By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW
It’s hard to believe the 10th annual Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass festival is just one short week away.
On Friday, June 5, at 11 a.m., the festival campground will open to hundreds of campers from all around the Four Corners region and beyond who will enjoy three days of musical celebration on Reservoir Hill.
This year’s lineup covers a variety of music within the acoustic vein — from Americana to Celtic, bluegrass to newgrass and everything in between.
The outstanding lineup of performers includes Red Molly, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, Mandolin Orange, Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys, Front Country, Songs of the Fall, Finnders and Youngberg, The Slocan Ramblers, Rebecca Frazier and Hit and Run, Tim and Myles Thompson, Trout Steak Revival, Monocle Band and festival headliners Solas, and Noam Pikelny and Stuart Duncan.
Solas is the quintessential Irish-American band recording and touring in the US today. In 1996, in a manner befitting their name (Gaelic for “light”), Solas burst onto the Irish music scene and instantly became a beacon — an incandescent ensemble that found contemporary relevance in timeless traditions without ever stooping to clichés.
Anchored by founding members Seamus Egan (flute, tenor banjo, mandolin, whistles, guitars, bodhran) and Winifred Horan (violins, vocals), Solas is rounded out by Mick McAuley (accordions, low whistle, concertina, vocals), Eamon McElholm (guitars, keyboards, vocals), and newest member and lead singer Norianna Kennedy.
Through fresh and unexpected arrangements of age-old tunes, compelling and topical originals and covers, and unparalleled musicianship, Solas continues to define the path for the Celtic music world and drive the genre forward.
It can be convincingly argued that no band has done more than Solas to prove that Celtic music today is a truly universal musical language, like jazz, rock or bluegrass.
With their 2013 release, “Shamrock City,” they once again showed why they continue to be one of the most popular, influential, and exciting bands ever to emerge over the past two decades. Hailed as their masterpiece, “Shamrock City” is a tale of immigration, mining and murder, culled from Egan’s family history.
A testament to the imaginative power of song, “Shamrock City” reveals essential human truths with humor, sympathy and a measure of righteous anger. Live in concert, the music and songs of “Shamrock City,” combined with an imaginative multimedia presentation comprised of archival footage and pictures, has entertained audiences across the country and the world. It demonstrates that the immigrant experience transcends borders and language.
As Solas readies themselves for their 20th anniversary in 2016, they continue to push the musical boundaries and set the tone for what people believe Celtic music is today. As those who have experienced them in concert can attest, whether they’re playing newly composed music or music from two centuries ago, the quality is so high and the presentation so direct that it hits like a wave in a way that seems to penetrate everybody, whether they are already fans of Celtic music or not.
Come see the band hailed by the New York Times for their “…unbridled vitality” and the Boston Globe declared as “the finest Celtic ensemble this country has ever produced.” After nearly 20 years together, Solas shows no sign of slowing down, remaining an incandescent ensemble that continues to find contemporary relevance in timeless traditions.
Solas will close the main stage show at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 6.
Noam Pikelny and Stuart Duncan
Noam Pikelny has emerged as the preeminent banjoist among a new generation of acoustic musicians. Hailed by the Chicago Tribune as the “pros’ top banjo picker,” Pikelny is a founding member of Punch Brothers, a string ensemble which The Boston Globe calls “a virtuosic revelation” and The New Yorker describes as “wide-ranging and restlessly imaginative.”
In September of 2010, Pikelny was awarded the first annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. In 2012, Noam’s second album, “Beat The Devil and Carry A Rail” received a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album.
Pikelny has shared the stage with The Decemberists, Marcus Mumford, Bela Fleck, Dave Douglas, Steve Martin, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and members of the Lincoln Center Chamber Orchestra.
Pikelny continues to broaden the awareness of the banjo in the mainstream through his work with Punch Brothers, collaborating with Wilco, Fiona Apple, Norah Jone, and Jon Brion for the soundtrack to “This is 40,” a feature song on “The Hunger Games” soundtrack, and a collaboration with Marcus Mumford for the Coen Brothers’ film “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
His newest release, “Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe,” is the first complete banjo adaptation of Baker’s 1976 seminal recording of Monroe instrumentals that is poised to take the bluegrass world by storm. The concept for the album first grew out of the word play on the original album title, but the more Pikelny explored the idea, the more he realized that it was both musically exciting and challenging.
Pikelny delved into the intricacies of Baker’s fiddle playing and emerged with note for note versions of Baker’s fiddle arrangements for banjo. Joining Pikelny on this tour de force project are the finest instrumentalists in bluegrass: Duncan (fiddle), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), and Mike Bub (bass).
“Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe” shows Pikelny at a new pinnacle of maturation as a banjo player and musician, redefining the role of the banjo in his own way with an unprecedented approach to melodic playing and therefore setting a new standard in bluegrass for years to come.
The dictionary defines “apotheosis” as: “model of excellence or perfection of a kind; one having no equal, an exalted or glorified example.”
Well, the very least one could say about Duncan is that he is the apotheosis of fiddling; the greatest, most creative bluegrass fiddle player ever. But, honestly, the truth is more than that — he is one of the finest, most fully realized violin players in any idiom.
Duncan is able to improvise perfect and utterly new ideas that are exactly what the musical moment requires, and he is able to do this at the frighteningly fast tempos required in today’s contemporary bluegrass, with perfect tone and intonation. This combination of perfection and inspiration has not gone unnoticed, and, as a result, Duncan has performed on thousands of recording sessions featuring all of Nashville finest players and singers.
His discography is approaching the size of a metropolitan telephone directory, and his recording career demonstrates his ability to shift easily from the most ancient-sounding Appalachian tune to some deeply jazz and funk-inflected contemporary melody.
Duncan’s fiddle playing is deeply rooted in the tradition of such masters as Benny Martin and Byron Berline, but is itself something completely and thrillingly new. In addition to his extensive recording and performing career as a fiddler, Duncan also sings, writes songs, and plays mandolin, guitar and banjo.
Duncan is a four-time Grammy Award winner, a six-time Academy of Country Music award winner for Fiddle Player of the Year, and a winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Fiddle Player of the Year award for seven consecutive years.
Noam Pikelny and Stuart Duncan will team up to close the festival at 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 7. They will also each be teaching a banjo and fiddle workshop (respectively) during the day on Sunday. Attendance at the workshops is included with a festival ticket.
Full festival information is available online at www.FolkWest.com. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (877) 472-4672.
FolkWest is still accepting names for the volunteer alternate list; festival volunteers receive complimentary three-day admission to the event.