In the heat of August 2016, Bard Edrington V and a buddy hit the road for a 1,500-mile drive from Santa Fe to Chacala, Mexico. It was the beginning of a few very unfortunate days.
First, the truck broke down 30 miles outside of Santa Fe. After crossing the border the next day, the truck was sideswiped in Sonora, Mexico. In Mazatlán, they had to sleep in the car. And at one point, he was pulled over for not wearing a seat belt and found himself bribing a Mexican police officer to get out of the jam.
“We’d been driving without much air-conditioning. When we finally got to our destination, we had a bottle of tequila and we started puttin’ it back,” Edrington said. “We wrote a song about our adventure.”
That song, “Take Three Breaths,” is the fourth track on Edrington’s new CD, Espadín, named for an agave plant used to make mezcal. All the songs are based in stories and stylistically range from bluegrass to country blues — honky-tonk to mariachi-infused — and from Delta blues to folk revival. Edrington described these genres of Americana as a “basket of roots music” that he dips into for inspiration. He often writes about family and history, conjecturing, for instance, in the song “Southern Belle,” what it might have been like to be an injured Union soldier cared for by a Confederate woman during the Civil War.
“I came to and I saw red,” he sings, “and I woke up in some feather bed of a young maiden who took me in.”
Edrington performs and tells the stories behind the songs on Espadín at the Jean Cocteau Cinema at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 25.
When asked to describe Edrington, his family and friends tend to stick with variations on the phrase “Bard is who Bard is” — a sort of shorthand for his notable air of authenticity. This quality is remarkable, perhaps because, in a sea of hip Americana musicians clamoring for old-timey legitimacy, Edrington doesn’t seem to be cultivating an image. He doesn’t need to. At six feet, six inches tall, he stands out in any crowd. But his stature, which could be imposing, is actually comforting. He seems like the kind of person capable of being the calm in a storm.
“He can smell out inauthenticity, and he has a disdain for it,” said his wife, Zoe Wilcox. “He just knows who he is, and he’s comfortable with that.”
Edrington was born in Alabama and grew up there, as well as in Florida and Tennessee. He comes from a long line of Bards — men he called natural-born storytellers — although he claimed that he didn’t know his name was anything to live up to until he was a teenager and found out that bard was a Gaelic word for a professional poet or musician.
Edrington majored in wildlife and fishery science at the University of Tennessee, “And then I split the South,” he said during an interview at Betterday Coffee.
“Growing up in the South,” he trailed off, swirling the ice in a cup of milky coffee, his southern drawl neither subtle nor pronounced. “It is what it is. I grew up with this narrative of ‘the South’s gonna rise again’ and ‘those damn Yankees coming down here,’ and ‘the elitists in the North.’ ” He shrugged a shoulder and scowled slightly, rolling his eyes at his memories. “I couldn’t stand it. I never jibed with that.”
Edrington and Wilcox have lived in New Mexico on and off since 2006, first in Albuquerque and now in Santa Fe, where he works as a stone mason and runs Living Edge Landscaping. He learned to play guitar when he was 18, and he picked up the banjo and mandolin a few years later, consciously emulating Doc Watson and other old-time and bluegrass musicians. He branched out into songwriting when he felt confident enough to sing in front of people. He played with a band, Three String Bale, in Albuquerque for a few years, and then formed the Grove in the Cypress with Wilcox when she started playing music about seven years ago. She quickly learned banjo and washboard and wrote lyrics to go with Edrington’s music.
“I was inspired by him,” she said. “I decided that I couldn’t just be a fan anymore. I had to play.”
Although Edrington promotes himself as a solo artist, he likes to include his friends and many collaborators in almost everything he does musically. Espadín features contributions from well-known local musicians, including Boris McCutcheon, a roots musician who sings and plays mandolin on several songs, Eric Ortiz on trumpet, and Freddy Lopez on harmonica.
They played with Edrington on a crowded stage at a recent CD release party at Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery. At times, there were so many musicians singing and playing at once that it was hard to tell where the harmonica ended and the harmonies began. Edrington appeared in his element, happily announcing everyone he brought onto the stage.
Each song on Espadín is different in style, yet the album is unified by the appealing break in Edrington’s voice, especially when he’s singing old-timey tunes like “Riverside Blues,” a love song about the working class, or “Rendezvous Duel,” a clip-clopping horse of a murder ballad featuring Edrington on banjo and Karina Wilson on fiddle. “I’ve killed many men, and I’m not proud. Their war cries, they seem so loud,” he sings. “Revenge is the devil, this I know.”
Albuquerque resident Sarah Ferrell has played stand-up bass and sung harmonies with Edrington since 2008. She said that although he has always been fearless and fun to play with, he didn’t have a wealth of experience as a musician when they first met. “What he did have was a lot of drive and a very creative mind when it comes to songwriting — and a willingness to put the time in.
“In the collection of musicians on stage at Tumbleroot, I could really see how much respect everyone had for him.”
McCutcheon, who fronts the band The Mighty Salt Licks, also performs with Edrington as the HOTH Brothers, a group formed in 2017 with Ferrell. The HOTH Brothers release their first album, Workin’ and Dreamin’, with a concert on June 8 at the San Miguel Mission, joined by opening act Little Birds of Sound.
“He has a real talent in old-style finger-picking blues and clawhammer banjo,” McCutcheon said of Edrington’s musical skills. “I never met anybody who could play solid clawhammer banjo as good as Bard. He’s really understated as a blues guy, but he’s a really good blues guy. We’re talking acoustic, down-home, from-the-mountains, and from-the-heart blues.” ◀
▼ Bard Edrington V in concert
8 p.m. Saturday, May 25
Jean Cocteau Cinema, 418 Montezuma Ave.
$10; 505-466-5528, jeancocteaucinema.com
▼ HOTH Brothers in concert, with guest Little Birds of Sound
7 p.m. Saturday, June 8
San Miguel Mission, 401 Old Santa Fe Trail
$10 in advance or $12 at the door; 505-983-3974, brownpapertickets.com