The Montana Folk Festival recently announced the first seven performers coming to the 2022 festival in Butte, July 8-10.
“We’re just getting warmed up,” festival director George Everett of this first round of selections. “This first set of performers only represents one third of those who will be performing.”
This year, 21 groups perform a diversity of musical and cultural traditions on six stages in Uptown Butte. The festival marks the 10th year of the Montana Folk Festival in Butte after the first three years as the National Folk Festival in Montana.
“In this 13th year, everyone planning to attend, no matter how well they think they know this festival, should come expecting to be amazed,” Everett says.
Admission is free to all performances during the three days of the festival, although organizers urge attendees to “Pony Up” a contribution of $20 per person and $25 for a family to sustain the festival this year and for years to come. For any patron who doesn’t want to wait until July to Pony Up, they can send contributions by mail to Montana Folk Festival, P.O. Box 696, Butte, MT 59703 or contribute online.
The first seven performers
Pedro Giraudo Tango Ensemble, led by Latin Grammy Award-winning bassist and composer Pedro Giraudo – one the most compelling tango artists today. After two decades performing with the most important interpreters of tango, Giraudo debuted his own Tango Orchestra at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing in July 2015 and since then has become an active cultural ambassador of this beautiful and passionate music of his native Argentina.
As a composer and arranger, Giraudo leads his own jazz and tango ensembles and has been hailed by critics as one of the most creative and daring bandleaders on the scene today. His compositions combine his love of classical forms, Argentine tango and folk music, and the spontaneity of jazz improvisation. John Murph of Downbeat described Giraudo’s music as “an opulent listening experience of modern, orchestral jazz, brimming with passionate improvisations, deliberate contrapuntal melodies and plush harmonies.”
Springfield Exit boasts the powerhouse voice and remarkable range of Linda Lay, considered one of the best singers in grassroots bluegrass and country music. She leads an exceptional ensemble of award-winning musicians. The core trio of Linda, her husband David Lay, and multi-instrumentalist David McLaughlin formed nearly two decades ago and combine elements of bluegrass and country with sounds stemming from their Appalachian roots.
Springfield Exit’s current line-up also includes Darren Beachley on Dobro and Troy Engle on banjo. Beachley sang tenor vocals with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver from 2005-2009, when the group won IBMA Vocal Group of the Year seven consecutive years.
Plena Es has carved a space for Puerto Rican music in South Florida by emphasizing the island’s distinctive bomba y plena musical traditions, percussion-driven sounds that reflect the island’s African heritage. Founded by Pierre Ramos in 2004, the band – featuring percussion, trombones, piano, bass, and two dancers –stirs up a high-energy dance music that is a touchstone for Puerto Rican identity. Their name, seemingly simple and straightforward, is in fact a deeply spiritual and philosophical statement embodying that essential connection: Plena Es, or “Plena is ….”
The group has previously served as the pachanga band for the Miami Marlins of Major League Baseball, and shared stages with Willie Colón, Tito Puente, Victor Manuelle, and other luminaries of Latin music.
Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole showcases one of the brightest young talents to emerge in Cajun, Creole and Zydeco (Louisiana French) music over the last decade. Band leader Watson is a four-time Grammy-nominated fiddler, singer, accordionist and songwriter originally from San Felipe, Texas. With a deep and seemingly bottomless repertoire of songs at his fingertips, he plays everything from forgotten Creole melodies and obscure Dennis McGee reels to more modern Cajun and Zydeco songs, occasionally throwing in a bluegrass fiddle tune or an old string band number.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, he is also a prolific songwriter, writing almost all of his songs on his double row Hohner accordion. These songs channel his diverse ancestry (African, French, Native American and Spanish) to create his own brand of sounds. His albums are a tapestry of pulsing rhythms and Creole poetry, and his live performances are unforgettable, progressive and nostalgic at the same time.
Christine Tassan et Les Imposteures of Montreal deliver Gypsy jazz and swing. Tassan, an outstanding guitarist, has been steering her ship with boundless enthusiasm and confidence for two decades. Blessed with an absolutely contagious dynamism, she is one of the rare female jazz and Gypsy jazz guitar soloists; and she stands out for her sensitive playing, her quiet strength, and her irresistible audacity. As a singer, composer, writer, director, and producer, she has contributed to numerous musical projects in Quebec and internationally, both as a leader and as a guest musician.
The quartet has seven albums to its credit, including “Entre Félix et Django” which was awarded the Opus Prize for Jazz Album of the Year in 2017 as well as a nomination for Show of the Year in 2018. “Django Belles,” their most recent release in 2018, incorporated two new female musicians on horns for an original ode to Quebec winter.
Gospel artist Cora Harvey Armstrong still lives in her tiny hometown of Newtown in King and Queen County, Virginia. Her father was a deacon at First Mount Olive Baptist Church and her mother started the Harvey Family singing group, which included Cora and her sisters. Armstrong’s songwriting was inspired by the verses of her poet grandfather Rev. Watson Harvey.
Richmond-born musician and producer Bill McGee has described Armstrong as “Aretha Franklin on piano, Mahalia Jackson with her voice, and Shirley Caesar with her style.”
Music remains a family affair for Armstrong. At the Montana Folk Festival she’ll be joined by her sisters Clara and Virginia and her nieces Kimberly, Ruthy, and Clarissa. The group is rounded out by bassist Juan Nelson and drummers Kevin Jackson and Cora’s great-nephew Davin Jackson.
Panfilo’s Guera features Belen Escobedo, the foremost practitioner of Tejano Conjunto Fiddle, a fiddle-led art form that expresses the deep roots of Texas-Mexican culture. When Texas Folklife and the Festival of Texas Fiddling honored Escobedo with the 2017 Texas Master Fiddler Award, they praised her for “single-handedly keeping alive” the tradition of conjunto fiddle.
For Escobedo, playing the music of her heritage is a lifelong passion: just as she remembers the joy she felt as a child when her parents and grandparents danced to her fiddling on the banks of the Guadelupe River, she feels privileged now to play for community elders who ask to hear her conjunto in their final days. Belen says, “I want to bring happiness to people even in the hardest of times.”
Joining her at the Montana Folk Festival will be her husband, Ramon Gutierrez, on tololoche, the Tejano upright bass, and Stevie Ray Vavages on bajo sexto, the twelve-string guitar.
For details about the Montana Folk Festival, visit www.montanafolkfestival.com or on Facebook at mtfolkfest.