YarmonyGrass August 2nd - 5th, 2012
Words By Brandon Picard
Photos By Katie Oleinick & Brandon Picard
The beautiful, uneventful drive to Bond, Colorado last Friday Morning was just what I needed in preparation for the weekend festivities to come. YarmonyGrass was back again and folks were strolling into Rancho Del Rio at their leisurely Yarmony pace. The skies were blue, the river was cold, and the trains were a chuggin’. Like most festivals, smiles littered the parking lot as we arrived. A small tent read “box office” as we approached and gathered our wristbands. On the table we noticed another sign reading “No. We do not have schedules.” I questioned when schedules would be available and was not surprised to hear that no one knew. We shrugged off the first of few logistical problems and moved on. Driving into the camping area my girlfriend and I were at a loss of words. The space at Rancho Del Rio is absolutely stunning. There were mountains in all directions. The amazing Colorado River peacefully floated alongside a marvelous city of tents. For my girlfriend and I, this was to be our first Yarmony experience. We choose a spot a little off the main drag and set up our home for the weekend.
-Friday August 3rd, 2012-
For those folks used to Yarmony in the past, this year was to be a little bit different. The main stages for the festival were to be setup at Statebridge Amphitheatre 6 miles away from Rancho Del Rio (where the festival had previously taken place). Festival goers were able to choose where they camped, either at Rancho, or near the amphitheatre at Statebridge. We happily choose to camp away from the music knowing shuttles would be running endlessly back and forth between the venues through the entire day and night.
After a frigid dip in the chilly Colorado River, we set off with a few adult beverages in search of some bluegrass at Statebridge. I was extremely skeptical before YarmonyGrass that the shuttle situation would not be pleasant. I was wrong. The shuttles were timely, alcohol was allowed, and the drive was spectacular, hugging the river the entire stretch. The drive takes roughly five minutes and you’re dropped off 10 feet from the stage. Entering the venue we were greeted by security guards politely looking for alcohol and wristbands. We were forced to dump the drinks as we came in.
Statebridge is a small outdoor venue with two stages, vendors, and a delightful fire pit set just a few paces from the stage. The first set of the festival for us was the Dead Winter Carpenters. With a small crowd of dancers, DWC lead a set of honky tonk and Americana to start our festival. Jenni Charles directed the way with her fiddle and striking harmonies. As songs passed, folks began to fill in the small Statebridge amphitheatre. Next on my radar was The contribution, and band that had caught my attention in the recent past. Their 9:45 p.m. set was four hours off so we made our way back to the peaceful confines of Rancho Del Rio.
With one small area for music on the Rancho side, selections were limited. We caught a “happy hour set” as again we were denied the option to bring our drinks into the “designated” area. I guess music and booze don’t mix? Oh wait, yes they do. We finished the drinks we had and stepped up to the stage for Fruition and Nathan Moore putting out some happy songwriter tunes that had the afternoon crowd buzzin’. I had the chance to speak with some folks about the festival and their experiences. I was saddened to hear that many of them were unhappy with the transformation of YarmonyGrass. Everyone spoke about how Rancho Del Rio had become so special to them and that the Statebridge shuttle situation has been nothing short of disappointing.
I however, being a first time YarmonyGrasser, was not affected by the changes. I almost enjoyed the fact that we were camped away from the main stages and the majority of the music. For my girlfriend and I, it turned into more of a camping trip with some music here and there, as opposed to the normal all out music festival, where every set is a must see. We took our time roaming the grounds, kicking our feet in the water, and watching passing trains. The trains made for some magical moments. With the tracks on the opposite side of the river from where we camped, it made for a beautiful vista.
After dinner and some rain, we jumped the shuttle again and headed back down to Statebridge for The Contribution’s slot. The group formed in 2005 at String Cheeses Horning’s Hideout festival. With Tim Carbone (Railroad Earth) at the helm, he gathered friends and New Monsoon band mates Jeff Miller and Phil Ferlino for what is now titled “The Contribution”. Adding Matt Butler (conductor of The Everyone Orchestra), Keith Moseley (String Cheese Incident) and Sheryl Renee (Vocalist who has done work with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra), The Contribution was completed.
The crowd had now finally filled in the main area of Statebridge and the party was underway. The set they played Friday night at YarmonyGrass was exceptional. With Tim leading the pack, the contribution played to all its member’s strengths. Throughout the set listeners caught pieces of each member’s bands and projects separately. Sheryl Renee brought a gospel joyous sound as she belted in her three range pitch. “The Year of Jubilee” rang out as people caught on and began to sing aloud. The short set ended if I remember correctly with a in your face jam “Come Around” allowing Tim Carbone to scream “I don’t care” repeatedly at the top of his lungs!
This was just what I needed to slow down my evening. With hours of preparation and driving, we were beyond exhausted and headed to the comfortable boundaries of our 8x8 green tent in the grass. The sounds of trains throughout the night became surprisingly soothing as we dozed off until morning.
-Saturday August 4th, 2012-
The weather Saturday morning was incredible. The heat stayed away until late morning and we were able to sleep in! We cooked some breakfast with the picturesque background and got fueled for the day’s events. YarmonyGrass allows for its attendees to kick back and enjoy the time and space of a music festival without the hustle and bustle like most of your main stream festivals. Music didn’t start until 2:00 p.m. so my girlfriend and I decided a rafting trip down the Colorado from Rancho to Statebridge was in order. The journey was so pleasant. Having just moved to Colorado the landscapes I see continue to be breathtaking. With the river full of kayaker’s tubers and stand up paddle boards, there was no lack of excitement. By the time we completed the few mile trek down to Statebridge, Todd Sheaffer was just finishing his set.
We grabbed the first shuttle and headed back to Rancho for some much need re-fueling of food and other essentials. After a very relaxing afternoon back to Statebridge we went to catch my most anticipated set of the weekend, Elephant Revival. The riveting sounds these guys display create a masterpiece of feel-good proportions. The unique voice and washboard playing of centerpiece Bonnie Paine can be described essentially in one word: captivating. The mesmerizing looks of on goers catching there first glimpse of these one of a kind vocals is almost laughable. People are flabbergasted and most definitely short of words. This was the set of the weekend in my opinion.
Words bounced over top of YarmonyGrass for the next hour recounting the entrancing set displayed by Elephant Revival. Railroad Earth was on deck, the headliner for the festival. Given two full sets, Railroad Earth was able to showcase why they are near the top of bluegrass and our scene. Having been running the festival and live music scene for many years now, Railroad Earth has not let off the throttle. Having seen the group several times previous, I knew to expect nothing short of perfection. The journey Railroad earth takes its crowds is indescribable. Through a collection of very different sounding tunes, Railroad Earth is able to bounce from genre to genre while staying in the realm of its bluegrassy roots. The three hour long set kept everyone happily engaged as the melodies sustained. Railroad closed to an eruption of love and appreciation from the crowd. The final set of Saturday was to be Nershi’s joint set, a set I had heavily anticipated the entire weekend.
The set was to start at 12:15 a.m. just a short half an hour after Railroad Earth finished. 12:30 a.m. came and went. Then around 1:00 a.m. the crew of superstars began to make their way to the stage. 1:15 a.m. and they were still experiencing some sort of sound issue on stage. By the time Nershi and his joint set began playing it was close to 1:30 a.m. and the sound was definitely not fine tuned. Some kinks were worked out during the first few songs and the super group was on their way. I noticed Bonnie from Elephant Revival looking rather nervous and anxious as she strapped on her ancient looking white gloves. Strumming the washboard, you could see her nerves calm before our eyes as Nershi made her feel right at home. Joined on stage by Tim Carbone and Keith Moseley among a few others, the band took on a traditional sounding bluegrass vibe. The old styles of Nershi’s flat picking with the amped expressions of Bonnie Paine made for a creative session of old time tunes. Both new and old fans alike were able to finish their Saturday nights with happy hearts as the music played into Sunday. climbing into my tent that night, I felt a bit of sadness knowing this was my last evening (for a while) in this enchanting, magical place. Thanks for the good times, YarmonyGrass!