The singer-songwriter's chord-based, fingerpicking style requires him to regularly lacquer his acrylic-reinforced nails. Boling's thumb, index, and middle fingers on his picking hand have long, near-Dracula-length nails he will mend with super glue if, God forbid, one cracks or breaks on stage.
"A Vietnamese nail salon in Albuquerque knows me well," Boling said Friday, during final preparations at Crash Music for his live show tonight. He performs two sets starting at 7:30. "I'm not the only guitar player they see. There's the entire Flamenco guitar department at the University of New Mexico who also give them regular business."
Boling is also no stranger to folk-friendly venues around the country. He hits the road for more than 100 shows over nine or so months each year, playing venues from guitar-picker festivals and competitions to speakeasies and retirement homes.
He just returned from a tour of the Midwest and East coast, which included a stop at the historic Hurdy Gurdy Music Club in Norwood, N.J.
"The sold-out event was a celebration of Woody's 100th birthday as well as a recreation of a legendary Woody Guthrie Benefit 1956 concert, one of Guthrie's last, to benefit Guthrie's children after the iconic singer was diagnosed with Huntington's disease," Boling said. "And here we were on Nov. 3, days after Hurricane Sandy struck. Nobody knew if people would be able to come out, but they filled the place and were bathed in song and sweet melody. It was clear that they came out because they needed that — the healing had begun."
Playing Guthrie's song "Jesse," Boling took first place at the 2007 Woody Guthrie Folk Festival Songwriting Competition in Guthrie's hometown Okemah, Okla. And in June, he won first place in the songwriter category at the Santa Fe Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival.
Though Boling has lived in Albuquerque for the past 15 years, he is on the road so often you might have a better chance catching him at any folk festival rather than in his adopted home state of New Mexico.
"A fellow musician and dear friend of mine, Jack Wilson, has a saying about us traveling vagabond singer-songwriters," Boling said: "He says, I play music for free; I get paid to drive.'"
Most surprising might be the fact that before he began recording his music and touring the country in his minivan, Boling drove a Crown Victoria as a federal agent for the Bureau of Land Management.
"I gravitated toward it in college in San Antonio," the gentle but enthusiastic performer said, while tuning up his banjitar (a guitar-banjo hybrid that looks like a banjo but has six strings), the words "Gold Tone" gleaming on the headstock. "No regrets — it's how I met my wife, Ellen. She was a park ranger at Chaco Canyon. I had worked all over the Southwest: Big Bend Park, in the Chisos Mountains of Texas; Mesa Verde; Padre Island Seashore; later, I moved from the Park Service to the BLM where I worked for 20 years."
Aztec is not a strange destination for Boling, who said his parents moved to the corner of Mesa Verde and Chaco in the 1980s at the urging of long-time resident Chuck Buck.
"My mom was an Old Sorehead," Boling said, chuckling. "Aztec residents gave her the honor and she happily dragged my dad around to more fundraisers that year. Her campaign funds all went to charity, so he went along with it."
Boling credits his mom with helping him discover guitar. When he was a sixth-grader in San Antonio, he stumbled across his mom's guitar in the attic and played it daily until a fateful dorm party years later in college when another student fell on it, reducing the beloved instrument to a pile of strings and splinters. But by then he was hooked. He got another guitar, and later the banjitar, and began recording and touring.
Boling's most recent CD is the 23-song "Live! From the Winter Folk Festival 2009," which includes his version of "Jesse" along with his narrative-rich ballads and tales.
"The Big Top" is inspired by a friend of his, John Boswell, who at age 43 joined the Culpepper and Merriweather Great Combined Circus. Another song, "Darwin's Pride and Joy," rollicks through the farcical tale of a hapless antihero undermining the gene pool.
Boling insists that while his songs are inspired in large part by people he knows or has known, he takes liberties to best serve the music and engage listeners.
"I communicate emotional truths," he said.