Folk, bluegrass kick off summer

Pagosa’s intimate 2-day festival draws quiet, happy crowd

Stash Wyslouch, Greg Liszt and Mike Barnett of The Deadly Gentlemen crank up the tempo at the Pagosa Springs Folk ’N Bluegrass Festival on Reservoir Hill. Enlarge photo

Rory Chapman/Special to the Herald

Stash Wyslouch, Greg Liszt and Mike Barnett of The Deadly Gentlemen crank up the tempo at the Pagosa Springs Folk ’N Bluegrass Festival on Reservoir Hill.

Music fans hungry for the lines, crowds and fervor of big summer festivals would have been sorely disappointed with the lack thereof at the Pagosa Folk ’N Bluegrass Festival last weekend.

A true family event, the relatively new festival drew a quiet, happy crowd. With many familiar faces in the lineup, the two-day event was a mellow opening act for the larger Four Corners Folk Festival on Labor Day weekend.

Grand Ole Opry veterans Mountain Heart, who have played the Opry 125 times since 1999, were among this year’s headliners. The versatile, mainstream country/traditional bluegrass ensemble led the audience through an eclectic set featuring a rather good Robert Johnson-inspired tune, tracks from their latest album “That Just Happened” and more than a few breaks to catch their breath from the altitude.

Folk ’N Bluegrass Festival regulars Crooked Still took a break from this year’s event, sending only their phenomenal banjo player Greg Liszt with the experimental “grasscore” group The Deadly Gentlemen. The odd concept band counterbalanced weak vocals and poor song selection with wonderful instrumentation. All the same, the band’s head-banging energy brought out more than a few dancers.

The lineup also featured returning Folk West acts Jimmy LaFave and SHEL, as well as a sneak peak at what the Labor Day festival will bring with a performance by the Nederland band Elephant Revival.

“It’s nice that it’s a small event still,” Carlin Walsh from Buena Vista said. With his wife and small child, Walsh chose the festival for its lineup and size.

The festival hosted multiple workshops with the performing artists – including a banjo session with Liszt and Jayme Stone – and a musical arrangement seminar with Cahalen Morrison and Eli West. And the kids certainly were not forgotten. Arts and crafts, magic and juggling events took place in the Kids Tent.

In its fifth year, the Pagosa Folk ’N Bluegrass Festival is beginning to become known as an alternative to the larger bluegrass festival in Telluride, or even the forthcoming Folk West festival in September. Pulling smaller, lesser-known acts, the festival faces none of the parking, restroom or food service overcrowding found at many summer events.

“There are fewer people, so it’s a little easier to negotiate,” Karla Szydlowski, a regular attendee from Albuquerque noted.

“The size is perfect and the venue is fantastic,” her husband, Phil Szydlowski said.

Since 1996, Dan Appenzeller and Crista Munro have brought often hard-to-see bands to the admittedly hard-to-reach Southwest Colorado region. Between the two shows Folk West puts on annually, Pagosa Springs has seen many big names including Ricky Skaggs, Keb’ Mo’ and Tim O’Brien.

The fall Four Corners Folk Festival looks to build from last weekend’s success with performances by Loudon Wainwright III, Railroad Earth and the Sam Bush Band. Unlike the Folk ’N Bluegrass Festival, the Labor Day event will no doubt bring avid festival-goers prepared for a big weekend, big music and big crowds.

Margaret Hedderman is a freelance writer based in Durango. Reach her at margaretyh@gmail.com.

Karla Szydlowski of Albuquerque dances during Mountain Heart’s headlining set Saturday at the Pagosa Folk ‘n Bluegrass Festival. Enlarge photo

Rory Chapman/Special to the Herald

Karla Szydlowski of Albuquerque dances during Mountain Heart’s headlining set Saturday at the Pagosa Folk ‘n Bluegrass Festival.

Mountain Heart, anchored by the banjo of Barry Abernathy, were the headliners for the 5th annual Pagosa Folk ‘n’ Bluegrass Festival. Enlarge photo

RORY CHAPMAN/Special to the Durango Herald

Mountain Heart, anchored by the banjo of Barry Abernathy, were the headliners for the 5th annual Pagosa Folk ‘n’ Bluegrass Festival.