A festivarian’s festival
Folk’n Bluegrass Festival returns to Reservoir Hill

The Belleville Outfit plays the main stage at the 2008 Folk’n Bluegrass Festival. The festival returns to Pagosa Springs this weekend./Courtesy Photo

by Chris Aaland

June means music festivals in the Four Corners and on the Western Slope, with five major multi-day celebrations slated for Pagosa Springs, Palisade, Silverton and Telluride the next three weekends.

For those who like on-site camping, campfire picking and family-oriented fun, no gathering resonates quite like the second annual Folk’n Bluegrass Festival, which begins this Friday with free performances by Jeff & Vida and the Boston Boys at the Pagosa Springs Town Park Gazebo.

Pricing is affordable for the rest of the weekend. Two-day passes, which include camping on Reservoir Hill, are priced at $80 through today (Thursday); the cost goes up $10 once the festival begins. Children 12 and under are admitted free.

This year’s lineup is heavy on bluegrass, with a sprinkling of folk, jazz, swing and alt-country. A few of the highlights include the Infamous Stringdusters, Belleville Outfit, John Jorgensen Quintet and Tony Furtado.

“I go to a lot of festivals, and I always tell people that this is the best,” said Theresa Harrison, a seasoned veteran who has more than 50 music festivals under her belt.

Promoter Crista Munro said the Harrisons were among the first to buy tickets for this year’s Folk’n Bluegrass way back in December.

Folk’n Bluegrass is the second fest on Harrison’s itinerary this year. She and her husband, Dave, already attended the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown and are making plans for Telluride Bluegrass, the High Mountain Hay Fever Festival in Westcliffe and Folk’n Bluegrass’ sister event, the Four Corners Folk Festival.

“I live to festival,” she said, citing a mix of location, intimacy and ‘round-the-clock jams as keys to the Pagosa experience. “The campfire picking makes it special,” added Harrison, who plays guitar and is learning the mandolin. Husband Dave plays dobro.

The vibe wears off on musicians. “If they like the location and can tell people are happy, they tune in to that,” she said.

“It’s one of those rare festivals where you feel so close to the audience,” said Sweet Sunny South guitarist Rob Miller, whose band will play three times over the weekend at various venues atop Reservoir Hill. “The (main) stage is just right there, and you feel like you’re all in it together. We love that.”

Miller acknowledges his band has a special relationship with Four Corners fans. “It started years ago coming down to the Meltdown – pretty much the first festival the band ever played,” he said. “We were greeted so warmly by the crowd down there that it wasn’t long before a lot of them became our friends.”

to the Meltdown – pretty much the first festival the band ever played,” he said. “We were greeted so warmly by the crowd down there that it wasn’t long before a lot of them became our friends.”

Close enough friends, in fact, that he’s comfortable letting his children wander the grounds on their own.

“Bringing the kids to festivals is something that we feel really lucky to be able to do,” he said. “I didn’t grow up that way. I didn’t go to any festivals, let alone bluegrass festivals, as a kid. I want my children to be better off than I was, and part of that is they get to go to bluegrass festivals. It’s a beautiful thing because they’re finally of the age where we can let them go a little bit. We hold Pagosa as our favorite festival in terms of letting our kids run around and we don’t worry about them.”

Miller’s eldest daughter, Sadie, will take part in a children’s bluegrass camp hosted by the Alaskan bluegrass band Bearfoot in the days leading up to Folk’n Bluegrass. The 7-year-old has played piano for two years and took up the fiddle a couple of months ago. “She can already play ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’” he said proudly.

Miller said that the sharing of songs and stories in festival campgrounds is a learning experience. “That’s what we like to raise them around – this idea that bluegrass music and people jamming together is a normal part of life.”

“It feels like home more than any other festival campground scene,” agreed Travis Book, the local-boy-made-good who plays bass and sings for the Infamous Stringdusters. “The Dusters go to a lot of festivals, but there’s no other place that you can count on all six of the guys hanging out, playing music all night long and drinking Tecates from my mom’s cooler.”

Book began attending Pagosa festivals prior to forming Broke Mountain, the legendary Durango quintet that’s been called the top farm team in bluegrass. Broke Mountain alumni have gone on to play in the Infamous Stringdusters, the Emmitt-Nershi Band, Larry Keel & Natural Bridge, the Biscuit Burners, Greensky Bluegrass, Wayword Sons, Shannon Whitworth and the Colorado Playboys, among others.

Book’s former bandmate, Anders Beck, even wrote a tune called “Reservoir Hill” that appeared on Broke Mountain’s album.

“Anders and I would actually go into the festival stage area once or twice the whole weekend,” Book said, recalling the knoll where his mom camps each year as being Ground Zero for nightly jams.

He thinks audience participation – whether picking in the campground or listening at the main stage – is better in Pagosa.

“The music community down in that part of the world is so open minded,” Book said. “The Dusters have always felt like we can really be ourselves musically. I don’t think I’ve found a more open-minded audience than in the greater Durango/Pagosa area, and among the people who travel to see music there.”

Book said this allows bands to capture the moment and create music they’re hearing at the time – a place where magic can happen.

Musicians who have played the festival in the past are anxious to return. “I just love festivals that are that size,” said fiddler and mandolin player Warren Hood, of the Waybacks, who played the inaugural Folk’n Bluegrass last June. “Some are too big, with security everywhere. Some are too little. Festivals the size of Pagosa Springs have a great sense of community. And the scenery is great, especially the view off the back of stage.” •



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