By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW
The 23rd annual Four Corners Folk Festival takes place on Reservoir Hill in Pagosa Springs Aug. 31-Sept. 2.
This year’s world-class musical lineup includes The Dawg Trio (featuring David Grisman, Danny Barnes and Samson Grisman), Nahko And Medicine For The People, Sam Bush, We Banjo 3, Amy Helm, The Accidentals, Sam Reider and the Human Hands, Front Country, Jon Stickley Trio, The Jacob Jolliff Band, Darling West, Bonnie and the Clydes, Courtney Hartman and Taylor Ashton, and this week’s featured performers: The Western Flyers and Tallgrass.
The Western Flyers
The Western Flyers are one of the most exciting groups to glide on the scene in years. The band features archtop guitar slinger Joey McKenzie, who brings his dynamic rhythm guitar style and smooth vocals to the band, and Katie Glassman, a three-time National Swing Fiddle Champion and vintage-style singer extraordinaire. The “Baron of the Bass,” Gavin Kelso, compliments the band in a mighty way with his incredible upright bass playing and baritone vocals.
Dubbed “The Biggest Little Band in the Land,” folks often comment, “You guys sound bigger than you look.”
Equally at ease on the concert stage, music festivals and smaller performing arts venues, the Flyers appeal to a diverse cross section of enthusiastic music fans young and old. Blending tradition with musical innovation, The Western Flyers astound the music fan in all.
McKenzie is universally recognized as one of the finest rhythm guitarists of our time, a peerless practitioner of the most essential element to all music. His lifelong immersion in Western swing and Texas fiddle styles has made him the preeminent authority as a player and teacher over a wide range of traditional American genres. Whether backing up a fiddle tune or a complex jazz arrangement, McKenzie’s absolute command of the instrument leaves listeners and musicians alike in wonder.
At the age of 17, McKenzie became interested in playing the fiddle after becoming friends with Texas fiddle legend Benny Thomasson. It wasn’t long before McKenzie began competing and has since won well over 100 fiddle contests and many more contest wins on other stringed instruments. Some of McKenzie’s titles include: three-time World Champion Fiddler, World Series of Fiddling Champion, U.S. Open Fiddle Champion and National Men’s Fiddle Champion.
Since moving with his wife, Sherry (herself a champion fiddle player and teacher extraordinaire) to the Fort Worth suburb of Burleson, Texas, McKenzie has worked with many of the Lone Star state’s finest bands and musicians. During his years as a studio musician, he played on numerous studio albums, television and film scores, and his musical arrangements have been orchestrated for symphony and performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra. From 2000 to 2013, McKenzie performed with three of his fiddle and vocal students in the Quebe Sisters Band, where he created the band’s musical arrangements, played archtop rhythm guitar, and produced the Quebe Sisters Band’s three studio albums. The Western Flyers is the perfect platform for McKenzie’s rhythm guitar chops and seasoned singing.
Glassman is that rare musician who possesses a combination of instrumental virtuosity and powerful musical expression. She is one of the country’s most renowned and decorated Texas-style and swing fiddlers, as well as an accomplished songwriter, singer and a highly sought-after teacher. She maintains a thriving private teaching practice and travels to teach at music camps throughout the country. Glassman holds a bachelor’s in performance with a Jazz Certificate from University of Colorado, Boulder, and in 2007 spent a year studying jazz violin at the world-renowned Centre Musique Didier Lockwood in Dammarie-Les-Lys, France.
In 2015 and 2016, Glassman won the National Swing Fiddle Championship in Weiser, Idaho, took first in both the Bob Wills and Open divisions at the Bob Wills Festival and Fiddle Contest in Greenville, Texas and is the three-time reigning Colorado state fiddle champion. Other notable victories were in 2013 at Rockygrass in Lyons, Colo., and Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kan., to name but a few.
With the formation of The Western Flyers in 2015, Glassman has found her ultimate musical home. McKenzie and Kelso are Glassman’s counterparts on their instrument; lifelong devotees of Western swing and Texas fiddle music who have completely immersed themselves in the style. They are inarguably one of the best swing rhythm sections a fiddler could hope to play over.
Kelso has been addicted to musical vibration for as long as he can remember. At his home in Neosho, Mo., his parents had a wonderful collection of rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues and jazz records, and some of Kelso’s earliest memories include sitting in front of the stereo, mesmerized by the sounds. It wasn’t long before he knew definitively that his relationship with music could not and would not be limited to listening to it. It was around this time that he began to recognize a common element in almost all the music he loved — great bass lines.
Within his first year of playing the electric bass, he progressed from playing along with recordings in his basement to playing in school ensembles and becoming a sought-after professional in the Four State Area. It was during this time that he discovered the double bass, the instrument that would become his true musical voice.
Upon graduation from high school, Kelso moved to Denton, Texas, where he enrolled in the largest double bass program in the world and immersed himself in the study of the bass and of classical music under the tutelage of world-renowned pedagogue and performer Jeff Bradetich. In May 2011, he graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in double bass performance. From 2012-2013, Kelso served as the touring bassist for the critically acclaimed Quebe Sisters Band. It was in this context that he met rhythm guitarist, arranger and future Western Flyers bandmate McKenzie.
While touring throughout the United States, Canada and Europe with McKenzie, Kelso quickly developed a deep love for the fiddling of Major Franklin, Norman and Vernon Solomon, and Jimmie Don Bates; the honky-tonk shuffles of Ray Price and Johnny Paycheck; and, of course, the mad swing of the great Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. Gifted with a powerful dexterity on the bass, a lively imagination and a selfless dedication to the music and to the groove, Kelso continues to emerge as a standout performer in his generation.
The Western Flyers have a slot on the festival main stage on Sept. 1 at 1 p.m. and will get the late night stage going at approximately 10 p.m. on Aug. 31 (immediately following the culmination of the main stage performances).
Raised by wolves, taught by squirrels, enemy of the owl — Tallgrass sings songs of happiness and sorrow.
This Colorado-based trio brings gravel road vocals, quick-picked guitar and a rhythm section with stomping ground sound. While they have a banjo, it’s not bluegrass. 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.”
The band has shared the stage with President Barack Obama, Melissa Etheridge, Sublime with Rome, The White Buffalo and The Ben Miller Band, among many others. They were on the lineup at the 2018 Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass festival for their second appearance at that festival.
Tallgrass will open the festival with a 3 p.m. main stage set on Aug. 31.
The Four Corners Folk Festival is an extremely family-friendly event, with free admission for children 12 and under (when accompanied by an adult) and lots of free activities and entertainment at the Kids Tent offered throughout the festival.
The festival takes place rain or shine, and a central feature is the 10,000-square-foot tent with general admission seating for 1,300 people, available on a first-come basis. The meadow and trees outside the tent provide ample room for tarps, blankets and low festival chairs.
Additional information about tickets, performers and schedules can be found online at www.folkwest.com. Tickets can also be purchased by phone at 731-5582. There is information available on the website about volunteering for a festival ticket (ages 17 and up).
The Four Corners Folk Festival is supported in part by a matching Colorado Creates grant from Colorado Creative Industries. Bio information provided by The Western Flyers and Tallgrass.