By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW
The 12th annual Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass festival is just around the corner now, taking place June 9-11 on Reservoir Hill in downtown Pagosa Springs.
Another terrific musical lineup is in store for 2017, with Grammy-winning headliners The O’Connor Band (2017 — Best Bluegrass Album) and Loudon Wainwright III (2010 — Best Traditional Folk Album) plus a highly talented array of supporting bands including The Lil’ Smokies, Molly Tuttle, Western Centuries, Phoebe Hunt and the Gatherers, The Barefoot Movement, the Luke Bulla Trio, The Last Revel, The Stash! Band, The Heartstring Hunters, Moors and McCumber and this week’s featured bands: Ten Strings and a Goat Skin and The Dustbowl Revival.
Ten Strings and a Goat Skin
Age-old entertainments like sitting around the fire and telling tales can take on ever-new faces. The young acoustic power trio Ten Strings and a Goat Skin, from Canada’s Prince Edward Isle (PEI), knows this and transforms these traditions with vigor, curiosity and sparks of goofy humor.
They’re inviting a new circle of listeners auprès du poêle (“around the woodstove”) for sometimes moody, sometimes high-energy set of original and traditional songs. Expanding on the Scottish and Acadian roots of PEI’s traditional music, Ten Strings and a Goat Skin weave old-school Franco-Canadian, Breton, Irish, and Scottish tunes with wickedly current grooves and clever quirks, flirting with indie’s best moments.
“We’re less anchored in traditional structures, the way many players assemble dance sets,” remarked Rowen Gallant, one of the trio’s string players. “We’ve left them by the wayside. We retain the melodic elements, but we’re not opposed to messing with things.”
Working closely with producer Leonard Podolak of Grammy- and Juno-winning eclectic roots favorites The Duhks, Ten Strings and a Goat Skin pushes their music into new territory, adding B3 and crazed pump organ, clever effects and taut vocal harmonies for a rich sound with a direct, funky edge. It promises to gather listeners outside of folk circles, where they are already darlings, around the warm glow of fast-burning tradition.
“Leonard really urged us to create themes and then keep coming back and hinting at them. We never do a movement the same way twice,” added Caleb Gallant, whose main role in the group is traditional percussion. “We’re always refreshing the feel of the tune, as the idea changes ever so slightly.”
“It’s been a wild ride. It happened to us early,” explained Rowen, considering the trio’s rapid rise to prominence on the folk circuit. Already embraced by the Canadian folk scene, they recently made the Kansas City Star’s list of top traditional acts at the 2016 Folk Alliance gathering.
“We were fortunate to start touring and engaging more professionally in our teens,” Rowen mused. “There have been great resources to help us along in that change. But really, it’s only been in the last year or so that we reached a point where we’re doing most of the songwriting and all the arrangements. The project has embraced more and more of who we are, with tradition acting as our anchor point.”
It’s been a lifelong anchor for the Gallants, who remember travelling with their mother to Irish and Scottish music sessions around the Canadian Maritimes.
They started a band with schoolmate and guitarist Jesse Périard, sticking to traditional repertoire at first. Soon, however, inspired by musician friends from PEI’s lively avant-pop and rock scene, they began exploring new approaches to arranging and began crafting their own songs and instrumentals. Their work with Podolak, a trailblazer in making folk fresh, urged them in dynamic, engaging directions.
“We love trad music and we have a long list of bands we listen to all the time,” noted Périard. “But we get lots of other ideas from other music. There’s lots of amazing music from PEI that’s less trad, more pop, and that’s shaped us.”
“Coal not Dole” and “Maudit Anglais” (featuring the gorgeous voices of Montreal’s alt-folk favorites Les Poules à Colin) highlight this cross pollination.
Yet the trio never forgets its powerful ties to the many musics of PEI, the island’s rich mix of Celtic and Francophone elements that ramble from mouth music to foot percussion. Originals take their cues sonically from this wealth and lyrically from a deeply felt connection to the history of Eastern Canada.
Ten Strings and a Goat Skin play at 3 p.m. on June 11.
The Dustbowl Revival
After two years away from the studio playing festivals and shows around the world, The Dustbowl Revival is sharing its first two tracks from its forthcoming new record, “Busted.”
Produced by Grammy award-winner and Flogging Molly co-founder Ted Hutt (Old Crow Medicine Show, Gaslight Anthem, Dropkick Murphys), the new sounds signal a striking departure from their fun-loving, raucous old-time past and has the band mixing their unique eight-piece instrumentation into realms of hard soul, funk and the emotional, introspective folk reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon and Aretha Franklin’s harmony-drenched ’70s output.
The album flexes the band’s more modern instrumental evolution, using traditional folk instruments like mandolin, upright bass and fiddle and putting them through wah-peddles and gorgeous reverb while letting the brass section set the heat to boil. The mandolin is almost reminiscent of a hip-hop inspired piano beat, the fiddle darkly slashes its way through the open spaces, while Liz Beebe’s emotive and searing vocals reveal the snake who did her wrong — and just what she is plans to do about it.
Over the last few years, Dustbowl has become known for its free-flowing and joyous live shows, combining their funk rhythm and brass section with a fast-picking string band section. They’ve opened for bands as diverse as Lake Street Dive, Trombone Shorty and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, touring China as a guest of the state department and headlining festivals like Delfest, Floydfest, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and, recently, Bergenfest (Norway) and Tonderfest (Denmark).
While bluegrass, gospel, New Orleans swing and blues were what brought the gang together, after touring over 200 dates a year for the last four years, the band realized as it began to collaborate more on the road, that it was never content to be a throwback band recreating lost eras.
When they recorded “Busted” it was like a door opening. As they charge into 2017, Dustbowl is ready to bring their new sound — more emotional, experimental and bolder than ever — to a bigger audience.
The Dustbowl Revival will play at 4:30 p.m. on June 11.
We’re still looking for a few more volunteers; working two four-hour shifts earns you free three-day admission. Volunteering at a FolkWest event is great fun and it’s a fantastic way to meet people from Pagosa Springs and beyond. More information can be found at www.folkwest.com/pfb-volunteer.
Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass is supported in part with funding from Colorado Creative Industries. Tickets and information about the festival can be found online at www.folkwest.com or by calling (877) 472-4672.