MUSIC BOX: Vestiges of Simplicity

By on August 9, 2017

Argentinian-Swedish songwriter Jose Gonzalez sizzles at the Center and Targhee Bluegrass commemorates 30 years.

Jose Gonzalez

JACKSON HOLE, WY – When I first laid ears on the whispery folk and nylon-stringed guitar of Jose Gonzalez, one name came to mind—the late great Nick Drake. The spare beauty of this simplictic style made a big comeback a decade ago with the workings of Bon Iver, Sun Kil Moon, and Iron & Wine. Interestingly, Gonzalez is the one that has remained closest to these haunting roots, more recently adding beat-like percussion, backing vocals and mild distortion to his minimalistic albums. The solitary aura of such a recording coaxes you into the meaning of each word, each sentiment, and links a solo performer to his or her audience, skewed toward the art of poetic lyricism.

In this case, Gonzalez is also an instrumental virtuoso of Samba-infused arpeggios on guitar and on the cuatro, a smaller stringed instrument in the lute family. Gonzalez has toured recently with a five-piece band and even a performance with an avant-garde 20-piece orchestra at London’s Royal Festival Hall earlier in the year, harking back to a 2011 tour that included the large ensemble. While Gonzalez suggested, “If I’m playing more than 45 minutes solo, it can get a little boring,” his fanbase would argue otherwise.

“With a band, there’s less room for the vocals, the lyrics,” Gonzalez said on a call from England. “Many people are used to the solo versions of the songs and prefer it that way. I travel with a light designer and sound engineer and we’ve worked hard to perfect the sound of a [plugged-in] nylon string guitar to make it warm and loud with added bass.”

Gonzalez is Argentinian-Swedish. His family fled Argentina at the beginning of the “Dirty War” two years before Gonzalez was born in 1978, landing in a suburb of Gothenburg, Sweden. There, he grew up listening to Latin folk and pop music such as Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez as well as seeing Bob Marley and Michael Jackson in concert. His performance career began in the early 90s, playing guitar and bass in a couple of hardcore bands influenced by Black Flag and The Misfits.

Since releasing his solo studio debut in 2003, Veneer, he offered In Our Nature (2007), Vestiges & Claws (2015), and last year’s single With the Ink of a Ghost. The gap in albums is due to his trio project, Junip, with Tobias Winterkorn and Elias Aray, which have released two EPs and two full-length albums, Fields and Junip. Regardless of his collaborations or solo ventures, the music remains genuinely original and low-key to the core. Gonzales considers his strength the six-string, and allows the instrument to inspire word themes.

“Lyrics are not my strong side and it can sometimes be a struggle, though less and less with each of my five albums,” admitted Gonzalez, who consistently uses altered, droned guitar tunings such as Drop D. “I sit a lot with it because I have high aims. At the same time, I recognize good poetry. What comes natural is the guitar fingerpicking and finding melodies. I guess I’ve gathered tricks along the way to not get stuck for too long of a time. Lyrically, I let the music inspire me.”

This will be Gonzalez’s debut in Wyoming. Oddly enough, his first association with Wyoming was through skateboarding as a kid in Sweden, and a random mix tape.

“This skateboard shop used to hand out mix tapes to the kids,” he explained, “and for some reason I got a tape that was sort of like country music and there was one song singing about Wyoming, about cattle. It was a weird tape. I didn’t really like it to be honest, but thought there was probably something cool on it that I needed to learn to enjoy.”

Jose Gonzalez, 8 p.m. Wednesday, August 9 at the Center Theater, $51-$61.

30 years of grass at the Ghee

Step right up, ladies and gents. It’s the original Teton County festival, the place where tunes are picked in the lot, where strangers quickly turn to friends, where karma is seemingly unanimously paid forward, and stacked daily bills of top-notch artists play to a few thousand rather than tens of thousands. It can be found at 7,400 feet on the west slope of the Tetons at the 30th annual Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival.

Talent buyer of Vootie Productions Tom Garnsey has been there from the beginning and has the perspective of a three-decade progression, not to mention proud moments from building such a local gem. “Most important to me is the respect that it receives from the musicians who have graced the fest over the years,” he said. “They continue to spread the word … we have artists constantly coming to us wanting to play a festival that’s hard to get to in the middle of nowhere. When the artists love playing a venue and are treated well, the audience will follow. We also have one of the most open minded, astute audiences on earth. They’re wide open and accepting of any music that is played well and from the heart and that’s a gift.”

Mandolin Orange

When one ganders at the 30th festival lineup, it’s a doozy, though it almost always is with legendary names like Sam Bush, Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott, Del McCoury, and Peter Rowan—they’ve become festival regulars. Then there are the hot acts like Mandolin Orange (kicking-off the fest), Rhiannon Giddens (of Carolina Chocolate Drops), and Willie Watson (of Old Crow Medicine Show) that are highly anticipated as first-timers. Nearby camping, late night shows, food, clothing and goods vendors, and a weeklong, top-notch music camp add to the lure. This creates a memory well that runs deep.

Garnsey recapped moments from the last 30 years: “I could write a book full of these,” he said. “David Grisman playing our fest the day after he performed at Jerry Garcia’s wake and then bringing Old and In the Way back the following year; John Hartford parading solo through the crowd for his encore shortly before he passed away; Tim O’Brien gathering 16 fiddle players on stage for a segment of his set; every cluster pluck Sam Bush Band has ever orchestrated; Charles Sawtelle’s last performance with Hot Rize at Targhee; Guy Clark; lots of larger than life, emotional moments for artists, audience and crew. Hell, Bob Troutman married Molly at Targhee Bluegrass!”

Rhiannon Giddens

While the Targhee crew tried to dream up a bunch of 30th anniversary specialties, what it realized was with an awesome lineup, crowd, and setting, it’s really got a life of its own.

“We set the table and let the festival make the meal,” Garnsey said. PJH

Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival, Friday through Sunday, August 11 to 13 at Grand Targhee Resort, $79 per day, $229 for the weekend.


Jose Gonzalez (Center Theater)


Turnpike Troubadours & Screen Door Porch (Victor City Park); Laney Jones & The Spirits

(Knotty Pine)


Targhee Bluegrass Festival

(Grand Targhee);

Pam Drews Phillips Trio (The Granary)


Targhee Bluegrass Festival

(Grand Targhee);

Garrett Lebeau & Rachel Baiman (American Legion Park in Pinedale); Blue Water Highway

(Town Square Tavern)


Targhee Bluegrass Festival

(Grand Targhee);

Out West Fest feat. Canyon Kids & Patrick Chadwick

(Village Commons)


Jackson Hole Hootenanny


Isaac Hayden

(Mangy Moose)


One Ton Pig

(Silver Dollar);

The Minor Keys

(Jackson Lake Lodge)

About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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