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Sounds of Summer: 5 Southwestern Musicians to Catch This Summer

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You don’t have to live like a roadie to catch some of the best music in the Southwest. From small-town festivals to outdoor amphitheaters, here are five emerging artists not to miss

By Ellen Ranta Olson

Southwestern musicians: See Sara Watkins Sept. 3 in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Photo by Maarten deBoer.
See Sara Watkins Sept. 3 in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Photo by Maarten deBoer.
Sara Watkins

A singer-songwriter and fiddler from California, then-8-year-old Watkins made her debut in 1989 as a founding member of the progressive bluegrass group Nickel Creek. This summer, she’s bringing her solo act to a variety of venues, like Bonnaroo and the Kennedy Center.
See her: Watkins’ gentle twang is right at home among the pines at the Four Corners Folk Festival, Sept. 2–4 in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
Must download: Get ready for a wave of nostalgia as you sing along to “You and Me,” a catchy tune about former friends and flames, then revel in Watkins’ ukulele skills on “My Friend.”

Southwestern musicians: Blues sensation Gary Clark Jr. plays the Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre in Salt Lake City on July 31. Photo by Frank Maddocks.
Blues sensation Gary Clark Jr. plays the Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre in Salt Lake City on July 31. Photo by Frank Maddocks.
Gary Clark Jr.

If you’ve ever bemoaned the fact that all the good music died in the 1970s, you haven’t been to a Gary Clark Jr. show. Clark came up playing blues guitar in the clubs of Austin, and even apprenticed under Jimmie Vaughn (Stevie Ray’s brother). This year, he’s taking his classic rock sounds to the stage at festivals like Coachella and Governor’s Ball.
See him: Get tickets now for Clark’s show at Red Butte Garden Amphitheater in Salt Lake City on July 31, before it sells out.
Must download: Clark introduced himself to the world with “Bright Lights,” which was nominated for a Grammy in 2012, while the psychedelic vocal effects on “Wings” showcase Clark’s willingness to experiment with different styles.

Southwestern musicians: Little Hurricane plays July 9 at The Ride Festival in Telluride, Colorado. Photo via Instagram.
Little Hurricane plays July 9 at The Ride Festival in Telluride, Colorado. Photo via Instagram.
Little Hurricane

No stranger to the Southwest’s music festival scene, this San Diego-based dirty blues duo has played Austin City Limits, SXSW and Telluride Blues and Brews in years past. While they may technically be from southern California, their gritty sound is more Wild West than West Coast.
See them: This year, Little Hurricane is joining the likes of Pearl Jam and Cage the Elephant at the Ride Festival in Telluride, Colorado, July 9–10.
Must download: The combo of Anthony Catalano’s vocals and Celeste Spina’s drumming is a musical match made in heaven on “Summer Air” and “Sheep in Wolves Clothes.”

Southwestern musicians: Catch Leon Bridges in Mesa, Arizona this September. Photo by Cooper Garff.
Catch Leon Bridges in Mesa, Arizona this September. Photo by Cooper Garff.
Leon Bridges

The Fort Worth, Texas native is only 26, but already earning critical acclaim for his crooning, which evokes the last century’s best soul artists. “I’m not saying I can hold a candle to any soul musician from the ’50s and ’60s,” Bridges writes on his website, “but I want to carry the torch.”
See him: Bridges will be burning it up at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona, on Sept. 20.
Must download: The first single off his debut record, Coming Home, “River” is an emotional ballad that’s nothing short of stunning, while the title track makes it easy to see why Bridges has been tagged as the next Sam Cooke.

Southwestern musicians: Covenhoven takes the stage at Denver’s Underground Music Showcase July 28–31. Photo by Steve Stanton.
Covenhoven takes the stage at Denver’s Underground Music Showcase July 28–31. Photo by Steve Stanton.
Covenhoven

For folk singer Joel Van Horne, growing up in Denver meant escaping the city every summer for a cabin in the woods, dubbed Covenhoven. So when he needed a new project and a fresh start to his musical career, he turned to the woods for inspiration, and the one-man band named after a cabin was born.
See him: The Denver native will take to the stage at the Underground Music Showcase, July 28–31, in Denver.
Must download: Reminiscent of Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, Van Horne’s lyrics and soft, melodic voice shine on “See You in the Spring” and “My Search Party.”

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