By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW
The 13th annual Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass festival will be here in just four short weeks, taking place June 8-10 on Reservoir Hill.
As in years past, the three-day outdoor event will draw hundreds of music lovers from the region and beyond for amazing live musical performances.
This year’s stellar lineup includes Tommy Emmanuel, Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, The Way Down Wanderers, The Giving Tree Band, Luke Bulla Trio, Bonnie and the Clydes, Coral Creek, The Good Time Travelers, The Arcadian Wild, FY5, Thunder and Rain, Sugar and the Mint, and this week’s featured bands: Caitlin Canty, Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, and Tallgrass.
Canty is an American singer/songwriter whose music carves a line through folk, blues and country ballads.
Her voice was called “casually devastating” by the San Francisco Chronicle and NPR Music describes her songs as having a “haunting urgency.”
“Motel Bouquet,” Canty’s third record, features 10 original songs that hold her darkly radiant voice firmly in the spotlight. Produced by Grammy-nominated Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers) and recorded live over three days in Nashville, the album boasts a band of some of finest musicians in roots music, including fiddler Stuart Duncan and vocalist Aoife O’Donovan.
Rolling Stone hails “Motel Bouquet” as “dreamy and daring” with “poetic lyrics and haunting melodies.”
Since the release of her critically acclaimed “Reckless Skyline” in 2015, Canty has put thousands of miles on her songs, circling through the U.S. and Europe. She warmed up stages for The Milk Carton Kids and Gregory Alan Isakov and recorded with longtime collaborators Darlingside and with Down Like Silver, her duo with Peter Bradley Adams.
She won the Troubadour songwriting competition at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and her song, “Get Up,” was nominated for Song of the Year in the Folk Alliance International Music Awards.
Canty’s original recordings have recently appeared on CBS’s “Code Black” and on Netflix’s “House of Cards.” Raised in small-town Vermont, the daughter of a school teacher and a house painter, Canty earned her degree in biology in the Berkshires and subsequently moved to New York City. She spent her days in the city working as an environmental sustainability consultant and her nights making music at Lower East Side music halls and bars. In 2009, she quit her job and set out to make music full time. In 2015, she packed up her house plants and her 1939 Recording King guitar and drove to Nashville, Tenn., which she now calls home.
Canty will play the festival main stage at 11:30 a.m. on June 10.
Rob Ickes and
Based on a mutual love of bluegrass, country, blues, western swing and other string band music of all kinds, the partnership of dobro player Ickes (who also plays superlative lap steel guitar in the duo on occasion) and acoustic/electric guitarist Hensley continues to delight and astound audiences of traditional American music around the globe.
Since the duo decided to join forces and make their collaboration the focus of their touring and recording careers in 2015, after cutting their first album on Compass, “Before The Sun Goes Down” (nominated for a Grammy), they have continued to bring their music to venues near and far.
They’ve performed in places as close to home as Nashville’s world-famous Station Inn — a frequent and favorite showcase — and as far away as Denmark’s Tonder Festival, as well as an impressive number of the most prestigious U.S. music festivals. They have toured the European continent four times, as well as England, Ireland and Australia.
Their second album on Compass, “Country Blues,” released in 2016, testified to the growing diversity and expansion of their collaborative talents and repertoire. The duo were key players on “Original,” the recent highly lauded Compass album by bluegrass giant Bobby Osborne; their participation garnered a Recorded Event of the Year Award for Osborne’s version of “Got To Get A Message To You” on that album at this year’s International Bluegrass Music Awards (IBMA).
Ickes and Hensley shared a number of concert bills beginning in the fall of 2017, with the great and influential mandolin master David Grisman and Australia’s fleet finger-picking guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, both enthusiastic admirers of the duo. The fact that Ickes and Hensley will be opening for Tommy Emmanuel’s headline performance at this festival is no coincidence.
Ickes and Hensley continue to leave their singular and ever-growing footprint on the world of traditional music of America — be it bluegrass, traditional country, acoustic (and electric) blues or jazz.
Of their collaboration, Ickes has said this: “It works in so many different ways … Trey and I have always clicked, and when he and I know what’s going on, everyone else just grabs on — and that’s kind of the fun of the gig; it’s constantly changing.”
The excitement at their gigs is palpable, it is contagious and it is constant. Their sets tend to be a heady mix of the familiar and beloved and the new and unexpected. Hensley’s list of powerful original songs has grown quickly since the two started working together, and Ickes invariably plays several sparkling instrumentals, both on dobro and lap steel, new and old.
He is also on record as saying that one of his great satisfactions as a dobro player is accompanying a great vocalist, something the partnership allows him every night.
Ickes, who grew up in California’s Bay Area, cut his teeth on traditional bluegrass, since several family members played. He fell in love with the dobro — or more precisely, the resophonic guitar — almost immediately after his brother Pat played a tape of the legendary Mike Auldridge for him. After moving to Nashville in the early ‘90s, he quickly became one of the instrument’s acknowledged masters. He soon began touring with several top bluegrass acts and became a familiar face at recording studios in town.
His fluid, lyrical, yet stinging style has graced the recordings and concerts of bluegrass artists as diverse as Earl Scruggs, Alison Krauss, The Cox Family, Tony Rice and more, plus such mainstream artists as Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Reba McEntire and even erstwhile rocker David Lee Roth on his “bluegrass” album. Additionally, Ickes has won the Dobro Player of the Year Award from the IBMA an unprecedented 15 times. He was a founding member of the critically acclaimed bluegrass “super group” Blue Highway for 21 years. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of not only meeting but playing with his personal number one hero, Ickes was a key member of the band who backed fellow Californian Merle Haggard on Haggard’s 2007 album “The Bluegrass Sessions.”
Hensley shares Ickes admiration for the legendary Hag and features several of his songs in his repertoire. In fact, his rich, resonant baritone voice can sound at times uncannily like “The Okie From Muskogee,” but he is capable of far more than that. He also plays blues and rhythm and blues on both acoustic and electric guitar, from the repertoires of artists as diverse as The Allman Brothers, Ray Charles, Charlie Daniels and Stevie Ray Vaughn. And Ickes’ and Hensley’s rendition of The Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” needs to be heard live to be fully appreciated.
Hensley also shares Haggard’s well-known love of western swing, and he sings it and plays it with authority; Ickes loves playing it, too, often on lap steel guitar. Hensley is also a talented writer; the band’s repertoire is dotted with his original compositions. Both he and Ickes have what is called in the trade “big ears,” and this musical curiosity has enhanced their music immeasurably.
Even more precocious than his musical partner, Hensley grew up in eastern Tennessee, one of the cradles of traditional music. He doesn’t seem to have ever doubted what he was meant to do and, in fact, when he was 11 years old, he was brought onstage by Marty Stuart to play with Stuart and Earl Scruggs — at the Grand Ole Opry. He was making music — and albums — with famous players before his voice changed. He has played onstage or opened for artists as diverse as Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels, Steve Wariner and Peter Frampton. It was his singing on what was meant to be a scratch vocal on a Blue Highway album that first brought him to the attention of Ickes. Ultimately, the vocal stayed on the album, Hensley moved to Nashville, and in partnership with Ickes, they began to make all manner of exciting music.
Shortly after Hensley appeared on the scene in Music City, bluegrass Hall of Famer Roland White was heard to remark in wonderment that he had a new favorite guitar player in Nashville — and White knows a few things about guitar players. Needless to say, White is not the only fan Hensley has made in Nashville.
In many ways, this musical partnership is the ideal vehicle for both partners. Their excitement at playing together continues unabated; as their enthusiasm charges the creativity of their collaboration on a nightly basis. It is the audience who stands to be the big winner.
You can catch Ickes and Hensley on the main stage at 5:30 p.m. on June 9. Their first festival performance will be on the late night stage at 10 p.m. on June 8.
Raised by wolves, taught by squirrels, enemy of the owl — Tallgrass sings songs of happiness and sorrow. This trio brings gravel road vocals, quick-picked guitar and a rhythm section with stomping ground sound. While they play a banjo, it’s not bluegrass music. Influenced by old-timey sounds while digging through new-timey notes, they write and perform homemade auditory originals — three-part harmonies backed by drums, bass, guitar and banjo sit on music’s front porch, ready to play.
Brothers Adam and Austin Morford formed Tallgrass with longtime friend Matt Skinner during May of 2011. Their debut album, “God, Sin, Whiskey and Women,” was released in the summer of 2012. Their sophomore album, “Better Than Medicine,” was released in early February 2014 and they’re currently finishing their third album, “Laughing.”
Tallgrass will open Saturday’s performances at 11:30 a.m. on June 9.
Individuals age 17 and over can volunteer for two four-hour shifts in return for complimentary three-day admission.
The festival is produced by FolkWest, a nonprofit company that is supported in part with matching funds from Colorado Creative Industries.
More information about volunteering, tickets, camping, schedules and more can be found online at folkwest.com or by calling 731-5582.