Down-home music for the folks

Americana, rockabilly, indie folk and roots revival featured at annual Red River Folk Festival

By Dena Miller
Posted 9/18/19

"To make music of the folk, by the folk and for the folk" is what the Red River Folk Festival at Aspencade sets out to do - and for the fifth year, a hot lineup is roaring into this …

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Down-home music for the folks

Americana, rockabilly, indie folk and roots revival featured at annual Red River Folk Festival


"To make music of the folk, by the folk and for the folk" is what the Red River Folk Festival at Aspencade sets out to do - and for the fifth year, a hot lineup is roaring into this mountain town for three days of some of the best music you can set your ears upon.

Make no mistake, this isn't a sleepy "Kumbaya" weekend. It's driving and rollicking, sometimes silky and soulful but just as often sizzling and smoky.

Beginning today (Sept. 19), Max Gomez and band will be on the deck of Bitter Creek Ranch at 5 p.m. for a grand kickoff of the festival. And at 8 p.m. the music moves to the Motherlode Saloon at 406 East Main Street, where the first of three nights of headliners will keep you rocking until the wee hours.

Gomez, who is co-founder of the festival and who rightfully holds a special place in the heart of the New Mexico music scene, said, "Thursday night is a great start to the weekend, with Steve Poltz and Bob Schneider the featured acts. Steve's originally from Canada but made a huge name in Southern California with his indie-rock band, The Rugburns, and by collaborating with Jewel. And [Austin, Texas-based] Bob has so many recordings under his belt. You hear him on KTAO-FM 101.9 all the time, even if you don't know it."

The music on Friday and Saturday (Sept. 20-21) begins both nights at 5 p.m. at the Lost Love Saloon at 400 East Main Street, with lineups guaranteed to set the perfect tone for two rousing evenings of Americana, rockabilly, indie folk and roots revival, served up to you by a stellar cast of singer-songwriters.

That would include James McMurtry, who'll take the Friday night Motherlode stage with Gomez beginning at 8 p.m. With accolades from the likes of John Mellencamp, Michael Nesmith, Stephen King and every major news and entertainment outlet, McMurtry will slam you with his shamelessly political and heartbreakingly authentic narratives.

The son of author Larry McMurtry -- known for novels such as "Lonesome Dove" and "Terms of Endearment" -- acknowledged to Tempo that he was a good English student while mastering the guitar from a young age. But it wasn't until his early 20s that he connected the lyrics and his proficiency with the strings.

"Yeah, I wrote some good prose, but writing well for singing is a totally different thing. It's got to match the music, not drag it down, and that's both in syntax and rhyming while keeping your story straight," McMurtry said. "Characters and points of view pop into my head, then I just got to get to letting them speak. Sometimes it's a mad rush but, then, I was always the kid who did his homework at the last minute."

Saturday's Motherlode stage will find Esmé Patterson and Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore sharing the evening. Denver, Colorado-based Patterson made a name for herself with the indie-folk band Paper Bird before striking out on a solo career. And frequent collaborators Alvin and Gilmore bring their impressive international reputations, respectively, in the punk and country rock worlds.

"You're looking at some serious up-and-comers playing side by side with the top shelf of Americana," Gomez said of the weekend.

Five years ago, Gomez recalled, Steve Heglund first approached him with the notion of a folk festival to be staged in Heglund's hometown. "He is my mentor, friend and supporter, and a big purveyor of singer-songwriters in Northern New Mexico, and one day he asked if we could partner in making this happen. I started calling my musician friends and asking for favors."

After that first event, Gomez and Heglund realized they had created something special and, most important, sustainable. "It worked right off the bat. It was a small, low-budget festival but we made smart moves and the writing was on the wall that we knew we could keep it going," he said.

"This year, we've sold tickets as far as Canada and Europe. It's become known as a quality boutique festival where, even if you don't know anyone coming in, you're sure to know everyone going out," Gomez continued.

Success doesn't come without a price, however. "We're kind of outgrowing our boots. We're limited by the size of the venues available to us, so we're trying to figure out the future. Maybe a field at the top of the ski lift, or using patios and outdoor spaces. We'll figure it out and keep it going."

As of press time, both individual and bundled event passes were limited in availability. Gomez noted, however, there's an accessible and family-friendly alternative which will give you a chance to sample the festival if you can't get the tickets you want, and should also appeal to locals who want to avoid the late-night trip home.

"We've got some great shows set up in Brandenburg Park in collaboration with the arts and crafts fair, Aspencade," he said. "From noon on Friday and from 11 a.m. on Saturday, a lot of the nighttime performers will be on the outdoor stage sampling their music and doing singalongs. Just $5 at the gate, and kids 12 and under get in free." It doesn't hurt that you'll have 100 art and food vendors to choose from while you're enjoying the performances.

There's even a bonus on Sunday (Sept. 22), when Gomez, his Family Band and special musical guests will present a free concert at Aspencade. Come with the family at 11 a.m. to Brandenburg Park and enjoy his signature vocals and a host of musical surprises.

Against a backdrop of balmy days, cool evenings and spectacular fall foliage, the Red River Folk Festival at Aspencade is clearly your best bet this weekend.

Check availability of tickets at For further information about the festival, the performers, the venues and Aspencade events, visit


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