn’s repurposed telephone microphone, set their sound apart, creating a unique and eccentric blend of folk, roots, groove and soul.
The twins are the main songwriters, but they have recently started backing up their band members Niko Daoussis (Cyber Camel) and Anna Tivel (Anna and the Underbelly) and adding those players’ stunning songs to the mix.
Each Shook Twins song tells a story — distinctive, sharp, genuine and well, sometimes quirky. Drawing from their life experience, select subjects include being potters’ daughters, imagined superpowers and a chicken named “Rose” they befriended. Shook Twins also pull out unexpected takes on classic hits, retellings of their musician friends’ songs, heartfelt ballads and rhythm-driven dance numbers.
After releasing their first album, “You Can Have the Rest,” the twin sisters moved to Portland in December of 2009, conceptualizing their 2011 release “Window” (featuring Bonnie Paine and Bridget Law of Elephant Revival). Both those albums have received favorable reviews and extensive radio airplay, resulting in a busy tour schedule and an ever growing fanbase, as well as kudos from many major musicians. Their latest release, “What We Do,” has garnered praise from publications like USA Today and Acoustic Songwriter magazine.
Shook Twins have shared the stage with artists including Ryan Adams, David Grisman, Mason Jennings, Blizten Trapper, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Sarah Jarosz, Laura Veirs, The FruitBats, Jonatha Brooke, JJ Grey and MoFro, The Indigo Girls, Crooked Still, Jason Webley, The BoDeans, Elephant Revival, The Head and The Heart, The Lumineers and many more. Eclectic, amusing and whimsical, Shook Twins’ laid-back and fun stage presence draws the listener in, allowing them to take the audience away on the adventure that is their live show.
You can be a part of the Shook Twins adventure at Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass on Saturday, June 7, at 4 p.m.
Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass is supported in part by funding from Colorado Creative Industries, a state agency whose mission is “to promote, support and expand the creative industries to drive Colorado’s economy, grow jobs and enhance our quality of life.”
In February, FolkWest launched a brand new website that is extremely easy to navigate and features hundreds of photos from past festivals. Tickets and information are available online at www.folkwest.com or by calling (877) 476-4672. Children 12 and under receive free admission to the festival when accompanied by an adult.
There are still a handful of volunteer positions to be filled for the upcoming festival; if you would like more information, please see the website or call FolkWest.
(Cahalen Morrison, Eli West and Shook Twins provided biographical information for this story.)