Folk musician/farmer Gregory Alan Isakov plays Vilar Center, Jan. 29 | VailDaily.com

Folk musician/farmer Gregory Alan Isakov plays Vilar Center, Jan. 29

Gregory Alan Isakov used to be a vegetable farmer who played folk music. Now he's a folk musician who works a vegetable farm.

Work, he said, is good for you. He spent all day Thursday with his corn, not wandering around the field in a "Field of Dreams" kind of way, but in a cleaning-corn kind of way. Then he came inside, cleaned up, ate some of the vegetables he grows and wrote more music.

"I'd go crazy if I didn't work," he said. "A lot of artists look at life through the window of a tour bus. That's not good for my art. Work is a really big part of who I am."

Isakov is like all the greats, in that, his music seems so effortless that you think, "I could do that!" And maybe you could, but only if you're that talented and willing to work at it. Isakov has been traveling all his life, and his songs show it, with their masterful stories of miles and landscapes and the search for a sense of place.

"I've always had this sense about music and writing that I sort of have to do it," Isakov said. "Like I'll implode without it. I probably wouldn't do it if I felt any other way."

Remember when our songs were just like prayers.

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— 'The Stable Song'

Isakov has never signed a recording contract but has a half-dozen albums to his credit on his own small label, Suitcase Town.

He plays the guitar and writes on a ukulele ("guitars have too many strings"), but just recorded an album of sweeping arrangements with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra ("Gregory Alan Isakov With The Colorado Symphony"). When he's performing that symphony album, sometimes he plays with nine strings and two horns. Sometimes it's a six-piece band — three stings, an electric guitar and drums. Sometimes it's a full orchestra, like last week with 80 musicians on stage at Denver's Boettcher Concert Hall.

He loves his 4.5-acre home and has put down roots in Boulder — both literally and metaphorically — but spent six months last year touring, three months in the United States and three months in Europe.

He has been running his small farm for a long time and has been in the vegetable business forever.

"Music was something I did after work," Isakov said.

He grows seeds for a small seed company — Thursday was corn day.

"I'm juggling it all right now. It's not the easiest route, but I'm really glad we did it the way we did. It feels really organic," Isakov said.

Smoke, it flies from whiskey mouths

Vagabonds walk this suitcase town.

— 'This Empty Northern Hemisphere'

Isakov was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. As apartheid reached its peak in the 1980s, his father scooped up the family and migrated to the United States. They landed in Philadelphia.

Ask him how he got from there to here, and he'll laugh and say, "economy class."

"I wore an Air Wolf sweatshirt, because back then you could still visit the cockpit," Isakov said.

Isakov headed west, reached the foothills of the Rockies and never left. He studied agriculture and art at the Naropa Institute, some more agriculture at Findhorn in Scotland, and wandered back to Colorado to grow food for people.

While he was running a farm in Lyons, the supportive people he grew food with were also supportive of his music.

And yes, there are parallels between songs and seeds.

"In a relationship with a song, they all start with an aha moment. That seed shows up, then the work starts and you see it through to the end," Isakov said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

If You Go …

What: Gregory Alan Isakov, folk singer-songwriter.

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29.

Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek.

Cost: $45.

More information: Buy tickets at the VPAC box office, by calling 970-845-8497, or online at http://www.vilarpac.org.