Music from across the globe took the stage at the 2018 Folks Fest, including acts from the Saharan Desert, Canada, and the tasty melting pot of American folk music. Despite the lyrics being sung in various languages, spanning English, French, Spanish, and Tamashek, one message rang clear: strength in togetherness.
The East L.A.-based band Las Cafeteras took the stage by storm on Friday with their Afro-Mexican dance party. Vibrant choreography and hip-shaking rhythms amplified their Spanish and English lyrics advocating for social justice. Band members shared the spotlight trading off lead vocals, and they gave shoutouts to various causes, including Black Lives Matter, indigenous people’s rights, and more. They also performed a new rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” by blending Spanish phrases, new melodies, and a mariachi groove into the familiar tune as a modern commentary. You can see their live performance on KEXP and read the lyrics on their website.
Representatives of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County joined Las Cafeteras onstage to recognize their contributions as artists to social justice issues. The chamber invited Las Cafeteras to Colorado on the band’s previous tour and thanked the band for the work they do through music as well as educational programs throughout the country.
Later that night, Los Lobos, another East L.A. band lit up the stage with their unique blend of traditional Latin American styles with rock, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, R&B, blues, and soul. The group made waves in music history by bringing Latin American folk music back to top charts in the late 80s, revitalizing Ritchie Valens’ take on the traditional tune “La Bamba,” along with several other hit songs. While Valens was an early trailblazer in the Chicano Rock movement, Los Lobos carried the torch and kept the movement steady via mainstream radio airplay decades later. With their popularity, multiple Grammy Awards, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they’ve made their mark not just within the Chicano Rock movement, but also with deep ties in the ever-colorful tapestry of American folk music.
Saturday morning opened with Heather Mae, the artist who won last year’s Folks Fest songwriter competition. She moved the crowd with musical confessions about mental illness, overcoming oppression, and body image evidenced in her song “I Am Enough.” As an advocate for body positivity, LGBTQIA rights, people of color, and more, she thanked the festival organizers for curating such a diverse lineup throughout the weekend, saying, “They are trying to elevate marginalized voices, and that includes women. Thank you.” She concluded her set by inviting a chorus of performers to join her on stage for her power anthem “Stand Up.”
When Darrell Scott took the stage Saturday afternoon, he performed a song that he said was written by his friend Marcus Hummon. The narrative showed the life of a Honduran girl named Rosanna who escaped the physical and sexual abuse of the underground sex trafficking industry, bore a daughter, was profiled and arrested by police, was deported by I.C.E. back to Honduras, and nearly died in the desert trying to reunite with her daughter. Her true story is documented here, and you can hear Hummon’s album version here. The song left the crowd frozen and teary-eyed for Rosanna, the representation of people targeted by strict immigration policies and facing not just unfair, but impossible playing fields.
Saturday evening closed with the Indigo Girls. Despite heavy rains concluding their set early, they shared many of their signature songs, including “It’s Alright,” which is one of many that uses music as a vehicle for social change. The Indigo Girls served as one of the first bands to not only be public advocates for the LGBTQIA community, but also to be publicly out. Beloved by the crowd, the duo was joined by the sea of smiling faces singing along in the rain.
Bonnie Paine opened Sunday with the help of the “Cottonwood Choir” and instrumentalists featuring many familiar faces from the Front Range, including other members of Elephant Revival. The ensemble inspired the crowd to sing along with spirituals originating from slaves’ field songs about overcoming oppression.
That evening, Tinariwen quickly became a crowd favorite. The band’s fascinating blend of African stylings with American blues idioms created a strikingly unique sound. Furthermore, the band’s formation in refugee camps and resilience despite the backdrop of warfare, strife, and revolution speaks through the music even if listeners don’t know Tamashek. Over several decades, band members have survived against the odds and continue writing songs fighting for human rights and equality. They’ve even been called “Music’s True Rebels” by NPR. You can read more about the band’s background here.
Once again, Planet Bluegrass curated a powerful festival, giving festivarians an opportunity to see household names, like Regina Spektor, the Indigo Girls, and Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco) alongside the acts you didn’t know you wanted to see. Stay tuned at the Planet Bluegrass website for their lineup of next year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Rockygrass, and Folks Fest.
View the full photo gallery from this event here.
Find out more about Riley on her blog.
All photos provided to BolderBeat by the artist. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.