Four Corners Folk Festival – From the Eyes of a “Festie”

By Molly McCowan

I have attended the Four Corners Folk Festival (FCFF) every year since I was 12 years old. It’s a reunion of sorts for me; a familiar place to catch up with family and old friends. More than that, however, it is an opportunity to camp in a beautiful location, listen to world-class music, and escape from reality for the three days over Labor Day Weekend. I am what some would call a Four Corners “festie” – I attend FCFF every year, and I love every minute of it.
The annual FFCF takes place in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The festival is renowned in the state for bringing top-notch bluegrass, folk, blues and world music to the foothills of this small town. The festival itself takes place on a forested hilltop near the city, but just far enough away to give the fest a more personable, secluded feel. The main stage is set up to overlook a beautiful valley and the San Juan Mountains: A jaw-dropping view, with great music to accompany it.
This Year’s Music
FCFF 2011 was yet another great year in music and festival fun. Headliners Keb’ Mo’ and Los Lobos brought sizeable crowds of smiling attendees, ranging from newborns to septuagenarians.
Music highlights throughout the weekend included Natalie MacMaster, a high-spirited, high-energy fiddle player who nearly fell off the stage a few times in moments of musical joy. She got the crowd up and dancing Irish jigs in no time.
The Infamous Stringdusters – this band is always a delight – surprised Friday night audiences with an amazing rendition of The Police’s “Walking on the Moon.” Their set left the audience reeling in amazement of their fast-fingered talents.
Many bands, like the Infamous Stringdusters, love to play at FCFF and return each and every year. The beauty of the location and the easygoing, cheerful nature of the attendees seems to motivate bands to go a little farther beyond the bounds of a good show – they give great shows; personal shows, and many bands can be found out and about in camp as the night goes on, jammin’ with the fans around the campfire.
That’s the experience of FCFF – the feeling that music is social; that it’s meant to be shared and enjoyed in good company. It’s this atmosphere that draws many of the same fans back every year, including my caravan of music-loving family and friends.
The Festie Experience
The first time I came to FCFF, I reveled in the atmosphere. I was a fairly outdoorsy child (thanks to my dad’s wise teachings), and I never wanted to stop camping. I remember saying to my dad after our first day at FCFF, “We have to come to this every year!”
Our camp is one that longtime festival organizers recognize. We meet up with many of our long-lost family friends from New Mexico each year, and our camp never goes without a New Mexico flag hanging from the beams of our vaulted “living room” tent area. Our camp is decked out with oriental rugs; a fully covered and functional kitchen; a “hammock village;” a shrine to anything and everything imaginable; and a dining room area where we sit around a big, rectangular table and eat, drink and play music until the sun comes up.
It’s a home away from home for all of us, and it’s something that we all look forward to throughout the rest of the year. I begin to get excited a couple of months before the fest, and when the time finally arrives to make the seven-hour drive to the festival grounds, I throw my mandolin in the back of the car, grab my snacks for the drive (Gatorade, jellybeans and trail mix), and start to feel like a kid again.
The Future of FCFF
Because I’ve been attending FCFF for so many years, I’m selfish about it in some ways. I don’t want it to get too big and out of control  – the reason I love this festival is that it is laid-back and easygoing. Festivalgoers are friendly and willing to give you a hand with that pesky tent pole. The atmosphere, especially for me, has always been a happy one. I have been attending this festival for 12 years, and in all of those years I haven’t had one negative experience. People are well behaved, but are also having a great time and letting loose. I don’t want to see FCFF lose its personable, homey atmosphere.
My fellow “festies” seemed to agree with me.
“As much as I enjoyed the diverse musical line-up this year, I worry that [FCFF] is going to branch out too much. I love folk, Old-Time, bluegrass, Americana, gypsy swing, et cetera, but I’m probably not that interested in seeing Keb’ Mo’, or even Los Lobos. I really don’t want [FCFF] to feel like they need to draw more people up here – it’s perfect how it is,” said Wiley Elson, who has been attending FCFF for over six years.
Here are some other quotes from this year’s event:
“My favorite thing about [FCFF] is that the people here are determined to have a good time, no matter what,” said Chris M., who has been attending FCFF for over ten years.
Stephanie Benson, who has been attending the fest for the past three years, said, “I like how laid-back this festival is. I can bring my kids and not worry about them.”
Caroline Watt, who has attended for the past eleven years, said, “This festival reminds you of what your priorities are in life.”
And my favorite anonymous quote overheard at this year’s festival?
“Do you know how hard it is to do an Irish jig in these shoes?”
The Four Corners Folk Festival occurs each year on Labor Day weekend. It takes place in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and usually caters to folk music of all types (including bluegrass, gypsy jazz and Americana). Learn more at


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