Telluride, Bluegrass and the Cross of Gold (Repost #APACO17)

My first time into Telluride I was coming in from the East. The summer was hot and dry; the Colorado backcountry better suited to rattlesnakes than trout water. I had been camping up the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, some rutted jeep trail of a Forest Service road that would have seemed an interstate compared to the insanity of Black Bear Pass. That is to say, I drove in from the West, down Leopard Creek Canyon through Placerville by way of Ridgeway. When in doubt, go higher.

“I would be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen to whom you have listened if this were but a measuring of ability; but this is not a contest among persons. The humblest citizen in all the land when clad in the armor of a righteous cause is stronger than all the whole hosts of error that they can bring. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty-the cause of humanity.”

William Jennings Bryan spoke as such when he visited the town of Telluride in 1896, speaking in front of the New Sheridan Hotel while campaigning for the presidency. Telluride sits astride a narrow box canyon at the headwaters of the San Miguel River. It’s not the sort of place you happen across, that you wander through on your way from here to there. Telluride is a destination.

“Never before in the history of this country has there been witnessed such a contest as that through which we have passed. Never before in the history of American politics has a great issue been fought out as this issue has been by the voters themselves.”

The mines of the San Juan mountains gave birth to Telluride in the 1870s. Zinc, lead, copper, silver and gold flowed from the Sheridan, the Tomboy, the Pandora mines. Miners mined the ore, the town mined the miners. The good times were good. The bad times were bad. Butch Cassidy began his career in crime in June 1889 when his “wild bunch” robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank. Eastern financiers dealt a much heavier blow during the Silver Panic of 1893. It was silver and gold that brought Bryan to town.

“But in this contest, brother has been arrayed against brother, and father against son. The warmest ties of love and acquaintance and association have been disregarded. Old leaders have been cast aside when they refused to give expression to the sentiments of those whom they would lead, and new leaders have sprung up to give direction to this cause of freedom. Thus has the contest been waged, and we have assembled here under as binding and solemn instructions as were ever fastened upon the representatives of a people.”

Over time the mines played out. By the 1970s, “hippies” had taken over many of the old union shacks. The search for silver and gold turned to the perfect slope. And the perfect music festival. According to the Library of Congress, the first Telluride Bluegrass Festival was organized by a bluegrass band, Fall Creek, for the 1974 Independence Day celebration. Telluride, acoustic music and the Festival have all changed a lot since then.

“we stand here representing people who are the equals before the law of the largest cities… The miners who go 1,000 feet into the earth or climb 2,000 feet upon the cliffs and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured in the channels of trade are as much businessmen as the few financial magnates who in a backroom corner the money of the world.”

Author & professional contrarian Edward Abbey made his home downriver, past where the San Miguel joins the Dolores River and flows into Utah. He lamented the mining at Moab that followed the bust at Telluride. He lamented the rise of industrial tourism that turned desert towns and mining towns into meccas for the leisure class. Abbey’s Moab and Bryan’s Telluride are the same, yet different, than hundreds of others places in the high country. Built and broke on the back of mining and ranching. Reborn as recreational playgrounds, some might say they sold their souls to the new company store. Might say they’ve lost their souls on a cross of gold.

“If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

William Jennings Bryan spoke of literal gold, the heavy yellow mineral competing with Telluride’s silver for status as legal currency. Yet we still today find ourselves pressed down upon: Our crown of thorns is a gold record standard. The over-riding expectation that all that matters is the next hit on the radio chart, the next big thing on MTV, the next Girls Gone Viral on the world wide web.

Telluride is one of the few places that have staked out their own claim outside the Next Big Thing. Citizens of the town work hard to stand up for their land and historic fabric, looking for ways to balance growth and development—to make a place for a ski resort, summer recreation and a functioning community. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival has done as well, balancing a broad and diverse lineup to stay funky yet relevant.

It is no easy thing to resist the lure of easy gold. To resist the urge to get yours while the getting is good. To do better. To go higher.

To go To Hell U Ride — Telluride.

(Repost from 2009, in honor of APA Colorado conference.)


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West County Line

Building permits required.  Archuleta-LaPlata county line, US Highway 160 east of Bayfield, Colorado.


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Neuromancer the Movie

Rumors are surfacing again that William Gibson‘s classic cyberpunk SciFi novel Neuromancer may finally be reaching the big screen.  The 1984 story—winner of the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick awards—has had far-reaching impact on pop culture as Gibson fleshed out the ideas behind “cyberspace” and “the Matrix.”

You might have heard a bout a little movie series based on that last term, drawing heavily from Gibson’s prognostications. Even earlier, Keanu Reeves gave a preview of his role as Neo in the film version of Gibson’s 1981 short-story “Johnny Mnemonic”.

Many have tried and failed to adapt the Neuromancer dystopia.  Let’s hope this one’s a go.

P.S. Congrats to author N.K. Jemisen on her 2nd Hugo award for The Obelisk Gate, sequel to last year’s Hugo winner The Fifth Season, itself due for a TV adaptation.  The 3rd novel in the series, The Stone Sky, is now on your favorite bookseller’s shelves (and on my library wish list).  Both science fiction and fantasy authors, Gibson and Jemisen, are outspoken critics on social media, but I like their stories anyway.



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The Disease that Afflicts all Modern Institutions

Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0


Modern state institutions, which are supposed to be impersonal even if not necessarily democratic, are particularly vulnerable to insider-capture in a  process that I labeled “repatrimonialization.”  As we have seen, natural human sociability is built around the twin principles of kin selection and reciprocal altruism—the favoring of family or of friends with whom one has exchanged favors.  Modern institutions require people to work contrary to their natural instincts.  In the absence of strong institutional incentives, the groups with access to a political system will use their positions to favor friends and family, and thereby erode the impersonality of the state.  The more powerful the groups, the more opportunities they will have to do this.  This process of elite or insider capture is a disease that afflicts all modern institutions.

Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, page 464



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The Fates Have Been Kind — New Music for 2017

The Fates have been gracious again to Americana music this year.

2017 has featured several strong releases from long-time Country music stars (Alison Krauss, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson), Alt.Country should-be stars (Son Volt, Mavericks, Jason Isbell), and ignored-by-radio Texas Country stars (Aaron Watson, Sunny Sweeney).  I’ve been streaming a LOT of music this year, and frankly, I’m having a hard time keeping up with the cornucopia of new music while also enjoying my favorites.  What a beautiful conundrum.

Some favorite new Albums released so far in 2017:

Alison Krauss – Windy City:  Alison honors her Country heroes with her own take.  This would chart higher except for the multiple custom “Deluxe” releases (Spotify has one, I bought a different one from Target, etc.) messes up’s Scrobbles.

Marty Stuart – Way Out West:  Marty Stuart credits his whole band with this production evoking wide open spaces and classic Country music–in fact he has both kinds of music, “Country” AND “Western”.

Aaron Watson – Vaquero:  A nice-guy cowboy in the cut of George Strait, Watson throws in just enough pop country to keep the radio DJs happy.

The Mavericks – Brand New Day:  This disc is just plain fun, with plenty of horns to liven up the dance line.  Their last release made into to my Top 10 for 2015 and I’m thinking this one’s a keeper.

Sunny Sweeney – Trophy:  Wow.  Just wow.  Powerful songwriting.  Powerful performance.

Some others:

  • Otis Gibbs – Mount Renraw
  • The Infamous Stringdusters – Laws of Gravity
  • Songs of the Fall – Confessions (Colorado local band touring internationally)
  • Kasey Chambers – Dragonfly (late release in the U.S.)
  • Son Volt – Notes of Blue
  • Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child
  • Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway
  • Dead Man Winter – Furnace (Trampled by Turtles lead’s side project)
  • Nikki Lane – Highway Queen
  • Blackie & the Rodeo Kings – Kings and Kings
  • Lindi Ortega – Til the Goin’ Gets Gone (4-song E.P.)

And very strong recent releases:

  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound:  This is the future of Country music.
  • Chris Stapleton – From A Room: Volume 1:  I’d settle for this as the future of Country music, too.
  • Amanda Anne Platt – Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters:  This is how we write music for the future based on our rich musical traditions of the past.  Now if we could get the Scrobbles to

And last but far from least, Halden Wofford & The Hi-Beams – Missing Link: Hot off the record press, if you can find it, buy it.  Classic Colorado real country, rock-a-billy, whatever, it’s good stuff.



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Gene Habets, 1940-2017


Eugene “Gene” H. Habets, 77, of Dutton, Montana, passed away June 15, 2017, at home with his family.

Gene was born on January 12, 1940, in Conrad, MT, to Eugenius “Eugene” Hubertus and Irene (Slezak) Habets. Eugenius emigrated from The Netherlands with his father in 1913, and Irene’s parents emigrated from Silesia. Growing up Gene worked on the family farm and silver mine near Valier.

Gene married Lois Ann Franklin on December 2, 1967, in Anaconda, MT. Their children and grandchildren were the loves of their lives. After crossing the country as a custom cutter, Gene worked in a mine in Anaconda, was road superintendent for Pondera County and owned a restaurant in Conrad. After retiring the first time, Gene was a mechanic with A&P Motors and Greyn’s Supply in Dutton. In his spare time he flood irrigated and worked on cars. His favorite car was a 1958 Chevy Impala.

Gene is survived by four of five daughters, LaVee (Kenneth) Arnold of Shelton, WA, Vi Habets of Dutton, Char (JC) Shepard of Pagosa Springs, CO, and Farlee (John) Albertson of Bremerton, WA, and his five brothers and sisters. His grandchildren include Tyler (Jessicca) Arnold of Helena, Chris Albertson of Shelton, Carrie Carlbom (Austin Christopherson) of Rawlins, WY, Mallory Arnold of Lacey, WA, Sarah Albertson of Bremerton, Cyndi Albertson of Shelton, Steven Werre of Dutton, Derek Carlbom of Dutton, Dominique Albertson of Bremerton, and Brian Carlbom of Pagosa Springs. Gene was preceded in death by his wife Lois, daughter Noreena Habets, parents and one brother.

A vigil service took place June 20, at 7pm, and funeral mass June 21, at 1pm, both at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Choteau. Burial followed at Dutton Cemetery under the direction of Gorder Jensen Funeral Home. Memorials are suggested to Benefis Sletten Cancer Institute or Lions Club of Choteau, Easter Egg Hunt Bicycle Fund.

Condolences may be left on-line at

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Songs of the Fall – Confessions

Stetson Adkisson and Cia Cherryholmes—Songs of the Fall—have a new Americana album out, called Confessions.  After an initial singer-songwriter release as Stetson & Cia, they recorded a self-titled album in 2012.  So this may be a sophomore effort, or it may not. In light of Cia’s multiple Grammy nominations with her Cherryholmes family bluegrass band, this couple has high expectations and they’ve been working on these songs for awhile.

Fast Tube

The result is pretty good.  Stetson grew up in Pagosa Springs, and a couple years ago they moved back to the mountains of Colorado from the hills of Tennessee.  Their last album, Songs of the Fall, opened strong with “Beneath the Willow” and several strong tracks without filler.  This effort also opens strong with the upbeat “Love and Lust”. I caught two well-crafted releases on the new album at a local show back in the fall of 2015, the upbeat “Good to Have You Back” and the maudlin “Lucky”.  The rest of the album is growing on me, although I’m puzzled by the choice of “Confessions” as a name. It’s almost a nod to a Fleetwood Mac or Blondie pop sound, without diluting their roots too much, or something completely different. A friend heard a kinship to The Civil Wars duo.  Whatever the trend, the couple can cover the bases from string band to rock & roll when they want to.

Fast Tube

Confessions was just released in mid-May 2017, and they’ve been holding release shows around Southwest Colorado.  Songs of the Fall perform as a strong duo and I’ve also seen them with a band adding bass, uke & beat box.  Stetson, Cia, and their little one head to Europe in August, with dates posted for La Roche-Sur-Foron, France, and Bystricka, Czechia.




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Declaring That a State of War Exists: 6 April 1917

On this date, 6 April 1917,  in response to a request by President Wilson on 2 April, the United States Congress approved America’s entry into the Great War, which came to be known as World War I.

resident Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war on Germany, causing the United States to enter World War I.

Joint Resolution Passed by the United States Senate and
House of Representatives

Effective April 6, 1917, at 1:18 p.m.

WHEREAS, The Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America; therefore, be it

Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government, which has thus been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared; and

That the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.

While American troops have been deployed overseas many times since 1776, the United States Congress has only officially declared a State of War 11 times.  This first time was 1812.  Two were for World War I (Germany & Austria-Hungary) in 1917.  The last six were for World War II (Japan, Germany, Italy) in 1941 and (Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania) in 1942.  Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, etc. were never declared states of war.

Three years on from the start of Europe’s Great War, Woodrow Wilson had campaigned on a peace platform in 1916, and in his academic heart I believe he thought the United States would be able to keep to the sidelines.  Yet peace was not to be.  Under increasing public pressure—in particular due to unrestricted submarine warfare and especially after the infamous Zimmerman telegram, and with the February Revolution deposing the Tzar in Russia—Wilson came around 180 degrees in a matter of months and to War it was.

p.s. The Denver Post wrote a nice little squishy piece in their 6 April 2017 edition, with the graphic above.



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Windy City Turn Loose My Baby: Alison Krauss Absolves the Sins of the Nashville Sound

Alison Krauss‘ new release Windy City is a journey forward into the past of Country music.

I kick myself that back when Alison was starting out as a youngster in Central Illinois, I was wasting my college days in Urbana-Champaign listening to classic rock and college rock, leaving my country roots temporarily aside.  By the time I grew out of this phase, I had missed multitude opportunities to see the likes of Ms. Krauss, Uncle Tupelo and other young legends-to-be play live music in my college town.  Live and learn.

Alison Krauss has been doing some living and learning of her own.  On Windy City, she learns to let go, handing the song-picking reigns over to veteran Nashville producer Buddy Cannon, and handing over most of the fiddle-playing to a cast of legendary studio musicians and fellow Union Station band members.  Krauss has noted that she started out with a vague intention, simply to find songs that were older than she was.  As a contemporary, this results in songs mostly older than I am… mostly.

The set list became a mix of major & minor hits of 50s & 60s Nashville Sound and some others that drew on the style, in particular “countrypolitan”—heavy on the piano & strings designed to appeal to the pop market, in competition to the more traditional honky tonk Bakersfield Sound.  As a traditionalist, I’m firmly in the Bakersfield camp.  As a roots music fan, I’d also rather listen to most anything Chet Atkins’ greed produced a generation ago than anything coming off Music Row today.

Fast Tube

In the spirit of Chet Atkins, Buddy Cannon starts off the album with Brenda Lee, an artist who stretched between rockabilly, country and pop, with the big sound of 1963’s “Losing You” which went to No. 6 on the pop charts.  Lest we pay too much tribute to the Nashville Sound, Cannon comes back with two more traditional songs from The Osborne Brothers, a popular 60s & 70s bluegrass outfit.  “It’s Goodbye and So Long to You”, which originally featured Mac Wiseman‘s vocals, and the title track, originally released on a 1972 album “Bobby & Sonny” along with songs written by Tom T. Hall, Ernest Tubb, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard (again with the genre-stretching).  “Windy City” evokes a similar spirit of urban migration and lost love heard in Harlan Howard‘s classic “Streets of Baltimore”, popularized as a Chet Atkins production for Bobby Bare released in 1966, and later recorded by Gram Parsons among others.  As an Illinois native, “Windy City” is an appropriate personal reflection on the state’s major metropolis, as well as a fitting refresh of an overlooked country standard.

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The next group of songs continues to confirm and confound.  Buddy gives Alison a gift with Willie Nelson‘s only single on Monument Records, 1964’s “I Never Cared For You.”  I have to confess my ignorance of the earlier release, as I know this song from 1998’s Daniel Lanois production, Teatro (one of my favorite albums of the 90s).  Track 5 “River in the Rain” is a Roger Miller show tune from the Huck Finn musical Big River, a 1985 Tony-award winning effort that becomes the exception to prove Krauss’ song-picking rule.  Vern Gosdin‘s Top 10 hit “Dream of Me” also pushes the sonic timeline to 1981—producer Cannon was a co-writer, and offers backing vocals along with his daughter Melonie.

Fast Tube

While folk & bluegrass master John Hartford originally wrote “Gentle on My Mind,” released in 1967, and won Grammy Awards in 1968 as Best Folk Performance and Best Country & Western Song.  The song also became a breakout countrypolitan hit for Glen Campbell, winning him Grammys the same year for Best Male Country & Western Solo Vocal Performance and Best Country & Western Recording.  Rat Pack crooner Dean Martin also rode the song to No.2 on the UK music charts.  Johnny Cash even released a poignant version in 2003, on his Unearthed collection, go figure.  Its a song music critics—traditionalists and too-cool-for-school crowd—love to hate, but again a generation on its a guilty pleasure, a song in any arrangement so much better than anything on the radio, the sins of the Nashville Sound perhaps must be forgiven.

Fast Tube

The standard release then wraps with another Brenda Lee song, “All Alone Am I”, a 1962 pop hit, originally a Greek show tune; Bill Monroe‘s 1951 Decca B-side “Poison Love”, and Eddy Arnold‘s 1955 song “You Don’t Know Me”, which Wille Nelson also honored as the title to his tribute to co-writer Cindy Walker.

Windy City is a departure and a continuation of Alison Krauss’ eclectic musical production, from hardcore bluegrass and gospel to the neo-traditional folk of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, to her musical flirtation with Robert Plant and several duets the past few years.  Krauss offers something here for Country radio and the everyday Country music fan, along with the nuance appreciated by Americana music fans.  If you buy only one album this year, buy Windy City and put it on repeat.

Windy City was released 17 February, Krauss’ first new solo release in many years, and debuted at number one on Billboard’s Top Country chart and No. 9 on the Billboard 200 album sales chart.  There’s several versions of the CD out on the retail racks:

  • 10 track standard version
  • 11 track Cracker Barrel Exclusive edition
  • 14 track “Deluxe Version”, which is streaming on Spotify and elsewhere.
  • 16 track Target-exclusive version adds two more tracks

Too bad I’m 100-miles or more from the nearest Target, and even further from a Cracker Barrel Country Store, so it’s standard version at home & Spotify streaming from work.



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In Search of… American Roots Music at the Grammy Awards

Fast Tube

William Bell won the Best Americana Album Grammy Award earlier this month for This Is Where I Live, released on a revived Stax label. A lot of people said nice things about the award and what a great artist Mr. Bell is, and I don’t doubt its true. It’s also true that while I consider myself a deep Americana music fan, I am also self-educated on Americana music and I had never heard of Mr. Bell before the Americana Music Awards last fall.

Wikipedia says Mr. Bell, born in 1939, is best known as an R&B and Soul artist active in the 1960s and 1970s.  I like Traditional Blues, and I don’t mind most R&B especially the older tunes.  Yet, with so much good Roots music coming out the last few years, the Grammys played it safe once again as a popularity contest for known names.  Now, I’m not saying Mr. Bell’s album isn’t good—I don’t really know because I haven’t listened to it much.  I’m saying I don’t know R&B.  R&B is not on my Americana roots radar.

Quantity vs Quality

Americana is by necessity a big tent.  It’s a bit and a bit folk-country that’s a bit too thoughtful for Pop Country radio.  It’s a bit too traditional for Music Row.  It’s a bit too much for the mass marketers to know what to do with.  Industry insiders, such that Americana has, have pushed for years (especially through the Americana Music Association) to gain industry recognition, but in doing so they’ve pushed the “Big Names” and they’ve pushed the genre envelope to bring more people under the tent.  In ever-expanding “Americana” it often feels to me like we’re appropriating whatever is popular just to get more tweets & Facebook posts.

Getting a “Best Americana Album” category named in the Grammys’ Roots Music category was quite a coup for the AMA and friends.  We have our annual awards, yes, but with a fraction of the media attention of the Grammy Awards bonanza.  The price of quantity, though, is accepting the fact that the vast majority of Grammy voters probably have never heard what us regular roots music fans consider “Americana” music.  We get name recognition over music recognition, like just any other high school prom queen coronation.

Field 13 American Roots Music

Category 45 is Best American Roots Performance, “in the style of any of the subgenres encompassed in the American Roots Music field including Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk or regional roots.”  Nominees this year (winner in bold) included:

  • AIN’T NO MAN The Avett Brothers Track from: True Sadness
  • MOTHER’S CHILDREN HAVE A HARD TIME Blind Boys Of Alabama Track from: God Don’t Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson
  • FACTORY GIRL Rhiannon Giddens Track from: Factory Girl
  • HOUSE OF MERCY Sarah Jarosz Track from: Undercurrent
  • WRECK YOU Lori McKenna

Category 46 is Best American Roots Song (Songwriter).  Nominees this year included:

  • ALABAMA AT NIGHT Robbie Fulks, songwriter (Robbie Fulks) Track from: Upland Stories
  • CITY LIGHTS Jack White, songwriter (Jack White/The White Stripes) Track from: Jack White Acoustic Recordings 1998 – 2016
  • GULFSTREAM Eric Adcock & Roddie Romero, songwriters (Roddie Romero And The Hub City All-Stars) Track from: Gulfstream
  • KID SISTER Vince Gill, songwriter (The Time Jumpers) Track from: Kid Sister
  • WRECK YOU Lori McKenna & Felix McTeigue, songwriters (Lori McKenna)

Category 47 is Best Americana Album.  Nominees:

  • TRUE SADNESS The Avett Brothers
  • THIS IS WHERE I LIVE William Bell
  • THE CEDAR CREEK SESSIONS Kris Kristofferson
  • THE BIRD & THE RIFLE Lori McKenna
  • KID SISTER The Time Jumpers

Category 48 is Best Bluegrass Album

  • BURDEN BEARER Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
  • THE HAZEL AND ALICE SESSIONS Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands
  • NORTH BY SOUTH Claire Lynch
  • COMING HOME O’Connor Band With Mark O’Connor

Category 49 is Best Traditional Blues Album


Category 50 Best Contemporary Blues Album

  • THE LAST DAYS OF OAKLAND Fantastic Negrito
  • LOVE WINS AGAIN Janiva Magness
  • BLOODLINE Kenny Neal
  • GIVE IT BACK TO YOU The Record Company

Category 51 Best Folk Album

  • SILVER SKIES BLUE Judy Collins & Ari Hest
  • UPLAND STORIES Robbie Fulks
  • FACTORY GIRL Rhiannon Giddens
  • WEIGHTED MIND Sierra Hull
  • UNDERCURRENT Sarah Jarosz

Category 52 is Best Regional Roots Music Album (a catchall for Cajun to Hawaiian)

  • BROKEN PROMISED LAND Barry Jean Ancelet & Sam Broussard
  • IT’S A CREE THING Northern Cree
  • E WALEA Kalani Pe’a
  • GULFSTREAM Roddie Romero And The Hub City All-Stars
  • I WANNA SING RIGHT: REDISCOVERING LOMAX IN THE EVANGELINE COUNTRY (Various Artists) Joshua Caffery & Joel Savoy, producers

Whatever your genre, life is too short to listen to pop music.

p.s. I met Sarah Jarosz very briefly at the Folk ‘n’ Bluegrass here in Pagosa last spring. Amazingly nice woman.



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