Bark & Bluegrass Music Festival: A Howling Good Time
Words & Photos By Nicholas Stock (www.phatphlogblog.blogspot.com)
After a stellar weekend chocked full of live music and good friends, we decided to close it out by heading to Fort Collin’s own Bark & Bluegrass Fest. Not only was this my first time at this particular event but it was my dog, Chaya Bear’s first concert experience. So we headed down early in the blazing heat to grab a spot and get settled. The lineup was strong and I was ready for some sweet Americana to roll my Sunday along. We parked up front while the majority of the attendees sought shelter in the shade. The Bark & Bluegrass Fest was put on to benefit the Larimer Humane Society and the Animal House Rescue, two amazing non-profits who do so much in Northern Colorado to help disenfranchised pets. Sponsored by The Wags and Menace Foundation, this festival is an amazing testament to the great work done by animal lovers in this great state we call home.
We got inside about halfway through the Honey Glitters opening set. Each band was given a generous time slot, which meant they really created their own atmosphere for their time on stage. The Honey Glitters are a relatively newer rock and Americana band. I had seen them playing a tweener set during Leftover Salmon’s River Run at The Mishawaka. Other than that, I know very little about them as they don’t even have a website up yet. They are just getting their feet wet in the scene so I will not judge them too harshly. They are a fun group focusing on rock and honestly they were a solid way to get the day started.
The festival really got going when Oakhurst took the stage. Oakhurst is a bluegrass-infused party band. They have an indie rock sensibility that can be surprising at times. I found myself wondering which niche they were trying to fill, and I really think they like it that way. From their deep roots in Appalachia music to their Denver-based rock licks, they were truly enjoyable to watch. Lead singer A.P. Hill has a twang that lends them a level of authenticity that is hard to come by from modern bluegrass acts. Musically they were pretty standard but the mix of electric guitar and traditional stringed instruments made for a new take on an old classic. It was also interesting to see a Rocky Mountain band so entwined with Appalachian lyrics, but unabashedly proud of their Colorado roots too. They were a musical conundrum and every sense of the word.
The sun continued to beat down but the shade slowly made its way into the concert field, and with it came the people and their furry friends. It was like every hour the crowd got closer to the stage because the shade from the trees allowed them to do so. Tony Furtado was up next and his only accompaniment was Dave Watts, as if you need anything else. The duo played a lot of Tony’s new songs and gave us the musical release we were waiting for all day. Furtado maintains a cool and comfortable delivery throughout his performances and his set at Bark & Bluegrass was no exception. He just seems incredibly relaxed with his beat up slide guitar or his banjo and is able to pick like the devil on speed whenever he wants. At one point Tony looked at Dave and asked, “Do you remember this song? “Dave replied in the negative but proceeded to kill it on the kit anyway.
That’s how versatile and incredible Watts is a drummer. He can play anything from bluegrass to electro-funk and he is a powerful accompaniment to any player. Furtado called Boulder his home for a number of years before he moved on to Portland where he currently resides. Back then he lived in a big house with Watts, Michael Travis and a number of other now renowned musicians. When I got a chance to talk to him, he remarked about how those days helped to shape him as the artist he is today. It was nice to see the mini-reunion of sorts in form of his set at Bark & Bluegrass. Highlights from the set included his rendition of “Golden,” “Portlandia,” and an amazing version of “Rueben’s Train,” during which a train whistle blew as it made its way through town. It threw him off a bit but later he said into the mic, “I paid for that to happen.” It was just another of the amazing moments we got to see at Bark & Bluegrass.
Good Gravy was up next and despite their massive setup and full six players, they had a very basic sound. Focused on simple straightforward jam or more appropriately jamgrass they were just okay. I thought they tried to bust a wide range of sounds but really came up short. They are young so once again I will give them the benefit of the doubt but I just couldn’t find my groove during their set. Good Gravy was bouncy jam but their one saving grace was their layered vocals. They had the ability to lay the lyrics on thick and I found that aspect to be pretty amazing. Overall though they have a long way to go, but I will definitely keep my eye on them and wish them the best in the future.
The final band of the day was a super jam by Everyone Orchestra, which was conducted by elder bluegrass statesman Matt Butler. I got a chance to talk with him for a second at Kyle’s Brew Fest the day prior and asked him if he thought it would be any different conducting a bluegrass jam. He let me know that his years behind the kit of Hot Buttered Rum had left him aptly prepared for just such an occasion. And he was most definitely right. With a band comprised of Michael Kang, Nat Keefe, Tony Furtado, Joe Lessard, Matt Loewen, Erik Yates, and Dave Watts, how could he go wrong? It was just a stellar group of musicians, and every time I see EO perform, it is awe-inspiring to see a group come together, many of which who have never played together, and just nail it.
It began as a string band with the percussion section holding back. By now the sun was setting and the crowd had moved up to enjoy this powerful set of music. They performed a beautiful rendition of “The Ballad of Stagger Lee” with Furtado taking over vocal duties. The highlight of the set was a bluegrassed-out version of “Stir It Up” with Kang singing solidly. At the end of the set, Butler invited all the dogs and their owners onto the front of the stage for a group photo. As the pups paraded up it broke down into a dog-infused dance party. It was a sweet end to a great day of music. Bark & Bluegrass is a wonderful fest for pet lovers and music fans alike and I was happy to get the chance to document and talk about such a unique and fun festival. Chaya Bear and I will definitely see you all there next year.
Nicholas’s Photo Gallery