Black and white image of Joel Rafael crouching and strumming his guitar next to a large dog. The dog and Joel are looking at each other.

Joel Rafael

Black and white image of Joel Rafael crouching and strumming his guitar next to a large dog. The dog and Joel are looking at each other.
Photo by Grant James

The best writing comes from writing what you know – and based on Joel Rafael’s life experiences and over 50 years of making music, he has a deep well from which to draw. He has chronicled his life and the world around him with songwriting rooted in the folk tradition; and no influence is more obvious in his work than that of Woody Guthrie. Rafael is among the best Woody Guthrie students, proponents and interpreters we have.

In 2012, the International Acoustic Music Association awarded Folk Song of the Year to the Guthrie-Rafael collaboration, “Dance Around My Atom Fire,” from America Come Home (Inside Recordings 2012). His co-write with Jason Mraz, “Under Our Skin,” from Rose Avenue (Inside Recordings 2019), was awarded IAMA Best Group or Duo. Rafael’s song “Sierra Blanca Massacre” is featured in the film Linda and The Mockingbirds (2020) and his song “El Bracero” is featured in the film Song For Cesar (2022).

The songs of Joel Rafael conceal passionate messages within graceful melodies. He began performing in showcases and small clubs around Southern California in the early 70s. In 1981, he toured with Jesse Colin Young, and released his debut album, Dharma Bums. Rafael won Kerrville’s new folk award in 1995 and gained national airplay with the seminal Joel Rafael Band, touring the southwest with Joan Baez in 2003. Rafael has been a featured performer at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival every year since its inception in 1998.

“In the society of illusion, reality must manifest itself. The story songs of Joel Rafael are that manifestation… the essence of minstrel.” – John Trudell

“Joel Rafael’s songs are filled with passion and compassion; passion for social justice and compassion for those among us who have to struggle for a place at the table of American prosperity. His voice is unmistakably his own, big, warm and strong, and a conductor for the human emotions that connect us all.” – Jackson Browne

Tom Paxton

In describing Tom Paxton’s influence on his fellow musicians, Pete Seeger has said: “Tom’s songs have a way of sneaking up on you. You find yourself humming them, whistling them, and singing a verse to a friend. Like the songs of Woody Guthrie, they’re becoming part of America.” Pete goes on: “In a small village near Calcutta, in 1998, a villager who could not speak English sang me What Did You Learn In School Today? in Bengali! Tom Paxton’s songs are reaching around the world more than he is, or any of us could have realized. Keep on, Tom!”

Paxton has been an integral part of the songwriting and folk music community since the early 60’s Greenwich Village scene, and continues to be a primary influence on today’s “New Folk” performers. The Chicago native came to New York via Oklahoma, which he considers to be his home state. His family moved there in 1948, when Tom was 10 years old, and he graduated from Bristow High School and The University of Oklahoma, where he majored in drama while his interest in folk music grew and eventually predominated.

Brought to New York courtesy of the US Army, Tom remained there following his discharge. His early success in Greenwich Village coffeehouses, such as The Gaslight and The Bitter End, led to an ever-increasing circle of work. Then in 1965 he made his first tour of the United Kingdom — the beginning of a still-thriving professional relationship that has included at least one tour in each of the succeeding years.

Tom received a 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy during the 51st Annual GRAMMY® Awards. He was nominated for a GRAMMY for Comedians and Angels in 2007, and Live in the U.K. in 2006. He was also nominated for GRAMMYS in 2003 for his Appleseed Records CD, Looking For The Moon, and in 2002 for his children’s CD, Your Shoes, My Shoes. He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from ASCAP, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC in London.

Serena Guthrie


Serena Guthrie, great-granddaughter of Woody Guthrie, has been performing with her family since she was a child including The Guthrie Family Rides Again Tour & The Guthrie Family Reunion. Now an Austin-based musician, Serena is finding her own sound as a songwriter and performer. She has a wide range of musical influences from folk and country to jazz and soul.

Branjae

Branjae is the birth child of Classic Soul, Funk and R&B. With a culmination of lyrical depths, energetic theatrical performances and genre fluidity, her storytelling style comes as unique as the personas she embodies. Branjae’s fearless and energetic showcase, encourages elevated consciousness by connecting with her audiences for the soul purpose of creating unity and harmony. Born in the city of Motown and rooted in the city of The Gap Band, artist Branjae has established herself as a full-bodied, entertainer; singing, dancing, and acting her way into the hearts of audiences across the globe. Her voice has been likened to the rasp of Lauryn Hill, the alto register of India Arie, and the soul of Nina Simone, while her stage presence is heavily influenced by the leg work of Tina Turner, confidence of Michael Jackson, and the commanding presence of Freddie Mercury. Branjae has shared the stage with Jeff Tweedy, Joan Osbourne, Gangstagrass, Thundercat, Fishbone, Ohio Players, RC and the Grits (Erykah Badu’s current band), Andy Frasco and the late Waymen Tisdale.

In 2019 Branjae’s presence catapulted with her project, “Street Light”. Billboard Magazine premiered the project’s video & AfroPunk debuted the single with an Op-Ed’ written by Branjae. The “Street Light” exclusive premiere was held at Tulsa’s own, Circle Cinema & was sponsored by Tulsa nonprofits DVIS, Tulsa Office of Film, Music, Arts & Culture, and Circle Cinema.“Street Light” earned Branjae the Best Female Artist Award at the Black Wallstreet Music Awards, 5 nominations at the Tulsa Music Awards, 1 nomination at the Independent Music Awards & was Officially Selected to screen at the 2020 Dead Center Film Festival, & the 2020 Lift Off Global Network Film Festivals in Paris, London, Sydney, Melbourne, New York & Los Angeles. Additional 2019 highlights include a feature on the 2X Emmy Award Winning Series “Play It Loud” by Outsiders Productions, “This Land Is Your Land: A Celebration of 80 Years” by Woody Guthrie Center & “Duet Jazz Club Presents: Branjae’s NYE Extravaganza”.

In 2020 was to pivot accordingly. She began studying for her feature length debut as Sugar Plum, in “Finding Carlos”, a holiday hip hop film inspired by The Nutcracker; and was featured on Gangstagrass’ latest album “No Time for Enemies” which reached #1 on the Billboard Blue Grass Charts and was featured in Rolling Stone Magazine. Branjae also extended her experience & knowledge as a Virtual Panel Moderator at the Tulsa Artist Fellowship: TAF Connection Series & as a Virtual Panel Speaker at the 2020 Oklahoma Film+Music Conference, 2020 Dead Center Film Festival, 2020 Woody Guthrie Folk Festival & 2020 Folk the Vote by WGC. Socially distanced appearances and productions have included: TheDirector’s Cuts: OKC Pride Fest (only on YouTube), On a Porch Somewhere [private concert series hosted in the Tulsa area], Audience of One by Duet Jazz Club & Tulsa Community College TEDx Virtual Event.

Guthrie Girls

This image requires alt text, but the alt text is currently blank. Either add alt text or mark the image as decorative. Photo by Sean Mathis

Here Come the Guthrie Girls! People get ready, a new train is coming. After years of supporting Arlo Guthrie, their folk-singing, guitar-picking, storytelling father, Cathy and Sarah Lee Guthrie have made their way to center stage as the Guthrie Girls. They bring new songs and stories of their own to share in a style of music that leans toward country with folk roots. They carry the same melodic wit, charm, and insight as their famous kin and their new music is a continuous river that flows from great creative musical traditions. Back in the day it was Woody who played fiddle and guitar in the honky-tonks of the Panhandle in Texas and Arlo wasn’t known as the ‘Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys’ for nothing. His ‘Son of the Wind’ and Dillards sessions offer further evidence of the folksinger’s country credentials.

The Guthrie Girls have branded a sound all their own that belongs alongside the best of today’s Americana music. They have planted their new roots in the Lone Star state of Texas and deep in the heart of the Austin’s Americana & alt-country music scene. Austin is the land of singer-songwriter Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt and Nanci Griffith. Today, Cathy and Sarah Lee are outlaws in their own right as they shake up their folk music pedigree with harmony driven country-laced songs and a band that is worthy of their origins.

It is certain, these sisters known as Guthrie Girls are bound for some glory of their own.

Cole Quest & The City Pickers

Cole Quest and The City Pickers are a group of New York City musicians connected by friendship and a love of bluegrass. Cole Quest, grandson of the folk icon Woody Guthrie, has brought together a collection of eclectic pickers who have gained recognition on the local scene. Performing both Quest’s original tunes as well as traditional favorites, The City Pickers bring their special brand of high-spirited talent to the stage, with up-beat, knee slapping energy and a high lonesome sound that’ll leave you wanting more.

After recording at NYC’s renowned Magic Shop studio and releasing their debut album in 2017, they’ve released their first EP, Self [En]Titled on Omnivore Records, in April of 2021 with the help of Grammy award winning producer Steve Rosenthal, Grammy award winning mixing engineer Tom Camuso, and Grammy award winning mastering engineer, Michael Graves. As featured in The Bluegrass Situation, Bluegrass Today, Folk Alley, WFUV, American Songwriter, Americana Highways, The Alternate Root, The Morton Report, and many more, they’ve shared bills with acts such as Sierra Hull, Sarah Jaroz, Billy Strings, Della Mae, The Brothers Comatose, The Lil Smokies, Whiskey Shivers, Old Salt Union, The Lonely Heartstring Band, Willie Watson, Blind Boy Paxton, Mike + Ruthy (of The Mammals), Tony Trischka, and Michael Daves during their tenure as a group and continue to perform for live audiences throughout the US.

“Having made their name in their native New York City, Quest and company are clearly well-equipped to convey the music with a craft and creativity befitting his bloodline…Then again, the ability to affect a listener is a sure sign of skill and savvy. And Quest, like his grandfather, has the ability to convey those feelings with care and compassion. Woody would be proud…4 of 5 stars”American Songwriter

Monica Taylor & Her Red Dirt Ramblers

…the voice of an angel with a soul to match…

Monica Taylor earned the nickname, “The Cimarron Songbird,” by Jimmy LaFave and Bob Childers thanks to her distinctive singing style and her home near the Cimarron River. Her songs, written from the heart, are rooted in her Cherokee/Scottish/Irish heritage and explore home, the red dirt landscape and lifestyle, love and yearning. With a sound like Emmylou Harris and a slight yodel in her voice, Monica captivates you her vocals.

When Monica enrolled at Oklahoma State University in 1989, she found her way into the budding Red Dirt music scene. As a young bluegrass and country singer/songwriter, she began playing and collaborating with the godfather of Red Dirt music, Bob Childers, and befriended musicians Jimmy LaFave, Red Dirt Rangers, The Medicine Show, Tom Skinner, Greg Jacobs and other now-legendary musical folk. Her musical story, like so many, started in central Oklahoma, and it would prove to be a wellspring for her career.

After a stint of rugged living and music-making in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in the early nineties, Monica returned to Stillwater in 1996 and landed at The Farm—the legendary place where so many songwriters in the Red Dirt music scene dwelled, literally and figuratively. True to her gypsy spirit, Monica made a happy home under a tarp stretched between a tree and an old barn, with her trusted German Shepard/Lab mix, Rosebud, as her constant companion. For the next few years, Monica made music with a litany of musicians who passed through The Farm including members of The Great Divide, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, Cody Canada and the Departed, Stoney LaRue, Brandon Jenkins and scores of other songwriters, young and young-at-heart.

In 2010, Monica began The Cherokee Maidens & Sycamore Swing, a Western swing trio with former Dixie Chick, Robyn Macy, and Kentucky-rooted, Lauren White. Their style has been described as ‘Bob Wills meets up with The Andrews Sisters,’ all bound by the roots of bluegrass and a knack for heavenly harmonies. The group released Cherokee Maiden in 2011 and performed at music festivals around the region from 2010-2020. “Ride Again” and “My Dixie Darlin” brought them acclaim from the western music societies and were nominated for Album of the Year at the Academy of Western Artists Awards. Two original songs co-written by Monica and Robyn were nominated for Song of the Year at the same time.

Monica has also released a series of albums featuring collaborations with her many music friends including Cimmaron Valley Girl in 2006 and Cotton Shirt in 2009. Before her solo career, she was part of a popular Folk duo called The Farm Couple that toured across the southern states and the southwest region, and recorded three albums of original songs that were a mix of The Louvin Brothers, Hank Williams, and mountain-styled songs.

In 2012, Monica started the annual Cimarron Concert Series where she hosts acclaimed songwriters from around the country in the sanctuary of the Old Church in Perkins, Okla.

When the pandemic began in 2020, Monica saw the opportunity to fulfill a longtime dream of documenting and recording an anthology of Red Dirt songs featuring the many musicians she wrote and played with over the years. Over two years she worked with engineer/producer and now-husband, Travis Fite, to record  A Red Dirt Ramble: A Tribute to the Pioneers of Red Dirt Music Dirt at The Ripley Farm recording studio in Lone Chimney, Okla.—the home of the late producer and lead man of The Tractors, Steve Ripley.

With over 55 guest vocalists and musicians from the Oklahoma and Texas Red Dirt scene, A Red Dirt Ramble pays tribute to the older songwriters who created the Red Dirt genre—a melting pot of styles including bluegrass, Tulsa Sound, Cajun, Western swing, country, and of course, gospel.  These Red Dirt innovators started swapping songs with one another outside of Stillwater, Okla. at a hallowed old farm where many of the musicians lived from 1979 until the farmhouse burned down in the early 2000s. Many have since passed away, which is what spurred Monica to capture their legacy through the voices of her many music friends made over the years.  Volume 1 of this anthology will be released in November 2022, with the Volume 2 release coming in Spring 2023. 

She has simultaneously recorded her own new album, Trains, Rivers, & Trails which has a few of the same key instrumentalists that play on the Red Dirt Ramble recording: John Fullbright, Roger Ray, Casey van Beek, Jake Lynn, Jared Tyler, and Travis Fite.  This will be released July 2022 in the US and in Europe.  She is booking a northwest tour for late summer 2022 and a tour in Europe later this year and spring 2023.

Brennen Leigh Trio

“Leigh’s ‘You’ve Never Been to North Dakota’ soothes like Cole Porter, timelessly lyrical both literally and vocally.” –Raoul Hernandez, Austin Chronicle

“I’ve been obsessed with western swing music since I was a kid and it’s always been an influence. My records in the past have ranged from bluegrass to country music to folk, but I’d never fully explored swing until now.” So says genre-busting Fargo-born, Austinincubated, Nashville resident Brennen Leigh, whose new collaboration with the kings of modern-day western swing, Asleep at the Wheel, Obsessed with the West (Signature Sounds) is a showcase not just for The Wheel or Bob Wills fans, but for anyone who’s ever curled up with Lefty Frizzell, Billie Holiday, Willie Nelson or even Louis Armstrong.

“Brennen will carry the torch for REAL roots American music for her generation, and she’s the best one to do it in my opinion” – Ray Benson

Leigh’s graceful, refined voice and instrumental fluency, her interplay with Ray Benson, and the perennial brilliance of The Wheel serve up a treat on this, Leigh’s seventh album, showcasing twelve self penned songs. With cameos from Emily Gimble and Katie Shore (all the players get their moments in the sun), Leigh demonstrates her wit and vitality on the terrific jump 40’s rhythm and blues, “Comin’ in Hot,” and the lonesome cowboy ballad “Riding Off Onto Sunset Boulevard.” It’s no question why Rodney Crowell, Charley Crockett and Lee Ann Womack have recorded her songs. Obsessed with the West is a celebration of music for music’s sake in 2022, not just an exercise in anthropology.

“When I moved to Nashville from Texas,” she explains, “for some reason it triggered another western swing phase in my life. I was out of Texas, but something about the swing was still grabbing me; I was listening to a lot of Bob Wills, and of course The Wheel. I had first been exposed to Western swing through my parents’ Asleep At The Wheel records while I was growing up.”

Born in North Dakota and raised in Minnesota, Leigh began touring at 14, while cultivating her classic country informed songwriting. At 19, she moved to live music mecca Austin, Texas where she rubbed shoulders with and eventually inspired the esteem of Ray Benson. “I knew the band peripherally, and we’d talked about making a record years before, but I had just signed a publishing deal in Nashville and was about to move away from Texas. So for that reason our stars didn’t align until more recently.”

“I wrote thirty western swing songs in the beginning of 2021, alone and with different writer friends,” she continues, “and we culled it down to twelve. Many of the songs have a 1940s Cindy Walker type vibe — she was at the forefront of my mind for this entire process, something of a spirit guide for me — but there’s definitely a jazz influence, country, and a couple of songs that I would call cowboy or folk tunes.”

“This is my love note to western swing; to the rich culture it comes from, as I see it,” she adds, “I listen to and have been influenced by a lot of dead people, but our genre is important, and I think it deserves new life and new songs. The old stuff is where I come from, my songs turn out to be a melding of the old styles, whether I like it or not. You put cinnamon in something it’s going to taste like a snickerdoodle. I don’t know how not to put it in there.”

No need to worry about that either. Western swing is a fine genre year after year, you can’t beat Asleep at the Wheel, and Brennen Leigh is every bit their peer. Obsessed with the West is a treat for the ears and the heart, a damn fine snickerdoodle of great songs, topflight instrumentalists, and the vibrant, still evolving artistry of Brennen Leigh.

“Brennen Leigh plays guitar like a motherfucker.” — Guy Clark

Joe Purdy

Joe Purdy is an internationally acclaimed folk artist who has released 14 albums and a soundtrack to a movie in the last 15 years. Along the way, his songs have turned up on numerous TV shows, film soundtracks and he has co-starred in an acclaimed film.

“American Folk” marked Joe’s first foray into acting. He also contributed to much of the soundtrack. It earned several awards including Best New Film at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

Joe’s last album, “Who Will Be Next?”, is deeply rooted in the tradition of artists such as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan. It is a searing commentary of our turbulent times. Joe’s determination to honor the giants of American folk music while applying his formidable skills as a writer and vocalist reveal him as a compassionate observer and participant in our times.

Joe has just finished a new album which will be released soon and supported by a Worldwide Tour in 2022.

Jaimee Harris

“The Next Queen of Americana-Folk” (NPR)

“In 2018, everything in my life changed. In May, I left my job to pursue music full time. By August, I was on a musical rocket ship, opening shows all over the world for Mary Gauthier, who received a GRAMMY nomination in December of 2018. On paper—and on social media—it looked like a dream come true. In a lot of ways, it was. But in reality, I felt like I was drowning.” — Jaimee Harris

On the heels of her debut album Red Rescue, hailed by many as one of the top Americana albums of 2018, Jaimee Harris does not disappoint with the release of The Congress House Sessions, a thoughtful, intimate EP with stripped down recordings of some of her most requested songs. These new recordings, recorded at the storied Congress House Studio by Mark Hallman (Carole King, Ani DiFranco, Eliza Gilkyson) and Andre Moran (Sarah Borges, Rickie Lee Jones), feature some of Austin’s favorite players, including Jane Ellen Bryant and Kris Nelson on backing vocals, Ray Bonneville on harmonica, Brian Patterson on electric guitar, and Sammy Powell on piano.

Don’t let the healthy list of players mislead you; this is no large, speaker-rattling production. Longtime friends add color and texture, but what you’ll hear is Harris and her guitar, delivering her songs in a setting closer both to what they were at their inception, alone in her room with a guitar, and how they have developed after a few years acclimating to performing without a band.

Jaimee Harris loves fronting a band, and it shows. During the years she built a devoted critical and popular following in Austin, Texas, she fronted a slate of seasoned musicians with admirable swagger. When she alighted upon the scene, this jaded music city, replete with (and weary of) singer-songwriters, woke up and took notice. Here, finally, was a new voice—yes, her singing voice is noteworthy: rich, sonorous, full, delivering a uniquely stylized, throaty tone—but equally important, here was the new voice of a noteworthy writer and performer. If you meet Harris today, you’ll want to be her friend. And no matter what part of the country you’re in, if you spend a day with her, she will convince you to meet up at a nearby roller coaster park/pinball arcade/skee-ball hall she happens to know is awesome. She will share embarrassing stories and laugh at your worst jokes (either because she finds them funny or because she finds hilarious how bad your jokes are). Later, when you watch her sing, she’ll break your heart, cradle your heart, win your heart, then break it all over again.

The next day, you wouldn’t be the first to feel jealous. This friendly, breezy, beautiful swirl of platinum hair, impossibly high cheekbones, and a winning smile has it too easy, you think. Talent and looks? Gag me. While a cliché in this age of ubiquitous self-improvement empathy memes, it holds true that you never know what someone is going through or has been through. Jaimee Harris has been through plenty.

Well, I never thought I could be free
After all those nights in the D.O.C.
I’m thankful God’s forgiven me
‘Cause I never thought I could be free
But I gave up the cocaine, gave up the gin
Freed myself of the hell I was in
Asked the Lord to keep me clean again
— From “Snow White Knuckles”

In case you wonder about a young person penning “Snow White Knuckles,” there is no minimum age requirement for confronting addiction, depression, self-doubt, and good old-fashioned dysfunctional relationships, and Harris writes what she knows. Delivering lines that testify to her keen insight while keeping things conversational and cool, Harris accomplishes what songwriters most long to do: carve out words and a melody to give voice to that feeling you couldn’t quite put your finger on.

In a depressive state—how long will I feel this way?
Is it forever? In my mind prisoner
Will I be okay? Will I ever be okay?
And not someone that everyone hates
Will I ever be okay?
— From “Depressive State”

It’s not unique to have a crisis of confidence. We carry around knowledge (or nagging suspicions) of what is beyond our capability and dread being called upon to do what we cannot do well. Jaimee Harris faced an eighteen-monthlong pop quiz when she joined partner Mary Gauthier on her relentless tour schedule, facing stages for the first time on a regular basis as a solo performer. This was not what Harris signed up for when she left her desk job earlier that year. This was not the performance scenario she had been building to for a half dozen years, having spent countless hours rehearsing and honing her sound with a set group of players. She called friends from the road, unsure of herself, apologizing for her insecurities, afraid of sounding ungrateful for the opportunity laid before her.

I’m impatient. You’re starting to see.
Give up easy. You’re starting to hate me.
I know, I know.
— From “Fake”

Eventually, Harris had a full-on breakdown while on tour overseas. She credits Gauthier for giving her the support she needed, and night after night, as she felt herself improving as a solo performer, her confidence returned. What she could not have known was that the very leg of the tour that felt like her breaking point would lead to the next turning point in her career. Red Rescue landed in the hands of Marcel Albers and Rose Spearman of M.A.R.S. Worldwide and resulted in Jaimee’s first record deal.

Harris demonstrates that despite being a capable bandleader, her talent and command of her craft is undeniable, accompanied or not. Just as the cast of players on The Congress House Sessions might lead a casual observer to assume this is a full-band record, the thoroughly convincing delivery on the EP’s tracks might cause you to believe Harris is done playing with others. You would be wrong. Harris is much in demand as a collaborator, both as a songwriter and a background vocalist (Ray Wylie Hubbard, Malcolm Holcombe), and you’ll find her playing lead guitar with Mary Gauthier. And when circumstances thrust her onto a stage fronting a band, she has no problem summoning her natural confidence as a bandleader, wearing the role comfortably like her red leather jacket. Whether there’s a rhythm section thumping behind her, or whether she’s alone with her Gibson “Gillie” on an empty stage, all eyes and ears are locked on Jaimee Harris.