By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW
In just a few short weeks, the Four Corners Folk Festival will return to Reservoir Hill for its 20th annual event. A standard on the western U.S. festival circuit, the event will once again draw thousands of visitors to Pagosa Springs over the Labor Day weekend to enjoy some of the finest folk, bluegrass, alt-country and Americana musicians on tour today.
The anniversary lineup is a stellar one, including many past favorites complemented by plenty of new energy from some fresh-faced up-and-comers.
The main stage will feature sets from Hot Rize (along with their alter-ego sidekicks, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers); the I’m With Her Tour featuring Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan; The Oh Hellos; Eddie From Ohio; The Black Lillies; Ages and Ages; Ruth Moody Band; Love Canon; The Railsplitters; The Novel Ideas; Patchy Sanders; SHEL; and this week’s featured artists: the Jon Stickley Trio, Anne and Pete Sibley, and Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards.
Jon Stickley Trio
The Jon Stickley Trio has earned a reputation for painlessly shattering expectations. The originality and sheer energy of this genre-bending ensemble serves as a welcome wake-up call for those who experience it.
With roots in bluegrass, gypsy jazz and hip-hop, Jon Stickley (one of the world’s most innovative flatpickers), violinist Lyndsay Pruett (Futureman) and drummer Patrick Armitage (Atmosphere) have fused their collective styles into a repertoire of exciting, innovative original music, along with fresh takes on traditional tunes.
While recording their latest album, producer Dave King (The Bad Plus) referred to the band’s imaginative sound as “this whole other thing.”
The virtuosic trio’s compositions truly do not fit into any specific genre, but remain totally accessible and danceable to audiences across the board.
In their short time together, the trio has shared the stage with The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon, Larry Keel and Leon Russell, and thrilled audiences at some of the nation’s top festivals, including Merlefest, Floydfest and the Four Corners Folk Festival.
Stickley has been involved in music in various forms his entire life. While growing up in Durham, N.C., he sang in church choir, studied guitar and saxophone, played drums in the highly regarded indie rock band Strunken White and formed the bluegrass band Crawdad PA with his brother, Jeff Stickley, and banjo player Andy Thorn.
While in college at NCSU, Stickley and Thorn founded the Big Fat Gap Bluegrass Band in Chapel Hill and then traveled to Colorado to join the seminal, award-winning Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band with Travis Book, Anders Beck and Robin Davis. Broke Mountain was sadly short-lived, but the members went on to be part of such acclaimed acts as Greensky Bluegrass, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, The Infamous Stringdusters and Leftover Salmon.
After Broke Mountain disbanded, Stickley moved to Asheville, N.C., to join the Biscuit Burners. When founding member Shannon Whitworth left to start her solo career, Stickley followed and was her primary musical collaborator from 2008-11. During his stint with Whitworth, he played with New Vintage in Raleigh, N.C., and recorded his first solo bluegrass record, “Lions.”
In 2011, Stickley joined Asheville’s Town Mountain as their full-time bass player, leaving that band in 2012 to focus primarily on the Jon Stickley Trio. Since then, Stickley has released two records, “Jon Stickley Trio,” and a second solo album, “Stickley …”
Stickley’s music is primarily based around his 1956 Martin D-18 and its bluegrass style, but also embraces all of the musical influences that he and his bandmates have been a part of throughout the years.
In addition to leading the Trio, Stickley is also one of Asheville’s up-and-coming session players and has produced records for Dehlia Low, Sanctum Sully, Fireside Collective and Tellico.
Pruett is an extremely diverse fiddle player. Her daily life is a constant toss-up of genres. As a member of the Jon Stickley Trio, she gets to employ just about all of them, including bluegrass, swing, classical, Latin styles, country and hip hop. Lyndsay has a bachelor’s of music in commercial violin performance from Belmont University in Nashville.
She graduated in 2006 and started touring (nationally and twice in India) with Futureman and Black Mozart Ensemble. She then moved to Asheville in 2009, where she is an adjunct jazz violin teacher at UNCA, and also teaches at Acoustic Corner and the Music Academy of Asheville.
Stylistically, she manages to complement others’ music and add striking color to it through her improvisations and textural playing. Making the violin speak as a voice is of utmost priority for Pruett, yet she knows how to play in a way that supports the musicians around her and guides the listener’s ear to what is important in a song.
Armitage grew up in Minneapolis in a family of drummers. His cousin, uncle and father all played the skins. He graduated from the Minnesota Center for Arts Education in 1995 and, in 1996, met Dave King of The Bad Plus. He studied under Dave from 1996 to 2002. During that time. Armitage became a steady drummer in the Minneapolis music scene. In 2004, he landed a gig drumming for the famed Minneapolis hip hop group Atmosphere for a year.
In 2011, Armitage moved to Asheville to be close to his family, who had since migrated that way. While living in Asheville, he was gigging and recording regularly before being discovered and recruited for the Trio by Pruett.
Together, these three accomplished musicians make some incredible music.
The Jon Stickley Trio has two sets on the main stage: Friday, Sept. 4, at 5 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 6, at 3:30 p.m.
Longtime festival favorites Anne and Pete Sibley will return this year to help celebrate the festival’s 20th anniversary.
With two voices in harmony, a guitar and a banjo, Anne and Pete Sibley sing. Each song is a journey, a joining of music and story. The Sibleys seek to convey music more attune to an experience rather than a simple song. Raised in the Northeast, but settled in the West, Anne and Pete Sibley continue to strive to live an authentic life.
Less than a decade since they released their first album, the Sibleys’ music hit the national spotlight in 2009 with a blue-ribbon finish in the “Great American Duet Sing Off” on National Public Radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” They’ve performed live at NYC’s Town Hall, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and on festival stages from North Carolina’s Merlefest to Colorado’s Rockygrass. Their music has a way of touching each individual they meet; this has been an ongoing gift that they cherish.
In 2011, Anne and Pete Sibley said a greater “Yes” to their music. In about four weeks’ time, they sold their home of 12 years in Jackson Hole, Wyo., gave away almost everything they owned, put their young children and instruments (and whatever else fit) into their Subaru and hit the road. The road trip ended up being more than 14 months long, bringing them in front of hundreds of audiences and through 30 states while looking for the next place to call home.
In California, they finally stopped the van (the Subaru had died in Kansas) when their dream home appeared by the ocean. They then began building the groundwork for their latest album, “Extraordinary Life” (recently released) and continue to deepen their musical incarnations.
“Being on the road that long taught us much about who we are as individuals,” reflected Pete Sibley. “It showed us that when we are willing to let down our walls, people can sense that authenticity and are willing to support and help us. It wasn’t always easy to receive from folks, sometimes total strangers, and it seems I had a lot to learn about how to be a gracious receiver, to receive from the generosity of life itself.”
Anne and Pete Sibley continue to seek their authentic living through their music and live performance. They often challenge audiences to ask themselves, “what have you always wanted to do but have been putting off for any number of reasons?” In deep gratitude, they sing their songs and fall in love with audiences night after night.
“I’m always impressed and hopeful for good in the world when I see people supporting us in our heart’s passion,” Pete Sibley shared. “What if we all believed we’re supported in our heart’s passion, be it music, parenting, dancing, astronomy or whatever? What will the world look like at that moment?”
Anne and Pete Sibley will open the show on Sunday, Sept. 6, with an 11 a.m performance on the main stage.
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards
Laura Cortese has a vision for her band’s sound: bold and elegant, schooled in the lyrical rituals of folk music and backed by grooves that alternately inspire Cajun two-stepping and rock-n-roll hip swagger. It’s appropriate then that the quartet, featuring Cortese, call themselves Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards.
Cellist Valerie Thompson (cello/vox), the band’s newest fiddler, Jenna Moynihan (fiddle/hardingfele/vox), and a rotating cast of female bass players pair their sophisticated string arrangements and rich vocal harmonies to Cortese’s poignant and powerful singing.
Watching them on the main stage at a summer folk festival or tearing it up late night at a club, you get the sense that they might snap some fiddle strings or punch a hole in the bass drum. This is post-folk that seriously rocks.
True to their adventurous spirit and wide-ranging influences, the group was recently selected for the second consecutive year from a pool of 400 bands to tour with the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad program. In 2014, the band toured India, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Bangladesh to perform and teach as artist ambassadors. Now the band is eagerly awaiting their next international assignment for spring 2016.
Cortese grew up in San Francisco and moved to Boston to study violin at Berklee College of Music. She has since immersed herself in the city’s vibrant indie music scene and enjoys a busy sideman career, which has included appearances with Band of Horses at Carnegie Hall, Pete Seeger at Newport Folk Festival and Patterson Hood and Michael Franti for Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden. She performs frequently with Jocie Adams, formerly of The Low Anthem, and can be heard with Adams’ new band, Arc Iris. Cortese also performs frequently with Rose Cousins and played on her 2012 release, “We Have Made a Spark.”
This quartet is in line with Cortese’s collaborative style; her last several projects have featured the finest of the Boston folk-pop scene. 2010 saw the release of three EPs: “Two Amps, One Microphone,” a duet with guitarist and singer Jefferson Hamer; “Simple Heart,” a collaboration with five other female vocalists; and “Acoustic Project,” which provided the seed for the fiddle-based arrangements of Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards.
Since the release of Cortese’s most recent album, “Into the Dark” (2013), she hasn’t shied away from heavy subjects. On “Brown Wrinkled Dress,” she writes from the point of view of a woman who discovers her husband’s infidelity; on “Village Green,” she sings in the voice of a servant who yearns for something more. Both songs echo traditional themes — “Brown Wrinkled Dress” is a murder ballad in the most classic sense — but others have an undeniably modern cadence.
You can hear pop in Cortese’s deftly-written hooks and rock ‘n’ roll in the syncopated pulse that propels even her gentlest melodies. Her cover of Laura Veirs’s “Life is Good Blues” perhaps captures this spirit best: when Cortese sings, “Life is good when the band is smokin’ hot,” it’s easy to believe her.
Thompson and Moynihan bring their own multi-genred credentials to the mix. Thompson has shared the stage with acclaimed jazz pianist Fred Hersch, indie-rock icon Amanda Palmer, multimedia artist Christopher Janney and CMH Records’ Vitamin String Quartet (including a guest appearance on “Gossip Girl.”)
Moynihan is an acclaimed fiddler at the forefront of a new generation of acoustic musicians and is a graduate of Berklee College of Music. Her unique style is rooted in the Scottish tradition, with influences from the sounds of Appalachia. This fall, she will release her first solo album, “Woven.”
Moynihan’s love of the music has taken her across the U.S., Canada, France and Scotland, performing with various groups, including Darol Anger, The Folk Arts Quartet, Atlantic Seaway, Matt Glaser, Vasen, Hamish Napier (Back of the Moon), Maeve Gilchrist, Bruce Molsky, Fletcher Bright, Courtney Hartman (Della Mae), at Festival InterCeltique (Brittany, France), Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival and as a soloist with Hayley Westenra (Celtic Woman) at Symphony Hall in Boston.
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards will make their debut appearance at the Four Corners Folk Festival on Saturday, Sept. 5, at 1 p.m.
Tickets and information
Festival tickets and information are available on the website www.folkwest.com. For a more interactive experience, you can search Google Play and the App Store for the free FolkWest festival app, where you can listen to the Four Corners Folk Festival commercial-free station, watch videos from the performers, check event schedules and much more.
Article content provided by the Jon Stickley Trio, Anne and Pete Sibley and Laura Cortese.