Setting down roots

Third Red River Folk Fest highlighted by James McMurtry, Shawn Mullins and more


The town of Red River has long been a musical mecca, with legends like Ray Wylie Hubbard and Michael Martin Murphey keeping the torch lit. Carrying on in that tradition, Red River’s Steve Heglund and Taos’ Max Gomez joined forces to create the Red River Folk Festival.

Now in its third year, the festival promises to become a mainstay in the richness of Northern New Mexico’s musical festivals. This year’s lineup features James McMurtry, Shawn Mullins, Kelley Mickwee, Chuck Prophet, Jim Lauderdale, Robert Mirabal, Gomez and more.

The Red River Folk Festival starts Thursday (Sept. 21) and continues through Sunday (Sept. 24) at various venues in the community.

Tempo recently caught up Gomez, a festival organizer and singer-songwriter who grew up in Taos and has since launched a national musical career.

Tempo: Are you and Steve Heglund the main festival organizers?

Max Gomez: Yeah. Well, Steve is kind of the head honcho of the Red River music scene, which is actually a great music scene. He’s the one who owns all the venues and has been striving to bring great music to Northern New Mexico and Red River. He’s been doing it for decades. He’s the real-deal music promoter. He owns hotels, restaurants, two bars, an amphitheater – and he works for several other festivals. He’s the guy who approached me about doing a festival on a certain weekend. He and I are close friends through music. When he approached me and asked me to do a festival, I said yes, on account of it being him.

Tempo: This is the third year you’ll be doing the festival. What were the first two years like?

Gomez: Well, the first year was kinda similar to this year. We have a couple of repeat offenders on the lineup. Shawn Mullins and James McMurtry were at the first year. The first year, we were kind of out of the box. The second year, we treaded water and kept things going. This year, we’re trying to expand things and do more. We asked another business partner on to help us promote the festival and hired more people. This year’s slated to be our best ever. We’ve sold the most tickets. And, we have a big rock star lineup.

Tempo: What is the general feel of the festival? What can people expect?

Gomez: There are a core group of musicians that are at every event, hanging out and sitting in with everyone and forming bands through the days and nights. It’s a small festival. It’s not a big, crowded thing. It’s a small, intimate thing. You can expect a classical arts and crafts fair mixed in with real shows by professional touring musicians who’ve worked all their lives to write and record the songs that they released and are there to perform them.

Tempo: I assume that you have a big hand in choosing who is invited to perform.

Gomez: I do. Everybody involved can obviously try to get someone booked or suggest an artist, but in a lot of ways, Steve [Heglund] and I are the ones who decide. Steve has a long list of bands and friends that he likes to book. And, we have one thing that we try to maintain about this festival – we don’t book the same artists over and over again, even though we kind of are in some ways bringing Shawn Mullins back and bringing James McMurtry back. They are the only repeat offenders. It’s sort of a family affair on the one hand, but at the same time, it’s not to be confused with other festivals. It’s different in many ways. Our venues are different – we have about four of them and we want the thing to eventually grow up to have many more than that.

Tempo: You will release a new EP on Sept. 22. How does “Me and Joe” compare with your CD, “Rule the World”? What were you going for when you made it?

Gomez: Well, they’re two very different projects. “Rule the World” was a very carefully planned and thought-out project. In the recording studio, we spent somewhere in the neighborhood of three months making that record, whereas we spent somewhere in the neighborhood of three days making this record. Now, that’s not to give it any less credit than my debut album, “Rule the World.” They’re just different styles and approaches. The record producer that I worked with on “Me and Joe” is Jim Scott. He’s no slouch. [He has] worked with Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Lucinda Williams. ... He’s a recording legend and we’re lucky and happy to work with him. He used to always say, “You know how long it takes to make a hit record, don’t you?” He’d say, “Three minutes, that’s how long.” And, that’s the way that we recorded the song “Joe,” which is on the album and was written by my best friend and musical collaborator, Jed Zimmerman. ... We recorded the song in two takes. The first take, we decided we wanted to change something at the ending. And, the second take was the take that is on the record now. The band is that good that performed on it. They’re legendary players who played with everyone from Eric Clapton to Jackson Browne, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash. They’re recording stars in Los Angeles. In any case, we made the album in no time. It was a very different approach than “Rule the World.”

Tempo: You recently switched labels from New West Records to Brigadoon.

Gomez: Yeah, I did.

Tempo: Is there anything you want to say about that?

Gomez: Yeah. I can tell you about that. The gist is there was a regime change at New West Records. The company was taking its sweet time moving from LA to Nashville and changing its direction and I had the opportunity to leave and go work with some old friends at Brigadoon, so I took it. That’s the gist of it.

Tempo: Anything else you want to say about your music or about the Red River Folk Festival?

Gomez: There’s been a last-minute schedule change for Robert Mirabal. He will be playing, but not on Sunday. He will be there on Thursday night with me and Jim Lauderdale and my band. My band that night is going to consist of a handful of the players who made this latest record with me. They’re some of the best musicians in the world, I think, at least in the genre that I perform in – folk and country. Our house band is going to feature drummer Jim Christy, bass player Taras Prodaniuk and Colin Brooks on slide and steel guitar.

Tickets are $68 for a three-day festival pass (Thursday through Saturday), $125 for an all-access VIP pass, $25 for one day only (Thursday, Friday or Saturday) aomeznd $5 for park admission. Tickets can be purchased at Venues include the Lost Love Saloon, Brandenburg Park, the Motherlode Saloon and Bittercreek Ranch.

Gomez releases his “Me & Joe” EP this Friday, Sept. 22. He encourages his fans to preorder or buy it online at For more information on the Red River Folk Festival, call (575) 754-6280 or visit