Building Community Through Song: Rocky Mountain Folks Festival

By: Riley Ann

If you ever have your doubts about humanity, attend Planet Bluegrass’ Folks Fest. There, you’ll be immersed in a brief, yet powerful, idyllic, loving community bonding through song. People from all over the world came together to see international and local Front Range acts alike share two stages in the spirit of song last weekend.

Arthur Lee Land.

Arthur Lee Land.

Local artist Arthur Lee Land, of Lyons, CO, packed the house in the Wildflower Pavilion with his one-man band show. A veteran Song School instructor, he attributes this unique vibe to the days leading up to the festival: “It’s like the love dynamic here - it’s such a listening audience. Part of that is what we do at Song School is just like this intentional, spiritual, love vortex of music and song and community. We lay the foundation for this whole festival during Song School,” said Arthur.

Korby Lenker.

Korby Lenker.

Arthur certainly wasn’t alone. Nashville artist Korby Lenker, who won the Songwriter Showcase contest this year, noted similar themes: “The festival is like the public’s outlet or connection to it, but the people who are here prior to that, there was all this energy that went into making great songs, and that’s what’s curating the next generation of great songwriters.”

Bethel Steele.

Bethel Steele.

The Songwriter Showcase finalists also included local artists: Cari Minor (Rollinsville, CO) and Bethel Steele (Fort Collins, CO). Bethel said she was overwhelmed by her experience playing on the main stage: “It’s like when you look out into a sea of love, that’s all it is. You see the most beautiful faces and attentive audience. People are just so excited to hear your songs and music here, and it’s a total gift.” said Bethel.

Bethel has attended Song School for the last 5 years. “I think the sense of community, it kind of makes you rethink why you’re doing things. I was living in Boston before I moved out here, and this felt like home, like a safe space where you’re validated. It creates a place where you can be vulnerable and a total rock star, and everybody sees you for that,” said Bethel.

Andrew Bird with his band on their "Old-Time" microphone.

Andrew Bird with his band on their "Old-Time" microphone.

This environment provided an open platform for all the artists to be more vulnerable. Michael David Rosenberg, known as Passenger, shared about his experiences being a busking musician dodging the cops before his hit song “Let Her Go” topped the charts. The trio Quiles & Cloud shared a time when they camped on tour and weren’t prepared. A family that was camping because they didn’t have a home fed them “simply because we looked hungry”, which prompted them to write a song to honor the youngest member of the family, a little girl who “wore the sadness on her face”. And Andrew Bird, known for his one-man orchestra show, seemed to open up a bit more by playing an intimate set with his band around a condenser mic they called “Old-Time”. His current album Are You Serious has been noted to be his most honest and least encrypted album to date, making it the perfect time for him to play Folks Fest.

Mavis Staples. 

Mavis Staples. 

Together, people sang along with Darrell Scott’s “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive,” were moved by Mavis Staples’ energy, and laughed with Lucinda Williams during her political commentary. In a time when so much rhetoric is spent trying to divide people, Rocky Mountain Folks Fest draws people together through music, stories, and belonging.

Check out more pictures from Folks Fest on BolderBeat's Facebook.

-Riley

Find out more about me on my blog.

All photos per the author. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.