By Crista Munro
Special to The PREVIEW
The 23rd annual Four Corners Folk Festival will be here in just two weeks. The longstanding Pagosa Springs Labor Day Weekend tradition will take 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, Amy Helm, The Accidentals, Sam Reider and the Human Hands, Front Country, Darling West, Jon Stickley Trio, The Jacob Jolliff Band, The Western Flyers, Tallgrass, Courtney Hartman and Taylor Ashton, and this week’s featured performers: We Banjo 3 and Bonnie and the Clydes.
We Banjo 3
For all the innovation and invention that goes into modern music these days, it’s the inspiration derived from one’s roots that proves the most enduring. So credit Galway, Ireland’s We Banjo 3 for finding common ground between Old World tradition and authentic Americana by plying their banjo, fiddle, guitar and mandolin in an innovation fusion of styles that they dub “Celtgrass.”
We Banjo 3 made their southwest Colorado debut at the Four Corners Folk Festival last year and took the festival audience by storm, with nary a soul left sitting just a couple of songs into their memorable Sunday set. For that reason, Sunday is shaping up to be a hot-ticket day for the event that also features Sam Bush and David Grisman’s Dawg Trio performing on Sept. 2.
Five albums in — their latest, “Haven,” was released this summer — the band’s rousing revelry, sheer virtuosity, power, passion and purpose have made them one of the music world’s most celebrated ensembles. Variously described as “astonishing,” “the Gold Standard of Irish and American Roots music” and “the Irish Punch Brothers,” they can claim the No. 1 position in Billboard’s World Music charts, top honors from the Irish Music Rights Organization, top sales numbers and the distinction of entertaining an American president, an Irish prime minister and members of the U.S. Congress at the annual “Friends of Ireland” luncheon on Capitol Hill. Little wonder then that We Banjo 3 is crushing it on both sides of the Atlantic, carving a reputation as one of the world’s most imaginative ensembles.
Of course, all results are generally due to the sum of the parts and the individuals involved here all contribute to the common cause. Made up of two sets of siblings — brothers Enda Scahill (tenor banjo, vocals) and Fergal Scahill (fiddle, viola, dobro, percussion, guitar, mandolin, vocals) and brothers Martin Howley (tenor banjo, mandolin, vocals) and David Howley (lead vocals, guitar) — We Banjo 3 finds a natural symmetry as well as a cohesive chemistry that’s been imbued in the band ever since they were initially drawn to one another by their common creative interests.
Inspired by the traditional Irish and Americana music they heard growing up, they placed three banjo players in the mix in the beginning, eventually diversifying their sound while broadening their boundaries as well.
Likewise, the individual members brought a credence that extended well beyond their family connections. Martin is a seven-time all-Ireland banjo champion and the first Irish musician to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Enda has recorded with Ricky Skaggs, the Chieftains and many others, aside from being considered as one of the world’s leading authors and authorities on Irish banjo techniques. Fergal has performed with dozens of artists at home and abroad, and is widely recognized as an Irish champion of both fiddle and bodhran. David has been cited as a solo artist of exceptional skill.
The evolution in the group’s sound followed a natural progression that evolved early on. Their 2012 debut album, “Roots of the Banjo Tree,” leaned entirely on banjo music and the various styles implied by that instrumental arsenal. Their critically acclaimed sophomore set, “Gather the Good,” released in 2014, furthered that vantage point, an aural summation of the impressions and experiences gained while touring the U.S. and their initial introduction to Nashville that was followed by the release of 2015’s “Live in Galway,” recorded in the same small hometown pub where the band performed their very first gig.
“String Theory” demonstrated a change in their tack, but only slightly. Half traditional covers, half original material, it found the band’s reverence for their roots given a contemporary twist, further solidifying the common bonds between the two styles. The various jigs and reels underscore the band’s celebratory stance, but on a tender ballad like the 17th century soliloquy “Two Sisters,” the mix of love, jealousy and evil intent sound tailor made for modern times. While the instrumental interplay is in evidence as always, each individual musician adds his own distinctive style, further affirming their collective cause.
The band’s latest release, “Haven,” has earned wide critical acclaim already, having only been released a couple of weeks ago.
We Banjo 3 will return to the Four Corners main stage on Sept. 2 at 4 p.m.
Bonnie and the Clydes
Bonnie and the Clydes’ unique brand of music has been turning heads all along Colorado’s Front Range music scene for the past seven years. Fronted by Bonnie Sims, an onstage powerhouse whose passion reaches out and grabs you every time she sings, and supported by some of Colorado’s tightest musicians, they dominate stages big and small.
Bonnie said she and The Clydes play “Rocky Mountain Country Soul,” their own original take on rockin’ roadhouse honky tonk, the blues and heartfelt wailin’ shaped by the last four decades of country music.
Bonnie and the Clydes have played New West Fest, Copper Mountain Music Festival, Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass, Flatwater Folk Festival and countless honky tonks and clubs all over the American West. The band won “Best Country Band” from Denver’s Westword in 2013 and 2014. Their fourth studio album, “Dear Somebody,” released in the autumn of 2016, earned a No. 1 People’s Choice award and was listed Country Album of the Year (2016) on Colorado Playlist.
Bonnie grew up in Texas and attended South Plains College in Levelland, 30 miles west of Lubbock, where she pursued a degree in commercial music and was awarded Best Female Vocalist two years running and Best Female Instrumentalist (mandolin) her second year. It was there that she met Taylor Sims, who had been named Best Male Vocalist, and they began a love and partnership through music that has now blossomed into a 10-year marriage. In the years following, Bonnie and Taylor relocated to Colorado and the band began to take shape. Glenn Taylor, Jake Coffin and Caleb Roberts fill out the rest of the Clydes, each bringing decades of experience performing and recording.
Bonnie and the Clydes will open Saturday morning’s music performances with an 11:30 a.m. set on Sept. 1 on the main stage.
FolkWest is seeking volunteers age 17 and over to help out at the event. Volunteers who work two four-hour shifts earn free three-day admission to the festival and there are shifts scheduled before, during and after the event. Additional information about volunteering can be found at www.folkwest.com/fcff-volunteer or by calling 731-5582.
The Four Corners Folk Festival is a 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 (877) 472-4672.
The Four Corners Folk Festival is supported in part by a matching Colorado Creates grant from Colorado Creative Industries. Bio information was provided by We Banjo 3 and Bonnie and the Clydes.