That first year sold out at roughly 650 people, and it’s since blossomed into the unpolished gem of the Western festival circuit, encompassing five venues in and around majestic Moab. It sells up to 1,600 tickets annually and has expanded each year, despite the tourist town’s wind-down as winter approaches. Historically, it’s benefited from a weeklong Indian Summer.
The weekend’s activities include “Art of the Song” interviews, instrument and songwriting workshops, singer/songwriters in the round, after-hours jam sessions and, of course, an all-star collection of folk musicians. Singer-songwriter Patty Larkin and acoustic quintet Elephant Revival (pictured) are among this year’s featured acts.
Larkin comes from a lineage of Irish-American songwriters and storytellers and is continuing on that trajectory, with 25 years of recording under her belt,” says the troubadour. “When I was a girl, it was a really big deal for us to get together and just sing. And, truth be told, everyone was adept at holding court. My Uncle Johnny tells a really good yarn—never the same story twice, although perhaps the same tale.”
All that yammering made Larkin want to get to the punchline faster and hold people’s attention. Whether it was busking her brand of jazz-influenced, fast-as-lightning guitar-picking accompanied by warm vocals during college in Cambridge, or currently touring the country performing with folk’s biggest names, she’s lived true to that childhood creed.
Looking in life’s rearview mirror for her 2010 release, 25, Larkin reworks and rerecords 25 love songs with 25 friends. On the current phase of her musical evolution, she says: “In a way, I started out thinking I was going to reinvent something, but now I just want to learn what came before—like blues and the classic folk of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.” The years have helped fade her ego, allowing her to “get over myself and out of my own way.”
Now, there’s more room to learn from others, says Larkin, excited to return to the festival. “I love the excitement of being around these musicians, hearing them again and being inspired by them. I’ve been doing this for a long time and a big part of it is gleaning whatever you can from these gifted people.”
She’ll have no shortage of inspiration, including co-headliner Loudon Wainright III, fiddler phenom Eileen Ivers, bluegrass trio Darol Anger, Sharon Gilchrist and Scott Law, multi-instrumentalists Po’ Girl, balladeer Caroline Herring, fast-strumming Peter Mulvey and “transcendental folk” outfit Elephant Revival, Colorado bluegrass group The Mile Markers, among others.
Elephant Revival’s Dango Rose had to elucidate the meaning of that oddly titled genre. “It’s where the old and the new come together in folk idiom, drawing upon different styles and influences,” says Rose. “Transcendental folk is an amalgamation of these elements, including our own world beliefs.” Potentially heady sounding, boiled down it’s simply timeless and accessible music about the human condition—work, immigration, joy, sorrow.
The quintet blends Irish ballads, soulful swagger and brash bluegrass jams for a truly unique listen, live or on their second CD, Break in the Clouds. “I don’t think I even listen to that much folk,” says Rose, with Native American flute audible in the background. In addition to live performances during the festival, Elephant Revival will host a percussion workshop Saturday morning.
Their versatility was a cornerstone at last year’s after-hours jam session at Eddie McStiff’s.
“It’s a totally friendly and open atmosphere. Even if you don’t play anything, you’re encouraged to,” Rose says, speaking of the audience. “Everyone can play something.” After all, that’s what folk is all about: getting people involved.
MOAB FOLK FESTIVAL
Nov. 5- 7
Festival pass $115, Single Venue $30
Fri., Aug. 1, 7:30 p.m. / free