YarmonyGrass 8.18 - 8.21.16
Rancho Del Rio
Words By J. Picard
Photos By Elliot Siff Photography, J. Picard & Carly Picard
There were pirates, floating unicorns, fat guys riding slices of pizza, multiple sets played on floating stages and some of our favorite musicians to boot. The 11th annual YarmonyGrass took place as it has for six years now at Rancho Del Rio in the Colorado Rockies on the Colorado River. The fest has become sort of an anomaly as more festivals come and go on a scene dominated by an increasing volume of large scale giants. The core of Yarmony is fueled by familiar faces, passionate music fans and vibrating strings. Our arrival on site meant that our phones would refuse us service and we were committing to a weekend of unplugged face to face conversation, laughs without the term "lol" and unforgettable life experiences.
Thursday, August 18:
Back in the camps we set up our humble abode for the weekend including our new canvas tent and EZ-up. Our friends were slowly rolling in when a call came over the radio, "J, your parents have arrived!" I had been waiting for six years to show my parents my favorite festival and it was finally time. I made haste to the front where my folks already had beers in their hands and smiles on their faces as their accommodations of an on-site cabin were indeed to their liking.
The first of the weekend's bands, Timber, hit the Saloon Stage as the first of the meats hit the grill backstage at Matt and Teri's camp. The smell of bacon hamburgers filled the air as friends settled in and staff grabbed their food on the go. As the sun tucked behind the mountains, the music of Hog MaGundy could be heard from atop the hill. A short time later Whiskey Tango took the stage for what would be one of their last shows as a band for the foreseeable future. The evening concluded with a set from The Grant Farm before the action shifted backstage and to the campgrounds. There were campfire picking sessions, miscellaneous mortars fired off and more whiskey than a pirate ship in circulation. It was the rowdiest Thursday that I had experienced at a festival in some time and would set the pace for the weekend.
Friday, August 19:
Early in the afternoon, I made the trip up to the box office to greet Jeff Austin who was clearly excited and all smiles. I had a great conversation with Jeff before heading backstage for the smoked brisket alongside two beer can chickens. But first, the Michigan Coney dogs were up with National Coney Island chili and fried on-site french fries. Folks gathered and a line took shape for a true mid-west meal. Mile High Express kicked off the scheduled events at the Saloon Stage with a sparse crowd, as most were still in the river following the day's floating stages.
Over at promoter Chris Thompson's motorhome, he picked out a tune first with Roosevelt, then with Andy. The thought of picking with players of that caliber at random had my stomach in knots. The Main Stage opened with The Kitchen Dwellers who sounded great! Liver Down The River kicked off the first of two sets on the Saloon Stage that would sandwich Dead Winter Carpenters' set on the Main Stage. At some point both the brisket and chicken came off of the grill and yet another line formed as a drone flew overhead. The Railsplitters were up next and didn't disappoint as the crowd for the evening truly began to take shape.
Caribou Mountain Collective output a great set on the Saloon Stage sandwiching Coral Creek featuring Andy Hall on the Main Stage. Coral Creek's set was the best that I had seen the band play since I have been seeing them over the course of a few years. Bill McKay adds so much to Coral Creek and during the set began his takeover of YarmonyGrass! In addition to Andy, Roosevelt was called up to guest, taking the music to new heights as evident by Chris Thompson's big smile and sway.
Following Coral Creek's set the festival took a breather with folks heading back to camp to layer up and regroup. The evening's headliner, The Jeff Austin Band, hit the stage around midnight. What followed was fantastic as Jeff dove into old material with banjo player Ryan Cavanaugh assaulting the audience with some of the best banjo playing that I have heard recently. I looked over to my left and Roosevelt had his phone out, recording, with a big smile on his face. Roosevelt was called to the stage shortly to follow for some blissful output.
The Main Stage came to a close for the day as the Saloon Stage came back to life once more with one of the weekend's hosts, The Drunken Hearts! Up on the deck we danced, drank and solved the world's problems. To my right was Roosevelt, to my left Andy Hall, my wife and my friends were all around us and in that moment, nothing else mattered but the present. Both of the aforementioned slide gurus sat in with the Hearts and the set in the end was one of my clear highlights of the weekend. Upon it's conclusion, we made our way back into the camps and held a board meeting of epic proportions. All was right with the world.
Saturday, August 20:
I came to in my tent, sore and dehydrated. I crawled out of the tent, switched on my radio and immediately began consuming water and electrolytes before coffee. The group slowly came to and gathered under the EZ-Up. Rosie and Andy returned for what was becoming the daily routine. By the time the coffee was gone I was dancing in place and ready to hit the river! Our camp grabbed our nonsensical floats and some drinks and made haste to the river where the first of the afternoon's floating stages would be departing the shore to circle in the eddy. It was a very special moment for me. With a beer in my hand, bluegrass music being picked from a raft and my folks and friends present, we floated along under the afternoon sun, eventually rowing out of the eddy and down the Colorado river. The party concluded on a sandbar/small island near the entrance to Rancho Del Rio. There were EZ-Ups set up, coolers of beer, an older gentleman in a full on cow costume with utters and all sort of fun to be had. It was this type of experience that sets Yarmony apart from most other festivals. The line "How do other people live?" was tossed around a few times.
The evening's brisket and beer can chicken came off of the grill as the Kitchen Dwellers hit the Saloon stage for their first of two short sets. The Drunken Hearts took the Main Stage for their final set of the weekend and what a set it was! Take all of your pre-conceived notions and memories of The Drunken Hearts and throw them out the window. What the band is doing currently will catch you off guard and potentially melt your face. From start to finish the boys dug deep into a groove that featured ample shredding and beautifully poetic lyrics. It was easy to get lost in the music, only to find yourself again with a classic riff or sweet lyrical sentiment. The Drunken Hearts were firing on all cylinders and it was clear, YarmonyGrass was their party.
The Kitchen Dwellers hit once again and dazzled the wide-eyed crowd before the Main Stage concluded with headliner Roosevelt Collier's Colorado Get Down. This Get Down would differ from most in that Roosevelt welcomed a core band featuring members of The Drunken Hearts, as well as members of various bands in which Rosie had yet to play with. It was loose in theory, but tight in the pocket. The rhythm section of Jon McCarten and Alex Johnson made for a groove so deep that Rosie had to dig out with ripping progressions shared with guitarist Rob Eaton Jr. Towards the end of the set the stage was flooded with guests and whiskey. At one point Roosevelt called me to the stage to dance, which was super weird.
Upon the conclusion of the set, the crowd shifted once more to the Saloon Stage for the final set of the early morning with Whitewater Ramble. Our group caught a bit before heading back to the campgrounds and getting close to a fire. We were joined by the older Santa Clause looking gentleman who was in the cow suit a couple of days prior. I aptly named him "Utter Clause," to his delight. The conversation around the fire descended into discussions of beer, shitty beer, dabs/concentrates and the density of geothermal features in the northern states. At one point towards the end of the evening I turned to "Utter Clause" and asked "how long have you been a cow?" He laughed a deep laugh, much like I would think Santa would. A short time later, I was on my back in my tent, with the night fading into the following morning.
Sunday, August 21:
In the distance I could see hippies scurrying towards the put in with floats in hand. Music had begun on the Saloon Stage for a short morning/afternoon with The Robin Davis Duo, Lonesome Days and RapidGrass Quintet. Just prior to RapidGrass' set, festival promoters Chris and Susannah Thompson made their way through the camps ringing bells and shouting that RapidGrass was taking the stage. It made me proud to see the folks that I work with so enthusiastically rallying the troupes for one of the final sets of the weekend! For the final set, which was a "Super Pick," Chris Thompson called an audible and moved it to the river. Fans were pumped as they ran back to camp and reconvened at the eddy for a massive group float to close out an incredible weekend!
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