Storytelling and Song: Folks Fest Is So Much More Than Just a Music Festival

By: Riley Ann

I’m writing this sprawled across the bed of my ‘95 GMC Vandura passenger van in a field. Above the drone of crickets, I hear a man’s voice lilting over his guitar. Friends, old and new, are clustered together sharing songs they’ve written (as well as ones they wish they did). It’s Sunday night before Song School in Lyons, and we’re ready. We gathered here to be a part of this community: to eat together, to learn together, and to grow together.

Song School is the four-day camp that leads up to Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, a Planet Bluegrass festival that celebrates the power of song. This is my first year, and when I mentioned going to Song School to veteran attendees, the comment I heard on three separate occasions from three different people was: “It’s life changing.” I laughed at their evangelicalism about the whole thing, but really, I was intrigued.

Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, CO.

Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, CO.

This week will be filled with classes led by renowned songwriters, open-stage performances, and, of course, song circles throughout the campground. The property here is a Colorado version of paradise, with shady trees, soft grass, and a stream perfect for wading at the peak of a summer day’s heat. Even before the camp begins, the communion of songwriters creates an energy that’s almost palpable. It's the perfect mood for the 26th annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, which begins this Friday, 08/19.

Folks Fest.

Folks Fest.

When I spoke with Brian Eyster of Planet Bluegrass about the upcoming weekend, he described the unique identity of Folks Fest compared to the other festivals as this: “There’s definitely a different energy, especially compared to Rockygrass. Folks Fest has a much quieter energy because it’s about sharing songs and stories. You just feel a different energy with Song School starting, and people are looking more inward.”

With songwriting at the core of the entire week, the Folks Fest lineup features a diverse array of musicians, including internationally-acclaimed acts like The Decemberists, Andrew Bird, Conor Oberst, and The Lone Bellow, living legends like Lucinda Williams and Mavis Staples, and bands from the other side of the world like My Bubba (Scandinavia) and DakhaBrakha (Ukraine).

If you are interested in attending Folks Fest, day passes, 3-day tickets, and camping are still available here. Check back next week for full coverage of the festival on BolderBeat!

And if you’re curious about what it’s like being in Song School, I’ll be posting nightly updates on my blog.


Find out more about me on my blog.

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