Grab your favorite instrument and head to the mountains for a weekend full of homegrown folk music. The Southwest Pickers will have the annual festival in Red River for the first time this year. Packed with opportunities to play and listen to bluegrass, old-time and traditional Northern New Mexican Spanish music, the all-ages festival offers something for everyone.
The Southwest Pickers 43rd annual Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Festival is Thursday through Sunday (Sept. 14-17) at the Red River Ski Area, 400 Pioneer Road in the town of Red River, north of Taos.
Tony Mora, president of the Southwest Traditional and Bluegrass Music Association (aka Southwest Pickers), recommends that if a person wants to come for only one day, they come on Saturday. “Saturday is our big day,” he says. The day culminates with a barn dance with the Soda Rock Ramblers, with the dance called by Kris Kermit.
For those wondering about the distinction between bluegrass and old-time music, Mora explained that bluegrass was started by Bill Monroe in the 1930-1940s. It has its roots in traditional Scots and Irish music, as well as blues and early rock ‘n’ roll. It is traditionally played with acoustic instruments.
Old-time music, originally called “mountain music,” is played primarily on guitar and banjo. It also has roots in the British Isles and Africa and was mostly played and developed by immigrants in the United States’ Southeastern region.
“The popularity of bluegrass and old-time music has really blossomed. Right now, in the last decade, they have become really become popular. A lot of millennials like them,” said Mora. Also popular in the region is the traditional Northern New Mexico folk music of the Spanish-speaking communities here. The Southwest Pickers started incorporating this New Mexican music into the festival several years ago.
Because the festival is small, it allows for festivalgoers to get to know the entertainers that come to perform on a more personal level – from top-notch bluegrass group Blue Highway, which was nominated for some of the music industry’s highest awards (Grammy and International Bluegrass Music), to Taos favorites Audrey Davis and Johnny Archuleta to Albuquerque’s popular old-time band, the Soda Rock Ramblers.
In addition to performances, the festival schedule includes music workshops led by the performing artists and a number of talent contests with cash prizes. There are also separate contests (and prizes) for fiddle, flatpick guitar and songwriting. A fun event is the band scramble, which randomly groups participating musicians into bands that then rehearse and perform together.
“The purpose of each contest is the staging of Old Time and Bluegrass music in a fun setting for both contestants and audience,” states the festival’s website (southwestpickers-festival.org/home/contests). “Contests are open to anyone having a current day festival ticket, except those who are performing as a paid entertainer at the 2017 Festival.”
Another special event this year is a top-of-the-mountain bluegrass concert. All day long, Red River Ski Area will be running a lift up the mountain for people to ride and take in the beautiful views. At 2 p.m. on Saturday, there is live music at the mountaintop.
For musicians, the festival is not just a time to listen to others perform, it’s also a time to meet like-minded music lovers and play with them. There are structured and scheduled jams, as well as pickup jams, campsite jams and more. So, carry your instrument with you. Whenever you feel in the mood to play, you’re likely to run into others who have the same idea in mind.
The festival is accessible to people of all levels of musical experience, from beginner to advanced professional.
“That’s the thing about folk music,” Mora said. “It’s about people being people – getting together and having fun and bringing everybody into the fold.”
Camping (tent and RV) is available. A list of lodging accommodations can be found on the festival’s website (southwestpickers-festival.org/camping-rvs). The main concert venue is at the Pioneer Stage on the ski hill and folks should bring their own folding chairs, umbrellas, shade canopies and the like. Dress for the weather and be prepared for rain or sunshine.
The festival is a pet-friendly and kid-friendly event, so bring out your whole family.
Admission to the festival is $50 for a weekend pass; $20 for Friday only, $30 for Saturday only and $15 for Sunday only. People 16 years and younger get in free with a paying adult. For more information, visit southwestpickers-festival.org or call (505) 610-7425.