Rockygrass 2019 Had Attendees Debating the Identity Politics of Bluegrass

By: Riley Ann 

Another sold-out Rockygrass Festival went down in the books last weekend, culminating with Punch Brothers’ much-anticipated Sunday night headlining set: “Punch Brothers Play & Sing Bluegrass.” However, festivarians left with differing attitudes - some in awe, some confused, some disappointed, and some even downright angry who claim, “That wasn’t bluegrass,” which begs the question: What is bluegrass?

The Punch Brothers.

The Punch Brothers.

Planet Bluegrass continues a track record at their bluegrass festivals of booking acts that represent the different generations of bluegrass. This year’s first-generation legends include the Del McCoury Band and Larry Sparks & the Lonesome Ramblers, second-generation folks including Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, and Tim O’Brien, and bands from the more progressive era of Bluegrass (and arguably beyond), including Sam Bush (while considered to be second-generation, the “Father of Newgrass”), I’m With Her, Hawktail, and, of course, Punch Brothers.

Bluegrass, a hybridization of various styles, is historically attributed to Bill Monroe, the “Father of Bluegrass,” and his music remains the standard for comparison of the genre much like Robert Johnson’s music defines the origins of blues. When people read “Punch Brothers Play & Sing Bluegrass” on the program, the crowd generally assumed the set would showcase tunes from the canon of traditional bluegrass (i.e. first generation). However, the band played Tony Rice’s 1983 album Church Street Blues in its entirety. The album, which Chris Thile (Punch Brothers) proclaimed is “...the best Bluegrass album ever made,” is noted for its creative songwriting and Rice’s iconic progressive guitar playing, remarkably different from Monroe’s prototype of bluegrass. The band accentuated the album with their own flavor.

I’m With Her.

I’m With Her.

Punch Brothers wasn’t the only band playing a different kind of Bluegrass. Noted fiddler Brittany Haas’ supergroup Hawktail performed an entire set of instrumental compositions. While the group describes their sound rooted in old-time Scandinavian fiddle, their intricate arrangements and virtuosic solos indicated neoclassical and jazz elements. Kevin Slick, President of the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society (CMBS), comments, “Hawktail is Americana chamber music, and Punch Brothers have always been a more urban, more sophisticated band. Some people seem to think ‘Bluegrass’ has to come from the rural South and feature simple song structures.”

While some could argue that Punch Brothers and Hawktail have deviated “too far” from the origins of bluegrass, Slick suggests a different perspective, saying, “Bill Monroe played music that nobody else was playing, at least not in that style. He incorporated jazz and blues into country music and created bluegrass. Nobody was taking extended improvised solos in country music at the time or extending harmonies like that, and it was incredibly inventive. The music that Hawktail and the Punch Brothers are making is probably closer to the original spirit of bluegrass because it’s continuing to be inventive and doing something new, just like Monroe was doing.”

Sam Bush.

Sam Bush.

Though Sam Bush is unquestionably accepted as a pillar of bluegrass today, he also battled his own trials and tribulations when launching the New Grass Revival in 1971, and heard similar complaints in the early days. Regardless of his bands’ initial reception decades ago, he has indisputably become a major player of the bluegrass realm, and his headlining Saturday night set at Rockygrass was met with open arms of the crowd despite having a full drum set and electric bass, a very different feel than Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys

Slick asserts, “Any musical genre that survives will diversify; at one point in time, jazz music was only what they played in New Orleans. There was no Miles Davis or Coltrane. Rock’n’roll was Chuck Berry and Little Richard, but now those genres are incredibly diverse- we can have Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. So if bluegrass is a genre- within that genre, it’s probably going to be pretty diverse.”

Certainly people have different reasons for resisting new developments in the genre. A common one is rooted in the fear of cultural extinction. Slick counters this, saying, “New music won’t sound like Bill Monroe, and that’s fine. The music won’t ever go away. You can still pull up Bill Monroe’s music online and listen to it. A million different artists play the blues and people do all kinds of different things with it- B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan. In Kendrick Lamar’s music, you might not hear Robert Johnson anymore, but people still respond to it. I just see it as we’re expanding the buffet.”

With change often comes resistance, whether that’s in our sociopolitical climate or a genre of music. The question is not how we divide ourselves, but how we maintain the discourse of our differences. 

The Earls of Leicester featuring Jerry Douglas.

The Earls of Leicester featuring Jerry Douglas.

Planet Bluegrass still has one more festival this year, and tickets and volunteer opportunities to Folks Fest are still available. The lineup includes Ani Difranco, Ben Folds, Violent Femmes, Josh Ritter, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and more. More information is available on the Planet Bluegrass website here.

See more photos from Rockygrass at this link.

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

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

Sin Fronteras: Folks Fest Raises Voices in Solidarity

By: Riley Ann

Music from across the globe took the stage at the 2018 Folks Fest, including acts from the Saharan Desert, Canada, and the tasty melting pot of American folk music. Despite the lyrics being sung in various languages, spanning English, French, Spanish, and Tamashek, one message rang clear: strength in togetherness.

Las Cafeteras.

Las Cafeteras.

The East L.A.-based band Las Cafeteras took the stage by storm on Friday with their Afro-Mexican dance party. Vibrant choreography and hip-shaking rhythms amplified their Spanish and English lyrics advocating for social justice. Band members shared the spotlight trading off lead vocals, and they gave shoutouts to various causes, including Black Lives Matter, indigenous people’s rights, and more. They also performed a new rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” by blending Spanish phrases, new melodies, and a mariachi groove into the familiar tune as a modern commentary. You can see their live performance on KEXP and read the lyrics on their website.

Representatives of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County joined Las Cafeteras onstage to recognize their contributions as artists to social justice issues. The chamber invited Las Cafeteras to Colorado on the band’s previous tour and thanked the band for the work they do through music as well as educational programs throughout the country.

Later that night, Los Lobos, another East L.A. band lit up the stage with their unique blend of traditional Latin American styles with rock, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, R&B, blues, and soul. The group made waves in music history by bringing Latin American folk music back to top charts in the late 80s, revitalizing Ritchie Valens’ take on the traditional tune “La Bamba,” along with several other hit songs. While Valens was an early trailblazer in the Chicano Rock movement, Los Lobos carried the torch and kept the movement steady via mainstream radio airplay decades later. With their popularity, multiple Grammy Awards, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they’ve made their mark not just within the Chicano Rock movement, but also with deep ties in the ever-colorful tapestry of American folk music.

Heather Mae.

Heather Mae.

Saturday morning opened with Heather Mae, the artist who won last year’s Folks Fest songwriter competition. She moved the crowd with musical confessions about mental illness, overcoming oppression, and body image evidenced in her song “I Am Enough.” As an advocate for body positivity, LGBTQIA rights, people of color, and more, she thanked the festival organizers for curating such a diverse lineup throughout the weekend, saying, “They are trying to elevate marginalized voices, and that includes women. Thank you.” She concluded her set by inviting a chorus of performers to join her on stage for her power anthem “Stand Up.”

When Darrell Scott took the stage Saturday afternoon, he performed a song that he said was written by his friend Marcus Hummon. The narrative showed the life of a Honduran girl named Rosanna who escaped the physical and sexual abuse of the underground sex trafficking industry, bore a daughter, was profiled and arrested by police, was deported by I.C.E. back to Honduras, and nearly died in the desert trying to reunite with her daughter. Her true story is documented here, and you can hear Hummon’s album version here. The song left the crowd frozen and teary-eyed for Rosanna, the representation of people targeted by strict immigration policies and facing not just unfair, but impossible playing fields.

Saturday evening closed with the Indigo Girls. Despite heavy rains concluding their set early, they shared many of their signature songs, including “It’s Alright,” which is one of many that uses music as a vehicle for social change. The Indigo Girls served as one of the first bands to not only be public advocates for the LGBTQIA community, but also to be publicly out. Beloved by the crowd, the duo was joined by the sea of smiling faces singing along in the rain.

Bonnie Paine.

Bonnie Paine.

Bonnie Paine opened Sunday with the help of the “Cottonwood Choir” and instrumentalists featuring many familiar faces from the Front Range, including other members of Elephant Revival. The ensemble inspired the crowd to sing along with spirituals originating from slaves’ field songs about overcoming oppression.

That evening, Tinariwen quickly became a crowd favorite. The band’s fascinating blend of African stylings with American blues idioms created a strikingly unique sound. Furthermore, the band’s formation in refugee camps and resilience despite the backdrop of warfare, strife, and revolution speaks through the music even if listeners don’t know Tamashek. Over several decades, band members have survived against the odds and continue writing songs fighting for human rights and equality. They’ve even been called “Music’s True Rebels” by NPR. You can read more about the band’s background here.

Tinariwen.

Tinariwen.

Once again, Planet Bluegrass curated a powerful festival, giving festivarians an opportunity to see household names, like Regina Spektor, the Indigo Girls, and Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco) alongside the acts you didn’t know you wanted to see. Stay tuned at the Planet Bluegrass website for their lineup of next year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Rockygrass, and Folks Fest.

View the full photo gallery from this event here.

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

All photos provided to BolderBeat by the artist. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

#SheShreds: Rockygrass Celebrates Breaking Through the "Grass Ceiling"

By: Riley Ann

In light of of the #MeToo movement and “The Future is Female” shirts, this year’s Rockygrass certainly took some cues from the times. In addition to the staples of the Planet Bluegrass stages (including Sam Bush, Tim O’Brien, Peter Rowan, and more), a spotlight shone brightly on the women who have become pillars of the “who’s who of bluegrass.”

The First Ladies of Bluegrass. 

The First Ladies of Bluegrass. 

 

One of the crowd favorites of the weekend was the Friday set featuring Alison Brown, Becky Buller, Sierra Hull, Missy Raines, and Molly Tuttle, each the first woman to earn International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards on their instruments. They’ve been dubbed “The First Ladies of Bluegrass” for this achievement.

In the set, Sierra Hull acknowledged Alison Brown, who was the first woman to ever earn an IBMA nearly three decades ago in 1991, which happened to be the same year Hull was born. Brown also earned the Distinguished Achievement Award in 2015, which IBMA states is the “highest honor IBMA bestows outside of induction into the Hall of Fame, recognizing forerunners and ambassadors for bluegrass music.” Hull, who is 26, shared that when she was a little girl, she loved Brown’s album Fair Weather and still does, saying, “It’s such an honor to share the stage with Alison- and all of these incredible trailblazing ladies!” The set oscillated from sweet harmonies to rip-roaring bluegrass breakdowns, and between tunes the musicians gave frequent props to each other for what they’ve contributed to the modern history of bluegrass, like in regards to Missy Raines, who has earned an IBMA for Instrumental Performer of the Year on bass seven times. “We like to say that in bluegrass, Missy reigns!” they said.

The weekend featured a variety of women outstanding in their field, including Della Mae, an all-female band that earned a Grammy nomination for “Best Bluegrass Album” for their record I Built This Heart in 2015. During their set on Saturday, Celia Woodsmith, current frontwoman for the band, also gave a shout-out to the “First Women of Bluegrass,” noting the two consecutive days of all-female bands in the lineup. She hollered, “Rockygrass, you’re doin’ somethin’ right!” and the crowd roared.

Sunday’s spotlight included the Lyons Bluegrass Collective, featuring local powerhouses KC Groves (of Uncle Earl), Bonnie Sims (of Bonnie & the Clydes), Natalie Padilla (of Masontown), and Sarah Cole (of Follow the Fox), among others, male and female.

These women were not celebrated because they are women; they are celebrated because they’re good, and despite the odds. While bluegrass music grew from the roots of Black music (even the banjo is actually an African instrument that’s been morphed through industrialization), it has been culturally appropriated by white men who have kept a patriarchal stronghold on it for generations, causing a great deal of sexism, racism, and classism within the genre. I discussed some of this in last year’s coverage of Rockygrass, “The Changing Face of Bluegrass,” and more in-depth information about the history of the banjo and bluegrass music is available via two great documentaries: The Librarian and the Banjo and Bela Fleck’s Throw Down Your Heart.

Although you’ll have to wait until next summer for the next Rockygrass, Folks Fest at Planet Bluegrass is still to come and includes Regina Spektor, Indigo Girls, Los Lobos, Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco), and more. You can learn more about Folks Fest at the Planet Bluegrass website here.

See our full gallery from the fest here

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

All photos provided to BolderBeat by the artist. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Resounded With Resistance Of Current Political Happenings

By: Riley Ann

Woody Guthrie would have rolled in his grave this weekend, not in disdain, but in delight had he heard the music at this year’s Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in the hills of Lyons, Colorado. In the spirit of Woody, along with Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and so many others, the music of Folks Fest was charged with political messages, the call for solidarity, and the stand for social justice.

The crowd at Ramy Essam's set.

The crowd at Ramy Essam's set.

The festival opened with the Songwriter Showcase, and Heather Mae stole the show with two of her original songs truly about the times, one she introduced as, “my kind of love,” and for the other, she addressed the significance of what happened in Charlottesville. After winning, she shared on her music Facebook page, “I performed ‘Wanderer,’ my song about being queer. I performed ‘Stand Up,’ my song about fighting discrimination. I asked the audience to stand with me and join the cause.” And stand they did. She had the festival grounds filled with people standing and singing along, many with tear-filled eyes. You can watch her chilling music video for “Stand Up” here.

Heather Mae.

Heather Mae.

Heather Mae offered more insights into her performance, saying, “With everything that’s going on right now, what a waste it would be if I didn’t say something and use this opportunity to show that we can’t stay silent anymore. I chose my songs that weren’t necessarily the best for competition, but they were perfect for this platform. The mission I’m on right now is to make music that matters and that makes people think, and I feel like it was really heard, and that’s the most validation I’ve ever felt. It’s like the universe is saying, ‘Good job, kid, keep writing the music you’re writing’ and I feel a lot of gratitude for that.” With her winning performance, Heather Mae earned a one-hour slot on the main stage at next year’s Folks Festival. In the meantime, you can keep an eye on her tour schedule via her website.

Rhiannon Giddens.

Rhiannon Giddens.

Later that evening, Rhiannon Giddens lit the stage on fire with her performance, ignited with the stories of despair, fury, and hope in her latest album Freedom Highway. She opened with a rock version of “Spanish Mary,” a tune she co-wrote with Bob Dylan that’s dripping in satire about imperialism in the name of the Catholic Church. She left the audience on the verge of tears with “At the Purchaser’s Option,” a song she wrote after finding a 19th-century ad about a 22-year-old slave woman’s baby for sale. She left listeners breathless with her tune “We Could Fly,” a song based on the African-American folktale about the people stolen from their homelands as slaves who lost their wings. Rhiannon is a force of nature onstage, and her music has earned its rankings as modern classics, songs that will be forever immortalized in the canon of folk music. You can hear more of her first-hand insights in her NPR interview here.

Ramy Essam.

Ramy Essam.

In the tradition of Sunday morning spiritual sets at Planet Bluegrass festivals, Ramy Essam, the unassuming singer/songwriter who became the voice of the Egyptian Revolution, opened the day with a riveting set. Though he sang mostly in his native Egyptian-Arabic dialect, he introduced his songs in English. The subject matter spanned from honoring the strength of women and girls who fought in the revolution, many of whom were jailed and tortured, to making fun of the police, an agency Ramy described as being corrupt and dangerous in Egypt, and many of his songs challenged tyrant leaders and their wrongdoings. Despite singing in a language very few attendees knew, people began joining his refrains by the end of almost every song. The crowd also sang along with his cover of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier.” At one point, Ramy proclaimed to the audience, “Music is the most powerful peaceful weapon we have.” His set concluded with a chant-like refrain begging for peace “for just one day.” Instinctively, the audience sang along, linking arms as they stood together in unity.

Dave Rawlings.

Dave Rawlings.

While the main stage was filled with outstanding performances, spanning the high-energy acts like The Revivalists and Lake Street Dive, the introspective meditations of Elephant Revival and Gregory Alan Isakov, the down-home tunes of Dave Rawlings Machine, and everything in between, the through line of the festival resonated with resistance. Nearly every performer mentioned the need for solidarity, peace, acceptance, resistance, attention to social justice issues, or, in the lighthearted case of Korby Lenker, putting politics aside momentarily with family in “Let’s Just Have Supper.” In the spirit of the folk music tradition, this year’s Folks Festival was truly of and for the people.

Gregory Alan Isakov.

Gregory Alan Isakov.

You can stay tuned for next year’s Folks Festival lineup at the Planet Bluegrass website here. If it is anything like this year’s lineup, it’s one you won’t want to miss.

View our full photo gallery from Folks Fest 2017 here

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

All photos per the author. All videos and embedded tracks per the artist featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Folk Fights Back: Rachel Baiman Brings New Protest Songs Through Colorado

By: Riley Ann

Folk music is no stranger to politics, and Rachel Baiman isn’t afraid to make waves. Her new album Shame is getting accolades from NPR’s All Songs Considered, Paste Magazine, and The Bluegrass Situation, among others, and for good reason. The album is fierce, playful, even snarky, and it’s the perfect patchwork of the Americana tradition, spanning grooves reminiscent of Sam Bush (like the title track, “Shame,” and “Never Tire Of The Road”), to classic country fiddle (like “In The Space Of A Day”), to the Gillian Welch-esque melody of “Take A Stand,” all blended with her Old-time roots and modern voice. The album is available to stream and purchase in digital, CD, and vinyl formats on her Bandcamp.

She’s sharing her new batch of tunes on tour in Colorado this week. Aside from performing live on KGNU’s Kabaret show on Tuesday, August 8th, Rachel is playing the Starhouse concert series in Boulder along with local favorites Natalie Tate and Gabrielle Louise this Wednesday from 7:30PM-10PM (more information here). She’s also playing a show in Denver at Globe Hall on Thursday, August 10th with The Wind and the Wave, an indie-folk/alt-country band from Austin, Texas.

Similar to Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and so many other folk musicians that have walked this path, Rachel’s songs are steeped in the social commentary of the times. She said, “They originated from broader political issues, but with what’s happening in the world today, they get more and more specific in their meaning every day.”

Rachel Baiman.

Rachel Baiman.

Her politics don’t stop with her own music. She is one of the co-founders of Folk Fights Back, a non-profit organization that curates concerts around the world to raise money for local organizations working for social and political changes. Previous concerts have raised funds for environmental justice, immigrant and refugee rights, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and more. Rachel said, “It was really a way to channel our energy into things that are important to us. Sometimes it’s hard to feel like you’re making a difference, but we’ve raised thousands of dollars for local non-profits doing really important work, and it brings people together in a positive way. There’s so much power in our solidarity.” Learn more about setting up your own Folk Fights Back concert by visiting their website.

While this is Rachel’s first full-blown tour in Colorado, it certainly won’t be her last. However, it might be your last opportunity to see her in such an intimate space as the Starhouse. You can find more about that show and her other tour dates on her Facebook page and her website.

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

All photos provided to BolderBeat by the artist. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Recapping RockyGrass: The Changing Face of Bluegrass

By: Riley Ann

Festivarians flocked to the 45th annual RockyGrass Festival this past weekend at Planet Bluegrass, and it celebrated the evolution of bluegrass in all of its facets. In the era of the folk renaissance in America, the first RockyGrass was held in 1973 and featured first-generation bluegrassers like Bill Monroe (the “father of bluegrass”) and Lester Flatt in addition to acts like Country Gazette that were part of the budding newgrass movement. A lot has changed since 1973, when 3-day tickets were only $12 and Bill Monroe himself was involved in starting the first RockyGrass (more about the history here). And yet, in the spirit of blending first-generation traditional bluegrass alongside newgrass of the time, this year’s RockyGrass held true to their own tradition.

Sam Bush.

Sam Bush.

What is notable at this year’s festival was the striking number of young faces on stage. In fact, eldest of all the instrument contest winners is only 21 years old. And yet Sam Bush was only 21 when he took the stage with The Bluegrass Alliance for the very first RockyGrass in 1973, which is evidence of young blood continually being drawn into the scene and sustaining the tradition through the decades.

Odessa Settles.

Odessa Settles.

What is notably different about more recent Rockygrasses, especially this year’s, is the growing representation of women on stage. Friday’s lineup included Colorado native Bevin Foley of Trout Steak Revival, Laurie Lewis with her band including renowned fiddler Tatiana Hargreaves along with special guest and Colorado native Courtney Hartman of Della Mae. Saturday featured powerhouse band leaders Melody Walker (winner the 2016 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Vocalist Momentum Award) with her band Front Country (nominated by IBMA as 2017’s Emerging Artist of the Year award) and followed by Becky Buller (nominated by IBMA at 2017’s Fiddler of the Year and by The Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America as 2017’s Songwriter of the Year award) as well as Odessa Settles performing with Jerry Douglas and Edgar Meyer. Sunday featured clawhammer banjoist Allison de Groot alongside Bruce Molsky in the Molsky Mountain Drifters as well as the all-female band and 2016 nominee for the IBMA Emerging Artist award Sister Sadie. Aside from the main stage, Denver-based Ginny Mules left the crowd roaring in a standing ovation during the band contest at the Wildflower Pavilion, and they won third place in the finals.

Tatiana Hargreaves with Laurie Lewis.

Tatiana Hargreaves with Laurie Lewis.

Although female representation is far from being equal, the bluegrass scene has come a long way despite its sexist reputation, like Alison Kraus being angrily told, “Girls can’t play bluegrass,” as she disclosed in the documentary High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music, one among countless other similar anecdotes of female bluegrass musicians in the book Pretty Good for a Girl.

Del McCoury.

Del McCoury.

While so many new faces are entering the scene, some have become iconic staples, and the return of Del McCoury, Sam Bush, and Peter Rowan along with newgrass favorites like The Infamous Stringdusters rounded out the festival to mix in the old with the new, giving something in the realm of bluegrass for everyone to enjoy.

The Infamous Stringdusters.

The Infamous Stringdusters.

Although this year’s RockyGrass has passed, you can still get your festival on for Folks Fest, which is happening in just a couple weeks from August 18th-20th. This year’s lineup includes Gregory Alan Isakov, Lake Street Dive, The Revivalists, Rhiannon Giddens (of the Carolina Chocolate Drops), The Wailin’ Jennys, Josh Ritter, Elephant Revival, Dave Rawlings Machine, and more. You can still get single-day and three-day tickets here.

View our full photo gallery from RockyGrass 2017 here.

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

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

Review: When The BANDITS Give You 7" (But You Want All 12)

By: Riley Ann

The new 7” EP from the BANDITS showcases the band’s prowess bridging the heaviness of rock with the intricacies of metal guitar riffs, balancing relentless forward-driven rhythms with syncopated lifts. Yeah, it’s good. And it’s going to leave you wanting more.

BANDITS.

BANDITS.

The A-side features John Demitro on vocals for “Enough.” While the verses hammer down an almost static melody over a trance-like guitar & bass duet, the choruses open up vocally and instrumentally, and the bridge gives a taste of John’s iconic guitar soloing, reigned in from his wild solos in live settings. The stops after the choruses and the bridge let the song bottom out just long enough to give it shape. The arrangement of “Enough” balances perfectly, driving it forward and letting the song breathe.

Tear You Down” on the B-side features Lulu Demitro on vocals, and she drives the song on the back end of the beat with bass. Less ornate, more percussive, and more weight on each beat give this an ominous backdrop for the chorus to climb above the wreckage as Lulu’s voice sings, “I’ll tear you down, down until you’re nothing...” The transitions in and out of the half-time feel give the song more density, and the bridge turns into a haunting duet over sparse instrumentation, only to build back into the chorus. While her previous single “Kill Tonight” compels you to dance, “Tear You Down” will have you headbanging for days.

John Demitro offered his take on the new singles, saying, “I think these two songs are some of our strongest material to date. We’ve had these songs in our repertoire for awhile and I think they are a mile marker in the direction of where our sound was going. I think we have finally found the sound of BANDITS, and “Enough” and “Tear You Down” are a perfect preview to what is coming soon.”

The arrangements are tight, the studio production is solid, and their live shows leave even non-smokers reaching for a cigarette. The band plans to record a full-length album in August, so keep up with them on their website and social media. Your next chance to catch them locally is on this Sunday, July 30th for the UMS at the Skylark Lounge (tickets here) and then Monday, July 31st at Globe Hall in Denver with Slothrust and Gleemer (tickets here). In the meantime, you can get your hands on their music on their merch page, and snag digital copies on Bandcamp.

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

All gallery photos per the author. All other photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artist featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Old Traditions in New Times: CROMA Festival Echoes History

By: Riley Ann

In the heat of summer, hundreds of people from the East and West Coasts and beyond gathered in the hills outside Berthoud, Colorado to celebrate the traditions of Old-time music and dance.

A jam at the CROMA 2017 merch table.

A jam at the CROMA 2017 merch table.

The Central Rockies Old-Time Music Association (CROMA) celebrated its 8th annual festival at Parrish Ranch, and while for some, barn dances and pre-World War II fiddle tunes may seem anachronistic in 2017, this property offers the perfect environment to stop time and celebrate these traditions. In fact, that’s exactly what the property was established for over half a century ago.

The late 1950s were more than ice cream socials, Elvismania, and record parties. It was one of the contemporary heydays of Old-time music and square dancing. Competitive square dancing was serious business for some, and in 1958, Vaughn Parrish built a barn on his ranch specifically for square dancing. People flocked in from across the United States (even beyond the border from Canada) to spend a week or two practicing their square dancing skills. Many of them competed in square dance competitions throughout the nation.

Terry Parrish, the current owner of Parrish Ranch and son of Jean & Vaughn.

Terry Parrish, the current owner of Parrish Ranch and son of Jean & Vaughn.

Today, Vaughn’s son Terry runs Parrish Ranch and is thrilled to host the annual CROMA fest as well as weddings, camping outings, and other special events throughout the year. At the Friday night barn dance, Terry stepped up to the microphone and shared, “My mother and father would be so happy to know that this festival happens on their property. It’s exactly what this place was built for.” The crowd cheered, and Terry even joined squares throughout the night, laughing and chatting with attendees, which included ticket-holders alongside the festival’s performers.

This year’s festival brought various scholars and performers of Old-time from across the nation, predominantly the Ozark and Appalachian regions of the United States, to offer diverse programming throughout the weekend.

Callers and cloggers: Phil Jamison & Dot Kent join the New Smokey Valley Boys for a number.

Callers and cloggers: Phil Jamison & Dot Kent join the New Smokey Valley Boys for a number.

Phil Jamison, author of Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance and professor of mathematics and Appalachian music and dance at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, taught a workshop on flatfoot dancing (also known as clogging). He shared how not only Old-time music, but also flatfooting and square dancing, have rich African-American roots, and how those traditions merged with European and new innovative styles in the time to create a rich tradition that’s truly American.

The Ozark Highballers had a friend join their show for some flatfooting.

The Ozark Highballers had a friend join their show for some flatfooting.

Kim Lansford and Aviva Steigmeyer (of Preservation Guitar Company and performer with the Ozark Highballers) shared the histories and nuances of ballads and led a sing-along in a workshop before performing a set together on stage.

The New Smokey Valley Boys had callers; flatfooters Dot Kent and Phil Jamison join them.

The New Smokey Valley Boys had callers; flatfooters Dot Kent and Phil Jamison join them.

The New Smokey Valley Boys offered a workshop on fiddle/banjo duets, a common means of instrumentation for house parties when, as fiddler Andy Edmonds described, “They’d throw all the furniture out in the yard and have the fiddler and banjo player face each other knee to knee in the doorway between two rooms, and each room would have a caller, so they’d have two different dances happening, but everyone could hear the same music.”

Jesse & Emily.

Jesse & Emily.

Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller offered several workshops, spanning duet singing, fingerstyle guitar, and West Virginia fiddling in addition to performing sweet, heartbreaking, and foot-stomping duets.

The Saturday night cakewalk was a hit. The music stopped just in time for this festival-goer! 

The Saturday night cakewalk was a hit. The music stopped just in time for this festival-goer! 

With over 30 workshops, daily main stage performances, nightly barn dances, kids’ programming, and community meals (a Thursday potluck and a Sunday morning pancake breakfast), this year’s festival continued to expand upon the quaint beginnings of the CROMA into one of the best festivals in Colorado, and arguably the best Old-time festival in the nation.

Aviva Steigmeyer & Roy Pilgrim of the Ozark Highballers join in on the festival dancing.

Aviva Steigmeyer & Roy Pilgrim of the Ozark Highballers join in on the festival dancing.

While you count down to next year’s festival in 2018, you can keep up with CROMA’s barn dances, fundraisers, and other special events on their website and by signing up for their newsletter. Dances throughout the front range can be found here, which also includes the Westminster dance, the only regularly scheduled dance that mixes squares, contras, reels, and circle dances.

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

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

Old-Time In The Rockies: CROMA Gears Up For Annual Festival

By: Riley Ann

Since its inception in 2010 with just three individuals, the Central Rockies Old-Time Music Association (CROMA) continues to expand in breadth and depth. Their eighth annual festival is less than a month away, and it’s guaranteed not to disappoint. 

For a taste of old-time before the festival, CROMA is hosting a fundraiser this Sunday, June 11th from 12PM-9PM at City Star Brewing in Berthoud. The day features live music starting at 2PM, which includes performances from The Fiddle Dogs, The Brownsville Thomcats, and Ryan Drickey (of FY5) and Dusty Rider (of The Railsplitters) and friends, in addition to an old-time jam. The silent auction includes artwork from Nick Bachman and Howard Rains, CDs from David Bragger and the Field Recorders Collective, music lessons from local teachers (including yours truly), and items from local businesses, including Spirit Hound Distillers, Cajun Moon Design, Peet’s Coffee, and a chance to win a pair of tickets to this year’s CROMA festival. City Star is also donating $1 for every beer sold during the event, and Curbed Hunger will be on-site serving food all day.

A barn dance at CROMA last year. 

A barn dance at CROMA last year. 

You’ll also have another chance to dust off your boots before the festival at the next CROMA barn dance, which is being held on Friday, June 16th at The Music District in Fort Collins from 7PM-930PM. Admission is $10 for adults and $25 for the whole family (kids 12 and under are free), and all dances are taught, so no experience is necessary! This event is just a taste of the nightly barn dances at the festival. 

One of the stages at the 2016 CROMA festival.

One of the stages at the 2016 CROMA festival.

The CROMA festival kicks off on Wednesday, July 5th and runs through Sunday, July 9th. Veteran festival-goers will still appreciate the intimacy of the festival, diverse workshops, rollicking nightly dances, and jamming alongside lovers of old-time from across the country in the paradise of Parrish Ranch. However, this year’s festival will offer new aspects, including kids’ workshops and open stage times, couples dance workshops (like the Schottische, two-step, and waltz), and more diverse instrument workshops, like an old-time harmonica workshop led by Seth Shumate of The Ozark Highballers.

The lineup this year includes a variety of bands that hail from Galax, Virginia, West Virginia, and various parts of the Ozarks, including Eddie Bond and the New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters, The Ozark Highballers, Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller, and The Musky Dimes and Lansford and McAlister. Dance callers include local favorite Larry Edelman of Denver, Dot Kent of Chicago, and Phil Jamison of Asheville, North Carolina. Additional instructors include Joanie and Steve Green, Tony Holmquist, and Barbara Rosner

While day passes are unlimited, camping tickets nearly sold out last year, so get your tickets early here. Volunteer positions are still available in exchange for day passes, and you can find out more by contacting CROMA here. If you are interested in joining the CROMA community, especially in regards to grant writing, social media and design, or other capacities, you can connect with them here. More information about CROMA is available on their website.

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

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


Check out our coverage of CROMA last year for a taste of this year's sweetness:

A Magical Midnight Carnival: Esmé Patterson, Kitty Crimes, and DéCollage Get Wild At The Hi-Dive

By: Riley Ann 

Wizards danced, Mylar dolphin balloons bobbed above the microphones, giant cellophane-wrapped cardboard crystals sparkled from the stage, the costumes were loud, and the energy was palpable. The crowd packed the house to welcome Esmé Patterson back home to Denver on Sunday night for a show at the Hi-Dive along with local favorites Kitty Crimes, joined by the Blondetourage, and DéCollage.

DéCollage.

DéCollage.

Not only was the show high energy, the artists exuded themes of love, acceptance, and pride throughout the night. Kitty Crimes introduced one of her songs by saying, “This song is about being gay as f*ck!” Esmé Patterson introduced another, saying, “This song is about having the courage to be exactly who you are...” Each time the crowd roared with delight.

The evening also illustrated the sense of community within the Colorado music scene. Natalie Tate, another local favorite songwriter and performer from the Denver scene, joined both Esmé Patterson and Kitty Crimes for harmonies. The pairing of Patterson and Kitty Crimes on the same bill celebrated their former band Harpoontang. In addition to past projects, the show recognized the loss from the community. One of Patterson’s new songs honored the life of Tyler Despres, the guitarist for the Gin Doctors, whom the community unexpectedly lost late last year.

Natalie Tate (right) with Kitty Crimes (Left).

Natalie Tate (right) with Kitty Crimes (Left).

Patterson alternated tunes from her recent 2016 release of We Were Wild with a fair number of brand new ones. Her performance featured more experimental sounds on guitar through her pedalboard, feedback against her amp, and manipulating her guitar in unexpected ways, like dragging the strings against her mic stand. Based on her performance, it seems likely that a new album is underway. Based on the new tunes and the crowd’s reaction to them, the possibility of a new album is bound to be a solid addition to any record collection. 

Esmé Patterson.

Esmé Patterson.

If you missed Esmé Patterson this time, you can catch her again in July when she headlines the Underground Music Showcase, which is happening in Denver from July 27th-30th. The festival features over 350 performances on 15 stages along South Broadway, and over 100+ artists have already been announced. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased here.

You can find out more about Esmé Patterson on her website, along with the websites of DéCollage, Kitty Crimes, and Blondetourage.

 -Riley

 Find out more about Riley on her blog

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

Reinventing the String Band: Darol Anger Forges A New Tradition

By: Riley Ann

String players in the Front Range had a real treat this past weekend. Living legend Darol Anger and the Republic of Strings, which features violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller of TAARKAand Joy Adams of Half Pelican on cello, hosted a workshop at Naropa before performing a concert in the evening on Sunday, April 23rd as the conclusion of their most recent Front Range tour. The full ensemble, which included Emy Phelps on guitar and vocals, Mike Robinson on guitar, and Eric Thorin on bass, played an evening concert the same day.

Darol Anger. 

Darol Anger. 

Darol Anger has made an indelible impact on the evolution of the fiddle. From his early days with David Grisman to the Turtle Island String Quartet, and his 2012 release of Chops & Grooves with Rushad Eggleston and Casey Driessen, Anger is no stranger to stretching possibilities and breaking rules through innovative techniques. His Fiddle-ology workshops are aimed at sharing these techniques that Anger helped developed in contemporary styles, techniques which transcend any particular genre. “I’m a failed classical player,” Anger laughed, “but that’s why I teach: to be the teacher that I wish I had.”

Nearly 50 string players attended the workshop, including fiddlers, cellists, mandolin players, and a harpist. Ages and experiences ranged as well, from kids under 12 who have played most of their lives, to touring professionals who make their living performing music, and adults who have recently picked up their instrument for the first time in decades, or recently picked it up for the very first time. Each participant shared their journey with music. “I played violin as a girl and put it down for a few years, but I just picked it up again after retirement,” said one fiddler, smiling. Another shared, “I’ve played professionally in symphonies for years, but you don’t get much exposure to music like this in Miami.” Despite their differing paths, all of the participants were looking to expand their musical vocabulary, whether it was getting out of habitual solos, diversifying their backup techniques, or even learning to break away from classical training to freely improvise.

Phelps, Thorin, & Robinson.

Phelps, Thorin, & Robinson.

The Republic of Strings are the perfect performers to share these techniques. Philosophically, the ensemble disregards limitations and borders. As articulated in their bio, “Our shared Republic Of Strings’ imaginary borders extend through all geographical or other imaginary borders, and we accept no unsightly cultural boundaries. We revel in variety and seek to deeply understand.” Such is true musically as they blend the folk music spanning the world, including Scandinavia, Africa, South America, urban America, Appalachia, and more with neo-classical, blues, jazz, hip-hop, bluegrass, and postmodern influences, ultimately weaving together a new tapestry of music that defies compartmentalization in any genre or style.

Pelta-Tiller & Anger.

Pelta-Tiller & Anger.

The partnership between Pelta-Tiller and Anger is also unique and longstanding. “Darol and I have been friends for a very long time,” said Pelta-Tiller. “I grew up listening to him in the Bay area and would go see him with my parents when I was really little. After college I was staying at my parents, and I took some lessons with him,” she said. Since then, they have taught at some of the same fiddle camps and see each other at festivals. “We’ve been friends for a long time, and I’m really excited to be able to bring him out here,” she said.

Joy Adams.

Joy Adams.

Although this was the first workshop of its kind at Naropa, Anger and Pelta-Tiller are considering the possibility of doing more area workshops in the future and even expanding what those workshops offer. The full calendar of events can be found on Naropa’s website, including this summer’s Creative Music Workshop, which focuses on improvisation. Pelta-Tiller and Adams are also both teaching at the Rustic Roots campfire jamming camp in Moffat, Colorado this August.

-Riley

Find out more about me on my blog.

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

Breaking Up With Bluegrass: The Railsplitters’ Upcoming Album Pushes New Boundaries

By: Riley Ann

The Railsplitters return to the Fox Theatre for a homecoming show in Boulder this Wednesday, and it’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss. This homegrown Colorado band continues to explore the depths of bluegrass and isn’t afraid to cross the boundaries of people’s expectations. They’re sharing the bill with Front Country and Caribou Mountain Collective.

The Railsplitters. 

The Railsplitters. 

The Railsplitters gained national and international attention with their first two albums, which launched them on cross-country and international tours, including two tours through the UK and Germany. While their last album had pre-production support from Gabe Witcher, (fiddler of Punch Brothers) the current album is being produced by Kai Welch, a renowned Nashville producer who has worked with Abigail Washburn, the Molly Tuttle Band, and Front Country. Working with Welch was the next logical step for the band in their music careers. The attention they’re getting for their songwriting and performances warrants professionally produced albums, and they’re ready for the next big leap upward.

While their new album continues to cross-pollinate genres to their ever-evolving sound, the band keeps stretching its legs in performance environments, especially since touring with Yonder Mountain String Band. Lauren Stovall, guitarist and lead vocalist for The Railsplitters, described that experience saying, “Watching a band like that every night for two weeks straight was a huge influence. Seeing how they connected with their audience, we started experimenting with some of their approaches, like giving more time for breaks and jamming them out more. It really moved us out of our arrangements and into something more loose, giving us more time to riff off melodies and giving our listeners something to connect to better in a live setting.”

Watch The Railsplitters' live video for their song "Lessons I've Learned":

Aside from a new dimension of their live shows, the band has fresh tunes from their forthcoming record to share on Wednesday. Their third album still maintains their catchy pop-centric melodies and intricate instrumental lines. However, there’s an even greater interplay of soul, jazz, and pop music within their bluegrass roots on their upcoming release. Furthermore, the songs are steeped in social commentary about contemporary issues.

“It was sort of a subconscious thing, but we recorded the album, and when we listened back, we realized that several of the songs have political and feminist themes,” said Stovall. “Every album we’ve come out with has been different from the last, and this one has evolved even further. When we went into the studio this time, we came home at the end of the week saying, ‘What just happened- did we just break up with bluegrass?”’

The band is no stranger to breaking the rules of traditional bluegrass. While many people have specific expectations of bluegrass, newgrass, progressive bluegrass, and jamgrass also create expectations for listeners that don’t quite convey the sound of The Railsplitters, especially in their new album.

“Anybody that knows us and our music knows that we’ve been heading in this direction for a while. We still think of our band as a bluegrass band at heart, but we’ve always struggled with that title and know that other people struggle with that title for us as well.” said Lauren.

The band currently identifies as “unconventional bluegrass,” which they claim represents their hybridization of Coloradograss with their influences by bands from Boston and New York like the Punch Brothers, Lake Street Dive, and Joy Kills Sorrow.

Come out to The Fox on Wednesday and get a taste of their new tunes and their new vibe. You can find more information about The Railsplitters’ new album and upcoming tour dates on their website, and you can get tickets for Wednesday’s show here.

-Riley

Find out more about me on my blog.

All slideshow photos per the author. All other photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artist featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Breaking Up The Boys' Club: The Seratones’ A.J. Haynes Is A Female Rock Powerhouse

By: Riley Ann

The Seratones are blowing up the rock scene as we know it. My advice? Go see this band the next time they’re in town, when you still might be able to catch them play a basement show.

Seratones played two consecutive nights at the Larimer Lounge last weekend, and the shows were sponsored by Colorado Public Radio’s OpenAir. The band actually played for OpenAir in a session last fall, and they returned to Denver packing both nights at the Larimer. The first night, The Kinky Fingers and The Guestlist opened the show; the second night Wes Watkins’ Septet and Quantum Creep shared the stage.

Wes Watkins' Septet.

Wes Watkins' Septet.

At heart, Seratones is a garage rock band with funk, soul, and jazz influences combined with a touch of Southern flavor. Fronted by the powerhouse vocals of A.J. Haynes, the band compels you to dance with heavy, driving guitar chords, bluesy rock riffs, and syncopated rhythms. Haynes’ vocals are equally powerful as they are playful, as is her stage presence, making for a captivating show both sonically and visually. Haynes isn’t shy about her feminine energy either, whether in her vocals or her dancing, and she also isn’t afraid to headbang on stage while hammering out guitar chords, dive on top of the crowd while belting out a chorus, or stomp through a horde of people dancing and singing along with her.

The Seratones.

The Seratones.

Having already appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk and Audiotree, this band continues to gain national and international recognition, and are making waves with their album Get Gone. Immediately following their Denver shows, the band flew to Paris to begin their European tour this week. Inevitably, their future holds sold-out theatre shows, so see this band as soon as you can, because nothing beats the intimate show of a band like this in a dive bar, a basement, or a garage.

More about the Seratones’ music and tour dates can be found on their website.

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

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

Paper Bird Takes Flight With New Self-Titled Album

By: Riley Ann

The Denver-based band that started with quaint beginnings never could have predicted where they are, nor where they’re going. After working in the studio with John Oates (Hall and Oates), Paper Bird released their self-titled album this year under the record label Thirty Tigers.

Fans who have been following Paper Bird evolve over the years will recognize their signature harmonies by the band’s three frontwomen: Sarah Anderson, Genevieve Patterson, and Carleigh Aikens. However, with some gritty electric guitar, rock organ, and raw, heavy drums in the studio mix, the band flirts with the rock of their pop rock sound, skirting the edges of 70s folk rock with a fresh, clean take. Furthermore, the vocals of their new album showcase more dynamic textures from the ladies. While their previous album Rooms exemplified their mastery of pure, shimmering harmonies, the new album unveils more nuanced emotions through the vocals, spanning whispering vulnerability, raspy desperation, and powerhouse vocal lines stacked like golden bricks.

Guitarist Paul DeHaven shared, “We were a lot more intentional with the sound we wanted to create [on this record]. Everyone in the band writes, which adds eclecticism, and we chose the songs that would work together in a cohesive, powerful way, and resonate with each of us individually.”

Watch Paper Bird’s latest music video for their tune “Don’t Want Half”:

The album began with 50 tunes the six members had written; some of them as complete songs, some of them as fragments needing development. Collectively, the members developed the songs and pared them down to the 11 best. Unlike Rooms, which was written in a month and recorded in less than two weeks, their self-titled album was refined and polished over a two-year period.

“The ability to listen back really informed what we liked and didn't like, so recording ourselves over two years gave us a new perspective on what needed to be added and what needed to be stripped away,” said DeHaven.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Paper Bird’s latest release is currently available in record stores, but you can watch their music video for “Don’t Want Half above and stream the entire album on Spotify. See Paper Bird live next week on Saturday, October 29th at Ivywild School, a former elementary school that now functions as a community-building reimagined to link people, culture, and commerce. The show begins at 8PM, and tickets are $12 in advance and $15 day of the show. You can also catch Paper Bird next month too at Denver’s Bluebird Theater November 25th and 26th. Show details can be found on their website.

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Action Through Music: Colorado Concerts Call To End Gun Violence

By: Riley Ann

As of today, 263 mass shootings have occurred in the first 250 days of 2016 in the United States alone. In those shootings, 1,390 people have been injured or killed. To take action against gun and domestic violence, people across the country are putting on concerts on September 25th, the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, to support local organizations that work to dismantle violence in their own communities.

One such concert is happening in Fort Collins on Sunday, September 25th at the Letterpress & Publick House from from 130-5PM. The Letterpress & Public House is a nonprofit event space, print shop and a bar/cafe in Fort Collins’ River District. This particular benefit concert is being organized by the Boulder/Fort Collins duo The Darling Ravens. Inspired by the nationwide movement and fueled by their own desires for social justice, the duo has chosen Crossroads Safehouse as the beneficiary of the event. The Safehouse has been serving the Fort Collins area for 34 years, and provides a space for over 500 survivors of domestic violence annually.

“This issue of violence is so high profile after all the recent shootings,” says Clara Delfina of The Darling Ravens, “and for good reason, but I definitely think we have a ways to go, and that using music and art is by far the best way to forge our way into a less violent future.”

Letterpress & Publick House.

Letterpress & Publick House.

The event, which will have a live webstream via Concert Window, will feature an open mic for musicians, poets, performance artists, and survivors to share their stories. There will also be a silent auction featuring local artists’, musicians’, and service providers’ works. The contributors of the silent auction have the option to donate either 50% or 100% of their item’s winning bid to Crossroads. To enter your art into the silent auction, contributors can bring their item (or write-up, in the case of a service provided) to the Letterpress & Publick House between 1230-1PM day of show.

The Darling Ravens.

The Darling Ravens.

Additional information on this event can be found on The Darling Ravens’ Facebook event page. You can also contact the duo directly, at TheDarlingRavens@gmail.com

Other local event concerts for this cause are happening in Aurora, Denver, Lakewood, Littleton, and Longmont. The details for these shows are listed on the Concert Across America to End Gun Violence’s website. Check it out and show your support by coming to one of these shows!

-Riley

Find out more about me on my blog.

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

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.

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.

-Riley

Find out more about me on my blog.

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

Fostering American Roots: CROMA Is Keeping Old-Time Music Alive in the Front Range

Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains playing twin fiddles onstage at CROMA Festival. Later, the two hosted a workship titled, "Backing Up A Fiddle With A Fiddle."

Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains playing twin fiddles onstage at CROMA Festival. Later, the two hosted a workship titled, "Backing Up A Fiddle With A Fiddle."

It takes a community to keep a tradition alive- and only a generation to lose it. As Ray Bradbury said, “You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” The same is true with music. With the advent of the internet, recordkeeping of cultural and artistic mediums has become exponentially easier, yet without direct engagement, some of these mediums are fading into the vague shadows of history. Such is true with Old-Time music. Without passing on the tunes, learning the dances, or even just having a public platform to share the traditions, Old-Time music faces the challenge of being passed down, not as a footnote of music history, but in young people’s hearts and in their blood.

A scene from the crowd at CROMA festival.

A scene from the crowd at CROMA festival.

Fortunately, opportunities to experience this part of our culture still exist, including in the heart of Colorado’s Front Range. Just recently, hundreds of people flocked to the festival put on by the Central Rockies Old-Time Music Association (CROMA). Tucked away in the hills outside of Berthoud, Colorado, the festival is hosted at Parrish Ranch. Originally established more than half a century ago for people from across the country to learn and practice square and folk dances, the property is an Old-Time paradise now, complete with a dance hall, a dining room for workshops, a beach, and even an open-air kitchenette for tent campers.

Rina Rossi's clogging workshop.

Rina Rossi's clogging workshop.

What’s notable about Old-Time (including this particular festival) is how community-oriented the culture is. In addition to a festival-wide potluck, three nights of barn dances, and even a pancake breakfast on the last day of the festival, CROMA offers diverse workshops for people to learn something new. Rina Rossi, the bass player for The Bootlickers, and the caller for the Thursday night barn dance, noted the impact of these opportunities: “I think what makes it so different from other festivals is that you can learn how to participate through workshops, and that’s what gets people to come back: because they’re engaged.”

An afternoon barn dance was held at CROMA festival especially for families. Dances that are less complex were taught so young kids could follow the dance and have fun.

An afternoon barn dance was held at CROMA festival especially for families. Dances that are less complex were taught so young kids could follow the dance and have fun.

Workshops are not just limited to people new to Old-Time dancing and playing. Sammy Lind, fiddler and banjo player for Foghorn Stringband, approaches workshops in a way to help veteran players augment what they already know and do. “Playing the music so much, I hear things that are common struggles for people, and I like to share ways I’ve found my way out of them. I still consider myself to be a student, and I was really, really serious about it when I did start to learn it at 18 [years old],” he said.

Sammy Lind's clawhammer banjo workshop at "The Gathering Place" on the beach.

Sammy Lind's clawhammer banjo workshop at "The Gathering Place" on the beach.

In addition to these formally organized activities and performances, a major part of the festival is the jam scene. The tunes started early in the morning and lasted well past the sun coming up the following day, and they were even joined (and initiated) by the performing artists. As Lind put it, “The festival is made for people to just hang out together in different jams, and it kept happening for us. I got up to get coffee and I ended up jamming, and when I was going to pack up and take a nap, I ended up in another jam, and [that’s] just how it happened all day until I went to bed around two in the morning”. The intimate size of the festival certainly makes it conducive for artists and attendees to sit interspersed in the same circles, blurring the lines of a typical festival’s artist-versus-ticket-buyer distinction. For me, it was both humbling and an honor to sit in with artists I admire so much, and for them to be so casual and welcoming for anyone to join. I truly felt like part of a community at CROMA.

Parrish Ranch at sunset.

Parrish Ranch at sunset.

Some worry that Old-Time is struggling to survive, but Rina, who got involved with the Old-Time community in her college years, offered her take: “Nationally it seems like there’s a really healthy age demographic where there’s lots of 20 and 30 somethings, and every age group is represented, but it seems like in different localities it varies. Some people will say, ‘We don’t really have a lot of people who are younger in our scene’, but up in Minneapolis we really do have a lot of young people coming in,” she said. As long as opportunities like the CROMA festival exist to continue fostering a sense of community for all ages, Old-Time will endure the passage of time.

The Bootlickers entertain the CROMA crowd. 

The Bootlickers entertain the CROMA crowd. 

To learn more about Colorado Old-Time jams, community barn dances, upcoming festivals, and how you can support the Central Rockies Old-Time Association (nonprofit), visit the CROMA website.

See more of my photos from CROMA here. And check out the festival's photos here.

-Riley

Find out more about me on my blog.

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

CROMA Festival Celebrates 7th Year Next Week of Bringing Old-Time Music to the Rocky Mountains

By: Riley Ann

In 2010, three individuals were determined to initiate the only Old-Time music festival in a 1,000-mile radius, and they’ve been doing it ever since. This July will be the 7th annual Central Rockies Old-Time Music Association (CROMA) festival in Berthoud, CO from July 6th-10th. The festival features a variety of performers from across North America, including Foghorn Stringband (self-identified as “Ass Kickin’ Redneck Stringband Music”), Erynn Marshall & Carl Jones, the Red Squirrel Chasers, the Bootlickers, Spencer and Rains, and Vesta Johnson accompanied by her grandson, Steve Hall. The festival also hosts a variety of workshops, including an introduction to flatfoot dancing, how to “call” Old-Time dances, instrument and regional tune showcases, and varying levels of instrument instruction, like clawhammer banjo and fiddle bowing styles. See the full schedule of the festival here.

Foghorn String Band.

Foghorn String Band.

One of the most anticipated parts of the CROMA festival are the barn dances, which are held Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Attendees can look forward to instruction of each dance prior to songs starting, in addition to having a caller “call” or announce (and even sometimes sing) each move of the dance to the crowd. Dances vary from squares to full-group circles and reels (lines).

“It’s the opportunity to bring people together to share and celebrate Old-Time music,” said Bob Zuellig, one of the founding members of CROMA. The festival has gained national attention and draws people from across the country, which is in alignment with the non-profit’s mission: to preserve and present Old-Time music. “Personally, I have formed some awesome friendships with folks from other parts of the country that otherwise wouldn’t have come together,” he said.

The Bootlickers.

The Bootlickers.

Despite the feel-good atmosphere and growing success of the festival, it doesn’t come without its challenges. “Honestly, we had absolutely no idea what the heck we were getting ourselves into - how much work it would take, if anyone would show up, if it would stick... Today there are six of us who continue do most of the heavy lifting in organizing, and planning is pretty much year-round for a few of us,” Zuellig said, “The hardest part is we are unable to completely support the festival solely through ticket sales and [so we] rely on donations and fundraising for over a third of our budget. We have some awesome sponsors that have been with us since the beginning, and we couldn’t do it without them.”

Watch a video from a CROMA festival goer:

Tickets are still available for the festival next week, and range from $20-$125 depending on what portions of the festival you want to access. Children 15 and under are free to attend, and seniors are eligible for a discount. Purchase your tickets here! Individuals and bands may sign up for the newsletter, and businesses can learn more about membership benefits, including advertising, right here. I will be bringing you festival coverage on CROMA next week, so stay tuned!

-Riley

Find out more about me on my blog.

All photos per CROMA and the artists featured. This article was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Getting Backstage: What It's Like to Volunteer for a Music Festival

Sunset at Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2016.

Sunset at Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2016.

Aside from performing, my favorite way to experience live music is behind the scenes. You’ve seen those people: slapping wristbands down the cattle lines at the Fox and Boulder theatres, standing cross-armed at festival gates, running cables across the stage. More often than not, those individuals aren’t being paid to be there, especially in festival settings. So what’s the glory in all of this? Much more than meets the eye. Despite many of the volunteer jobs being menial labor and requiring long periods of standing in one place (or, worse yet, running gear through throngs of leisurely festival-goers), there are definite perks to the job.

Emmylou Harris.

Emmylou Harris.

Admittedly, my initial interest in volunteering at festivals was fairly self-serving: I’m broke, and I get to see really incredible music for free. However, my experiences as a volunteer have offered me so much more than just a free pass.

Lil' Smokies.

Lil' Smokies.

Last weekend was the second year I volunteered for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The festival is internationally recognized as a staple bluegrass festival, and yet part of what I love about it is that it’s not exclusively bluegrass. As a volunteer for the Nightgrass staff, I got into the festival for free (and early) and free camping (collectively a $340 value). Aside from that, I got a staff wristband giving me access to backstage and a meal card to get one free meal backstage per day. Altogether, this is approximately a $500 value to volunteer for five hours each night, which is a pretty sweet deal.

Punch Brothers.

Punch Brothers.

The five-hour shifts can be pretty lighthearted (generally really good people are drawn to volunteer positions), but they can also be brutal. You might have to deal with a belligerent drunk guy claiming he ordered a ticket in advance with no record of it; meanwhile his girlfriend has already slipped past security (a theoretical situation, of course… ). Or you might have to be the responsible adult telling people old enough to be your parents that, no, they can’t bring in their own alcohol (yeah, it’s awkward). Or worse yet, you might have to supervise a backstage door, in a dark hallway where nobody walks and you have to resist falling asleep at 2 AM after having been in the sun all day festivaling. As a volunteer, your position still requires the integrity to show up on time and do your job (and sometimes deal with people who bring out the worst parts of your humanity). With all this, you’re probably questioning if it’s really worth it. For me, absolutely.

Houndmouth.

Houndmouth.

The best part of volunteering is being part of this team, this community that puts on such an immense ordeal. Backstage, I walked past some of my musical idols (making an effort to be casual and contain the inner fangirl, ecstatic to be walking right behind Chris Thile). I ate in the same tent as the Stringdusters as if we were colleagues. I stepped out of a Porta Potti and told the fiddler from Mandolin Orange that I really liked their set as she was stepping in the one next to me. I sat in the VIP section for nearly every show on the main stage, including the front row for Ryan Adams and Emmylou Harris, and I sat alongside the artists’ friends and family members (and sometimes the artists themselves), watching country legends like John Prine and emerging pop stars like Houndmouth and The Oh Hellos. I was part of it all.

Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange.

Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange.

If you’re interested in volunteering, do it, but only if it’s because you want to be part of the team. It’s gratifying to be a part of something so immense; something far more valuable than merely a free ticket. A lot of venues and festivals depend on volunteers and unpaid interns for success, so look into the events that interest you, research what volunteer positions are available, and figure out how to apply. It’s an incredible experience for those with their heart in it, and it will always be the second best way to experience live music for me.

Sara Watkins singing with John Prine.

Sara Watkins singing with John Prine.

Learn more about the Telluride Bluegrass Festival here.

-Riley

Find out more about me on my blog.

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