VIDEO: Los Lobos, John Fullbright Set to Rock Out at Four Corners Folk Festival

The 22nd Annual Four Corners Folk Festival will take place in Pagosa Springs on Reservoir Hill Park September 1, 2 and 3, where thousands of folks from the Four Corners region and beyond will stream into the town to enjoy 3 days of live musical performers from internationally touring musicians. This week’s featured artists: Los Lobos and John Fullbright.

“We’re a Mexican-American band, and no word describes America like immigrant. Most of us are children of immigrants, so it’s perhaps natural that the songs we create celebrate America in this way.” So says Louie Perez, the “poet laureate” and primary wordsmith of Los Lobos, when describing the songs on the band’s new album, Gates of Gold.

The hard working, constantly touring band – David Hidalgo, Louie Perez, Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano and Steve Berlin – leaps headfirst into their fifth decade with an invitation to join them as they open fresh and exciting new Gates of Gold, their first full length studio album since 2010’s Tin Can Trust (a Grammy nominee for Best Americana Album).

 

Back in 2003, when Los Lobos was celebrating the 30th Anniversary of their humble beginnings as a garage band in East L.A., Rolling Stone summed up their distinctive, diverse, freewheeling fusion of rock, blues, soul and Mexican folk music: “This is what happens when five guys create a magical sound, then stick together… to see how far it can take them.”

Originally called Los Lobos del Este (de Los Angeles), a play on a popular norteno band called Los Lobos del Norte, the group originally came together from three separate units. Lead vocalist/guitarist Hidalgo, whose arsenal includes accordion, percussion, bass, keyboards, melodic, drums, violin and banjo, met Perez at Garfield High in East LA and started a garage band. Rosas, who had his own group, and Lozano launched a power trio. “But we all hung out because we were friends and making music was just the natural progression of things,” says Perez, the band’s drummer. “Like, if you hang around a barbershop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut.”

Berlin is Los Lobos’ saxophonist, flutist and harmonica player who met the band while still with seminal L.A. rockers The Blasters. He joined the group after performing on and co-producing (with T-Bone Burnett) their breakthrough 1983 EP …And A Time To Dance. Los Lobos were already East L.A. neighborhood legends, Sunset Strip regulars and a Grammy winning band (Best Mexican American/Tejano Music Performance) by the time they recorded How Will the Wolf Survive? Although the album’s name and title song were inspired by a National Geographic article about real life wolves in the wild, the band saw obvious parallels with their struggle to gain mainstream rock success while maintaining their Mexican roots.

Perez once called their powerhouse mix of rock, Tex-Mex, country, folk, R&B, blues and traditional Spanish and Mexican music, “The soundtrack of the barrio.” Three decades, two more Grammys, the global success of “La Bamba” and thousands of rollicking performances across the globe later, Los Lobos is surviving quite well — and still jamming with the same raw intensity as they had when they began in that garage in 1973. They don’t get in the studio as often as they did a few decades ago – Tin Can Trust came four years after their previous album of all originals, The Town and the City – but when they do, the results are every bit as culturally rich, musically rocking and lyrically provocative as they were back in the beginning.

Los Lobos is coming back for their second appearance as a Saturday night headliner on Reservoir Hill, closing the main stage on September 2 with an 8:00pm set. It is recommended that if you’re planning on attending the festival on Saturday that you get your tickets in advance, as they are expected to sell out on that day.

“What’s so bad about happy?” John Fullbright sings on the opening track of his new album, Songs. It’s a play on the writer’s curse, the notion that new material can only come through heartbreak or depression, that great art is only born from suffering.

It was just five years ago that John Fullbright released his debut studio album, From The Ground Up, to a swarm of critical acclaim. The LA Times called the record “preternaturally self­-assured,” while NPR hailed him as one of the 10 Artists You Should Have Known in 2012, saying “it’s not every day a new artist… earns comparisons to great songwriters like Townes Van Zandt and Randy Newman, but Fullbright’s music makes sense in such lofty company.”

 

If there was any doubt that John Fullbright’s debut album announced the arrival of a songwriting force to be reckoned with, it was put to rest when From The Ground Up was nominated for Best Americana Album at the GRAMMY Awards, which placed Fullbright alongside some of the genre’s most iconic figures, including Bonnie Raitt. “I never came into this with a whole lot of expectations,” says Fullbright. “I just wanted to write really good songs, and with that outlook, everything else is a perk. The fact that we went to LA and played ‘Gawd Above’ in front of a star-­studded audience [at the GRAMMY pre-­tel concert], never in my life would I have imagined that.”

But for Fullbright, it hasn’t been all the acclaim that means the most to him, but rather his entrance into a community of songwriters whose work he admires. “When I started out, I was all by myself in a little town in Oklahoma where whatever you wanted, you just made it yourself,” he explains. “I didn’t grow up around musicians or like­minded songwriters, but I grew up around records. One of the most fulfilling things about the last two years is that now I’m surrounded by like­minded people in a community of peers. You don’t feel so alone anymore.” If there’s a recurring motif that jumps out upon first listen to Songs, it’s the act of writing, which is one Fullbright treats with the utmost respect.

The arrangements on Songs are stripped down to their cores and free of ornamentation. Fullbright’s guitar and piano anchor the record, while a minimalist rhythm section weaves in and out throughout the album. That’s not to say these are simple songs; Fullbright possesses a keen ear for memorable melody and a unique approach to harmony, moving through chord progressions far outside the expected confines of traditional folk or Americana. The performances are stark and direct, though — a deliberate approach meant to deliver the songs in their purest and most honest form.

Songs has its moments of darkness, tracks born from pain and heartbreak, but for a craftsman like Fullbright, there are few greater joys than carving emotion into music, taking a stab at that lofty goal of immortality through song. It makes him — and his fans — happy, and there’s nothing bad about that.

John Fullbright returns to the 2017 festival with a main stage set on Saturday, September 2 at 2:30pm.

To purchase tickets and for more information, visit folkwest.com

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Crista Munro

As Executive Director of the Colorado non-profit music organization FolkWest, Crista Munro manages marketing, grant-writing, sales, sponsorships and donor relations... among other duties.