By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW
It’s hard to believe it’s already May and the ninth annual Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass will be here in just a month, taking place June 6-8 right here on Reservoir Hill Park.
This year’s lineup comprises 16 of the most talented music ensembles hailing from all over the United States: 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, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, The Steel Wheels, SHEL, Pierce Pettis and Grace Pettis, Shook Twins and Finnders and Youngberg, plus this week’s featured bands: The Railsplitters, the Jon Stickley Trio, and Moors and McCumber.
From their home in the Colorado Rockies, The Railsplitters have been scaling new heights with a refreshing and charming range of bluegrass and beyond-bluegrass music. For a debut album, The Railsplitters sound is remarkably assured, playing with the kind of abandon their live shows are known for. Bringing real depth and formidable talent, this group draws influences from all the greats —from Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs to modern groups like Uncle Earl and Crooked Still. The Railsplitters are nothing if not enthusiastically bluegrass and contagiously so, with rapid tempos, unusual instrumentals and good-time breakdowns. Using powerful female and male vocals, enchanting harmonies, and masterful instrumentals, The Railsplitters have the kind of raw power that can raise mountains and even a few eyebrows.
The Railsplitters’ self-titled debut album starts off with a nostalgic homage to lead singer Lauren Stovall’s hometown of Jackson, Miss., “The City With Soul.” As a singer, Lauren has certainly got soul, and plenty of it. And while Lauren is giving Alison Krauss a run for her money, Peter Sharpe and Dusty Rider are masterfully pickin’ the mandolin and banjo, respectively. Lauren, Peter, and Dusty, along with innovative upright bassist Leslie Ziegler, all sing on the album and add to The Railsplitters’ impressive songwriting.
The Railsplitters have a musical range that sets them apart from other up-and-coming bluegrass bands. Calling on genre influences from roots/Americana, country twang, 50’s doo wop, modern pop, and of course, good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, they’ve been wowing listeners at home in Colorado and beyond. Since their beginning in early 2012, The Railsplitters have won two major contests: 2012 Pickin’ in the Pines in Flagstaff, Ariz., and 2013 Rockygrass in Lyons, Colo.
At the core, The Railsplitters are a high-energy, bluegrass roots quartet whose vocals soar well above all the blue in the sky. With luminous vocal clarity, unclouded songwriting talent and exceptional musical range, this high-energy group will be growing far beyond Colorado’s Front Range in no time.
You can check out The Railsplitters on Saturday, June 7, at noon on the main stage.
Jon Stickley Trio plays a style of music that defies description. Jon’s guitar style has evolved from bluegrass flatpicking into his own sound that spans from soft harmonic chimes to straight-up shredding. The trio features Lyndsay Pruett (Futureman) on violin, who conjures up bewildering sounds reminiscent of Stephane Grappelli, yet not unlike the modern dubstep of Lindsey Stirling. On percussion, Patrick Armitage (Atmosphere) brings the heat with a hip-hop groove that is unstoppable. The band comes together to create their own sound that can get big enough to shake the walls or intimate enough to draw tears. After a busy year of touring and playing alongside groups such as The Infamous Stringdusters, Greensky Bluegrass, Leon Russell and Leftover Salmon, the Jon Stickley Trio is primed and ready to go. Don’t miss this mindblowing musical experience, coming to the Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass stage on Friday, June 6, at 7:30 p.m.
Moors and McCumber, based in Superior, Wisc., and Gold Hill, Colo., respectively, discovered that their music is more than the sum of the parts. Embracing a bigger sound than most duos, they switch up instruments on almost every song (playing guitar, mandolin, fiddle, tenor banjo, Irish bouzouki, piano, harmonica, cello, weissenborn, ukulele and more), creating catchy melodies that are big, bright and electrifying to watch live.
The new Moors and McCumber release, “Against The Grain,” weaves fine storytelling with an infectious, melodic mix that reflects many influences: a little blues, some bluegrass, a little Smokey Hills and a skosh of Celtic. Recorded in Middletown Springs, Vt., at Southview Arts, the album highlights James Moors’ and Kort McCumber’s instrumental virtuosity. Other than a few guest musicians, the album features all parts played and sung by Moors and McCumber, giving a clear picture of what their live shows are like. Featuring almost all originals, highlights include “Love and War,” “I Used To Run Around,” “Feeling in Your Belly,” and their cover of “Martyr’s Lounge,” paying tribute to one of their songwriting heroes, Ellis Paul.
Moors and McCumber are scheduled to open the show on Sunday, June 8, at 11 a.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.”
The FolkWest website is extremely easy to navigate and features hundreds of photos from past festivals. Tickets and information are available online at the website, www.folkwest.com, or by calling 731-5582. Children 12 and under receive free admission to the festival when accompanied by an adult.
(Moors and McCumber, The Railsplitters and Jon Stickley provided biographical information for this story.)