Rocky Mountain Folks Festival 2019 Honored the Folk Tradition of the Past, Present & Future

By: Riley Ann 

Planet Bluegrass just wrapped up their festival season with the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, and they truly had something for nearly every flavor of folk. True to its tradition, the music at Folks Fest was by, for, and about the people. 

Ben Folds.

Ben Folds.

Headliners included household names from the past 30 years, such as Ani DiFranco, who’s songs feel just as relevant as when she was topping the charts in the late 90s and early 2000s. The Violent Femmes had the packed crowd dancing and hollering, and Ben Folds’ set felt like an intimate house concert on Saturday night. Josh Ritter’s band closed out the festival Sunday night with many families enjoying summer’s last hurrah before the start of the school year.

Hayley Heynderickx.

Hayley Heynderickx.

For the folks who want something old and something new, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, The War and Treaty, and Kira Small all fused throwback soul and R&B flavors into modern songwriting. The Oh Hellos shared the poppier side of folk, and Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards paired modern grooves and melodies with lush harmonies of the women’s voices and stringed instruments. Hayley Heynderickx demonstrated the songwriting tradition through the voice of a millennial with her quirky, dark tunes, and The East Pointers showcased their reinvention of traditional Celtic music by intertwining old time fiddle and tenor banjo with drum machines and synthesizers.

The folks who appreciate the early traditions could sing along in four-part harmony with Ysaÿe Barnwell’s spiritual set, which kicked off Sunday morning. The Canadian duo The Small Glories blended old time clawhammer banjo and traditional song forms with their own telling of historical events, many with modern-day connections.

Patty Larkin.

Patty Larkin.

While the phrase “folk music” generally connotes acoustic instruments, bands like Daniel Rodriguez (formerly of Elephant Revival), Gasoline Lollipops, and St. Paul & the Broken Bones featured ripping electric guitar solos. In contrast, Patty Larkin practically played a solo rock set on acoustic guitar (though she interspersed a few ballads and shook things up playing a violin bow on her electric guitar). The music was as musically diverse as the tastes of the listeners, providing a well-balanced palette of folk music. As Dylan once crooned, “Times, they are a changin’,” and Planet Bluegrass continues to curate folk festivals that honor the folk tradition of the past, present, and into the future.

Although their festival season is over, there’s still another chance to tap into the magic at Planet Bluegrass for the Autumnal Equinox on September 21st with Bonnie Paine & Friends. More information and tickets are available at the Wildflower Pavilion website here. Stay tuned for next year’s Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, as well as their Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Rockygrass Festival on the Planet Bluegrass website here.

-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.




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.

Taarka Playing Hometown Show at Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Lyons, CO This Weekend

By: Mirna Tufekcic

If you want to go back in time but still remain present, then expose your ears to Taarka.  

A band that planted its roots in Lyons, CO in 2006 because of the town’s reputation for a ripe bluegrass and acoustic scene, Taarka has been labeled as the new acoustic supergroup who echo sounds of bluegrass, gypsy jazz, celtic, and Eastern European folk. How do you put all of those together and make it sound good? Pure talent, baby.  

Taarka.

Taarka.

The size of Taarka fluctuates according to the venue and festival they’re playing, and also on how many fellow, talent-oozing musician friends they have up on stage with them. Taarka’s core is a wife-husband duo (David Tiller and Enion Pelta-Tiller) who have performed with members of The Grateful Dead, PhishString Cheese Incident, Yonder Mountain String Band, Darol Anger, Keller Williams, Taj Mahal, Widespread Panic, The Motet, and The Everyone Orchestra- and the list doesn’t end there.

Over the past ten years, Taarka has drawn on various musical influences that gave birth to their latest album, Making Tracks Home (2015). Turning to their Americana bluegrass roots, Making Tracks Home is moody and poppy while still maintaining classical bluegrass tones. Though they began as a purely instrumental band, Taarka has incorporated songwriting in their latest work that has peaked the interest of many musicians and music lovers alike, giving the group momentum and numerous accolades.

Live, Taarka will lure you into a dance frenzy, and fortunately for you they’re playing a hometown set in Lyons, Colorado on the Planet Bluegrass Ranch at the Wildflower Pavilion this Friday, November 11th with Caribou Mountain Collective. Get yourself a ticket here and keep up with all things Taarka on their website. I’ll be there dancing with you.

-Mirna

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artist featured and those credited. 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.