Saturday, September 30, 2017

Turkuaz 9.23.17 (Photos)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Telluride Blues & Brews 9.15 - 9.17.17

Town Park
Telluride, CO

Words by Casey Kelly
Photos by Ty Hyten Photography

There may be no place better suited for a three-day getaway to the heart of the great outdoors than the annual Telluride Blues and Brews Music Festival. The festival, which showcases the best there is to offer from the world of blues music and craft beer, held it’s 24th annual celebration Sept. 15-17 underneath the peaks surrounding Telluride’s Town Park.

It was sunny on Friday as Delgres, a trio mixing delta blues songs with Caribbean rhythms opened the main stage lineup and were followed by blues-rock trio The Record Company, who returned back to the festival this year to warm up the crowd on the introductory afternoon. Delbert McClinton, a blues legend four decades in the making, followed up on the main stage slot as the crowd began to fill into Telluride’s Town Park.

The afternoon mood in the park was upbeat as attendees danced around the lawn chairs that stretched back from the stage and sampled the smorgasbord of treats vendors were offering all weekend long. Much like the variety of music, between the craft beer and cocktails to the corn dogs and dumplings, there was something for everyone at the festival.

Following McClinton’s slot, slide-guitar player Jack Broadbent drew a sizeable crowd to the Blues Tent, where the audience was treated to Broadbent’s mix of old-time blues and folk songs. Broadbent played his vintage guitars laid over his lap using a whiskey flask as a slide, while his smoky, soulful voice electrified his songs about life on the road and heartbreak. In between tunes, the musician bantered playfully with the crowd, dropping in tongue-in-cheek product placement jokes and telling stories about life as a traveling blues musician. The highlight of Broadbent’s set came near the end when he covered Jimi Hendrix’s “Wind Cries Mary.”

The evening crowd began to settle in on Friday for Blues and Brews veteran Anders Osborne’s main stage set. The set featured a number of extended jams from the New Orleans-based band as they played through songs spanning their career, while relying heavily on tracks off the band’s latest release, Flower Box. Fellow New Orleans musician Benjamin Booker followed Osborne’s set on the main stage, and the young band had the audience dancing with their blend of blues and garage rock.

The crowd was buzzed about the headline show Friday night, which offered a performance from blues legend, Bonnie Raitt. Raitt made many comments about the thin air in Colorado mountains and how it hindered her ability to breathe, but you couldn’t tell it from the sound of her voice. Raitt’s set was filled with songs that spanned her career and included many covers, like B.B. Kings’ “Don’t Answer the Door” and “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” and Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman,” which was a highlight of the set. Other highlights included Raitt’s flooring renditions of fan favorites “Angel From Montgomery” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

The festival kicked off on Saturday with the Grand Tasting event, featuring samples of more than 50 craft breweries from Colorado and beyond. The event lets attendees sample the variety of beers and vote for a favorite to be crowned “Best of Fest.” This year’s winner were the hometown favorites, Telluride Brewing Company, which offered samples of its Face Down Brown Ale and American Style Brown Ale. While attendees strolled in the sunshine and tasted the variety of libations, Hamish Anderson and The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band filled the air with their own brand of blues tunes. Anderson, a young impressive guitar player put on an especially impressive and energetic set peppered with a couple of Grateful Dead and Beatles teases.

Saturday night featured sets from soulful and talented singer and guitar player Samantha Fish, blues guitar great Tab Benoit, and a tandem pairing of two legends, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’.

Fish, who also played later in the evening to a packed house at the Sheridan Opera House, showed why she was invited back after delivering a standout performance at least year’s event. Fish’s soulful voice and fiery electric guitar playing led her band, complete with backing horns, through a number of tunes that showcased her talent, including the swampy slide-guitar-laden “It’s Your Voodoo Working” and the delicate, hobbling blues of “Either Way I Lose.” Fish even brought the spirit of New Orleans to the audience when a group on the side of the stage began tossing out mardis gras beads into the crowd, which could be seen donning the necks of festival-goers for the rest of the weekend.

Benoit, another musician minted in New Orleans and a Blues and Brews festival favorite, put on a guitar workshop during his set while his air-tight rhythm section backed him without missing a step. Highlights from Benoit’s set included renditions of the swinging “One Foot in the Bayou” and a nod to his blues predecessors with “The Blues is Here to Stay.”

Saturday night’s headlining set brought out two legends Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ to perform songs from each others’ catalogs, as well as tunes off the self-titled album the pair recorded together earlier this year. Mahal sat on stage while Mo’ stood as the two played fan-favorites like Mo’s “Am I Wrong” and “Government Cheese.” A highlight of the set came with “Diving Duck Blues” from the pair’s new album, which featured the two trading off singing verses, Mo’s tasteful slide guitar work and Mahal’s deep, gravelly voice.

Sunday brought a cover of rain clouds to the event, but attendees were bundled up and prepared for the day of music. The festival was halted and attendees asked to evacuate briefly when a thunderstorm brought the threat of lightning strikes, however, the festival organizers were still able to reopen the doors after about an hour and shift set times to accommodate the packed lineup of music so that none of the sets would be missed.

Once the doors were reopened, Los Angeles-based Chicano Batman took the stage to deliver a high-energy set of the band’s psychedelic, bluesy R&B, which proved to be a great remedy to warm up the soggy audience. The band implored the audience to join the band and its backup singers in the feelgood chorus of “Freedom is Free,” a sunny, wah-wah-laden title track off the band’s new album.

The rain continued to hang around Town Park as Magpie Salute took the stage. The band was started by Black Crowes co-founder, Rich Robinson, along with his former Black Crowes bandmates, Marc Ford and Sven Pipien. The band seemed to be playing its energetic southern blues rock along with the rainstorm, with the band’s jamming matching the ebb and flow of the rainstorm as it changed in intensity throughout the band’s set. The rain jam culminated in a beautiful rainbow that appeared behind the crowd as the storm clouds broke for a few moments, stretching across the panoramic view of Telluride’s scenic surroundings.

Closing out the festival was headliner Steve Winwood, who performed songs spanning his musical career as a member of Traffic, Blind Faith and the Spencer Davis Group. Starting his set off with the funky “I’m a Man” off the Spencer Davis Group’s 1966 album Autumn ‘66, Winwood weaved a set of hits such as Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Had to Cry Today,” with the highlight coming in Traffic’s “Light Up or Leave Me Alone,” which featured an extended jam that saw nearly all the members in his band contributing solos. Windwood closed his set out with the energetic fan favorite “Gimme Some Lovin’” from his time with the Spencer Davis Group.

Although the weather had taken a turn on the final day of the festival, the cloud-covered day found its silver lining with a spectacular sunset that lit up the remaining clouds over the town in orange, red and purple — a treat that seemed well-deserved after the damp day, and provided the perfect culmination for the spectacular weekend of music.

View Ty's Full Photo Gallery Here!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Greensky Bluegrass & Fruition 9.23.17 (Photos)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Leftover Salmon's Blueridge Jam 9.22.17 (Photos)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Yak Attack & Cascade Crescendo 9.22.17 (Photos)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Broken Social Scene 9.21.17 (Photos)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Brad Parsons With Special Guests 9.21.17 (Photos)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Tenacious D 9.20.17 (Photos)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

BADBADNOTGOOD 9.19.17 (Photos)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hank Williams Jr. 9.16.17 (Photos)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Of Montreal 9.16.17 (Photos)

The Grey Eagle
Asheville, NC

Photos by Alex Cox

View Alex's Full Photo Gallery Here!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Billy Strings & Whiskey Shivers 9.15.17 (Photos)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Everyone Loves Asheville 9.9 & 9.10.17 (Photos)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Jeff Austin Band & Travelin' McCourys 9.9.17 (Photos)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Phish 9.1.17

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park
Commerce City, CO

Words by Mitch Melheim
Photos by Doug Fondriest Photography

Fresh off of this summer’s historic Baker’s Dozen run at Madison Square Garden, Phish returned to Colorado’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Park for their only 2017 shows west of the Mississippi. The exclusivity of which made the already tough ticket nearly impossibly to get for those who procrastinated, even in the slightest. The cheapest Friday tickets on StubHub were over $100 each and it only got worse as the weekend progressed ($300 for Sunday). Enough to scare most fan bases away, but after what had unfolded in New York City the month prior, phans eagerly flocked to Colorado, many ticketless, in hopes that the magic of those thirteen nights would spill over to the Rocky Mountains.

The lot scene was in full force, as expected at Dick’s. Shakedown Street was more like a full neighborhood and featured live music between vendor stations. Hundreds, maybe thousands were walking around with their finger in the air. Others were waiting hopelessly at the box office after eighteen tickets had been released earlier in the afternoon. The line grew to around a hundred people by showtime and while I’m almost positive no more tickets were ever released, the line only continued growing longer over the next two days. A sure sign of the desperation the weekend’s ticket situation had induced by that point.

After a long wait in line to get through the gates, we made our way down to the floor to “establish our domicile,” as a friend once explained it. Once that was established, we did as any good resident would do to break in their new abode, got high and waited for Phish.

“Blaze On” kicked off the weekend and while I wasn’t necessarily stoked on the opener choice, some impressive guitar work from Trey Anastasio and the always catchy chorus proved to be an enjoyable opener for me. Such was a recurring story for much of the first set as songs like “555” and “Breath and Burning” were more enjoyable than usual. Maybe that’s just because most of us westerners hadn’t seen the band since last Halloween. Regardless of the reason, the weekend was off to a much more successful start than it appeared on paper.

“Theme From the Bottom” > “Free” provided an interesting, but appreciated, dichotomy within the mood of the music and was tied together by a more uplifting ending than we’re used to getting from “Theme,” which fell perfectly into the blissful “Free” riff. Mike Gordon’s bass led the song’s funky jam segment, accompanied with some extraterrestrial synth work from Page McConnell.

The funk continued with a rare stretched-out “Tube” that reached the ten minute mark and was the sure highlight of the first set. The jam had a sound which I can only describe as “chicken funk,” meaning I felt like I had meandered off the pasture of cow funk and found a barnyard full of chickens “clucking.”

A soft segue into “Roggae” allowed the crowd time to catch their breath and sway a bit, eventually flowing into “More” and inciting one of my favorite corny sing-alongs. We vibrated and pulsated into and throughout the set break, only veering off course for a seventeen dollar cocktail because I was on vacation, damn it.

The second set is where this one really took off. “No Men in No Man’s Land” got the ball rolling and it never stopped as the band tied together a five-song set that most agree to be the best of the weekend. “No Men” clocked in at over twenty-four minutes and explored well beyond its typical funk jam into an ambient jam of evil proportions, eventually giving way to the opening chords of “Carini.”

The “Carini” jam, unsurprisingly, also took a sharp turn toward the gates of hell and then dropped into more ambience before Anastasio pulled us out of our trance and led the rest of the twenty-one minute jam into what would become a funky transition that yielded “Ghost.”

Solid group improvisation carried “Ghost” through multiple themes and into a drawn-out tease of “No Men” which went as far as featuring quotes from the song. Suddenly, we were over an hour into the set before the third song had finished.

That’s when the tempo slowed down a bit and Gordon’s bass signaled the beginning of “Harry Hood.” Nothing too out of the ordinary here and it soon gave way to the short and sweet set-closing “Cavern.”

A rather run-of-the-mill encore capped off the night. Rift’s closing combo “The Horse” > “Silent in the Morning” preceded “Character Zero,” whose sloppy start was soon forgotten as the crowd sang along and cheered to end the first night of what was shaping up to be another wild weekend in the Denver ‘burbs.

Doug Photo Gallery


Set One: Blaze On, 555, Breath and Burning, Theme From the Bottom > Free, Tube > Roggae > More

Set Two:
No Men In No Man's Land > Carini > Ghost > Harry Hood > Cavern

Encore: The Horse > Silent in the Morning > Character Zero

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Joe Russo's Almost Dead feat. Oteil Burbridge 8.31.17

Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Morrison, CO

Words by Mitch Melheim
Photos by Doug Fondriest Photography

After their initial Red Rocks debut was derailed due to inclement weather and moved indoors to Broomfield’s 1stBank Center, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (JRAD) was invited back for an end-of-summer date that conveniently kicked off “day zero” of Phish’s annual run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.

The show sold out well ahead of time, thanks to hoards of Phish fans flocking to the front range for the weekend, and by Thursday afternoon, tickets were becoming just as hard to get for JRAD as they were for Dick’s. “Miracle fingers” and cardboard signs lined the air as we made our way into the Red Rocks parking lot.

Dead & Company bassist Oteil Burbridge was slated to play the set with JRAD due to Dave Dreiwitz’s prior obligations with Ween. The opportunity to see Burbridge play Dead songs with a band that’s, well, I’ll just say it; better than Dead & Company, was exciting and only added to the feeling that this would be a special night.

Allowing folks time to find a seat after long lines delayed many, the band opened the night with some mellow improv before building into an intense peak and crashing into the nearly twenty minute “Here Comes Sunshine” which was dominated by the brilliance of Marco Benevento on keys.

The first set alone lasted nearly two hours and featured the type of setlist games we’re more accustomed to seeing from the Disco Biscuits than a Grateful Dead tribute act. One particular segment, “New Speedway Boogie” > “The Music Never Stopped” (Reprise) > “New Speedway Boogie” Jam > “The Music Never Stopped” Jam > “Dancing in the Streets” > “New Speedway Boogie” (Reprise) impressed me the most, proving that not only is it perfectly acceptable to reprise a song that you haven’t played yet, you don’t even have to play the actual song at all, opting instead for a funky jam based on “The Music Never Stopped” chord progression.

The second set brought upon more experimentation and several great segues, opening with “Jack Straw” and not stopping until the end of “I Know You Rider,” nearly ninety minutes later. “Feel Like a Stranger” faded into a spacey jam and eventually a short, instrumental cover/tease of “Harry Hood” which opened up the floodgates that would eventually bring us “Bathtub Gin” and “Stash” teases as well. The influence of Phish (somewhat ironically) was felt strongly throughout the whole night, both in the crowd and on the stage.

The thing that I love most about JRAD is their ability to take some of the most oft-played music in the modern world and completely make it their own, offering new twists and turns along the way. A great example of this was during the second set when they played “China Cat Sunflower” and instead of following it up with the expected segue into “I Know You Rider,” they stuffed “The Eleven,” “The Wheel,” and “There is a Mountain” (Donovan’s tune that became the basis of the Allman Brothers’ “Mountain Jam”) into the middle of The Dead’s most commonly paired duo.

The band closed the second set with “Morning Dew,” which will go down as one of my favorite Red Rocks memories. It was so quiet you could hear a hash pen drop and then all of a sudden, it began pouring rain almost perfectly in sync with the intensity of the song. Afterwards, a fitting encore of “And We Bid You Goodnight,” sung acapella, sent us home feeling both nostalgic and inspired.

That, right there, is perhaps the most special thing about JRAD. They hold an obvious respect for the history of the music that when combined with their incessant need to push it beyond it’s boundaries creates a beast which cannot be tamed. One that appeals to everybody, young and old, progressive and traditional. There’s a reason that they’re able to sell out Red Rocks a week in advance as a tribute act. A fairly new tribute act, at that. Make no mistake though, this is more of a supergroup that plays Dead songs than your run of the mill “tribute act.”

Doug's Photo Gallery


Set One: Jam > Here Comes Sunshine > Reuben & Cherise > Jam > Mama Tried, New Speedway Boogie > The Music Never Stopped (Reprise) > New Speedway Boogie Jam > The Music Never Stopped Jam > Dancing In The Streets > New Speedway Boogie Reprise > Box of Rain, He’s Gone > Truckin’ > Born Cross Eyed Jam

Set Two: Jack Straw > Feel Like A Stranger > Harry Hood Jam > China Cat Sunflower > The Eleven > The Wheel > There Is A Mountain > I Know You Rider, Greatest Story Ever Told, Morning Dew

Encore: We Bid You Goodnight

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Todd Sheaffer & Dead Floyd 9.8.17 (Photos)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Jimmy Herring & The Invisible Whip 9.7.17 (Photos)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Summer Meltdown 8.10 - 8.13.17

Whitehorse Mountain Amphitheater
Darrington, WA

Words by Mitch Melheim
Photos by Coleman Schwartz Media

Progressive and constantly evolving, Summer Meltdown has blossomed from a backyard party with friends into one of the premier music festivals in the Pacific Northwest. The festival took their most significant leap toward contending with bigger name festivals in 2015 with a lineup that featured Tycho, Greensky Bluegrass, Galactic, and STS9’s first Pacific Northwest appearance in two years. It was also the year that they decided to set themselves apart from those same festivals by adding what they called “adventures” that included whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and even helicopter rides. Thus, Summer Meltdown was rebranded as a music, camping, and adventure festival, and it’s new identity was born.

The next year, they brought back STS9, added Griz, Gramatik, and Beats Antique into the equation, and gave most folks in the region their first glimpse at Twiddle. Now, here we are in 2017 with two nights of The String Cheese Incident, The Polish Ambassador, Nahko, and The Floozies; a far cry from 2014’s lineup of Allen Stone, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Lord Huron.

It isn’t just the lineup that’s grown. A full-blown late night area, well, now two of them, have both played a huge part in the festival’s recent growth. The main late night area, which began in 2015, features mostly electronic music and is where the majority of the festival’s truly impressive art installations are held. The second late night area, new in 2017 and called the “Forest Stage,” is just that, a forest. Uneven ground and trees are everywhere, even between you and the stage, with plenty of glowing installations abound. This is where the jams were.

No review of Summer Meltdown is complete without a mention of the river. Just a short walk from your campsite and with plenty of room to either party or get away from everybody, the river takes up most of the attendees’ daytimes due to the music not starting until the afternoon. If you aren’t at the river, then you’re probably out on an adventure or doing who knows what in the almost completely wooded campgrounds.

By this point in the summer, I’ve become tired of the typical festival review format. I assume that most of you are also tired of reading the same ol’ cookie cutter review so I am going to change it up for this, my last festival of the summer. I’ve compiled ten award categories for what is the first edition of my Music Festival Awards.

Music Festival Awards: Summer Meltdown 2017

Best Stage Production: The String Cheese Incident (Lighting Designer, Andrew Cass)

The first award goes to the String Cheese Incident’s LD, Andrew Cass. The density of their light setup was the first thing both me and my photographer noticed and commented on. With these lights packed in so tightly, it created a complex effect that blended itself into new colors and designs. Cass opts to keep it fairly simple with no video screen or lasers, as opposed to The Floozies whose extravagant laser setup takes the runner-up spot in this category.

Most Impressive Artist (Vocals): Corey Frye (The Main Squeeze)

The Main Squeeze are a band that most have heard of by now, but are still new enough, especially in this area of the country, that you get the perk of watching people’s faces light up who have never seen them before. They’re loud and powerful, as much so as any funk band I think I’ve ever seen live. So is lead singer Corey Frye’s voice. The set-closing “Whiskey, Women, and Cocaine” let him flaunt himself a bit, going acapella near the end and leaving many awestruck until guitarist Max Newman picked it back up for one final, dance-inducing jam.

Most Impressive Artist (Instrumental): Isaac Teel (Tauk)

Isaac Teel is the most impressive young drummer in the jam scene right now. I say that with confidence. His power and tenacity are matched only by his speed and quickness, a deadly combination with any band, but particularly useful with Tauk’s heavy and dark brand of instrumental music. This was one of the few sets of the weekend that I chose to spend backstage and that was one hundred percent because I wanted to get a better view of Teel’s drumming.

Best Collaboration: Bonnie Paine (Elephant Revival) sitting in with The String Cheese Incident

This collaboration stuck out for one particular reason, Paine actually recorded the song (“My One and Only”) with the band, lending her noteworthy vocals to the Kyle Hollingsworth-penned tune. What made it even more special was the fact that it was the first time they had played the song together live, the way it was meant to be. It starts out as a typical love song, but eventually bursts into a blissfully cheesy ending that turns it into an enjoyable tune for me.

Most Surprising Set of the Weekend: Polyrhythmics

Make no mistake about it, already well-established in the Pacific Northwest at this point, Seattle’s funk powerhouse, Polyrhythmics, have been on my radar for quite some time and I’m well aware of the tremendous talent they possess as a collective unit. With that being said, I’m still calling this the most surprisingly satisfying set of the weekend for me. Something about their sound I feel has clicked. If you’re unaware of this band or haven’t heard them yet, I urge you to check them out. Even better, go see them live.

Most Improved Act of the Weekend: Boombox

I had admittedly been bored by the majority of Boombox shows I had seen leading up to this set. That was not the case at Summer Meltdown. Their recent lineup change (DJ Harry replaced producer and founding member Russ Randolph) seems to have revitalized the group, at least for me. DJ Harry adds a bit more of a bounce into their sound that I used to find overwhelmingly monotonous.

Best Jam of the Weekend: Pirates (The String Cheese Incident - Saturday)

This Latin-inspired jazz instrumental has become quite the rarity, being played for only the fifth time since 2007. Often, I find that those “rare” songs that jam bands have and their fans long for tend to be a bit overrated, due to the novelty of hearing it live. That’s not the case with “Pirates.” It’s a great song and this particular version took off toward the middle of what became an eighteen minute jam of epic proportions. Keith Moseley’s bass and Kyle Hollingsworth’s synthesizer took things over after a brief portion led by Michael Kang’s soaring electric mandolin. Once the bass and synth took over, things got just down right filthy. The funk was muddy and blended perfectly with Hollingsworth’s synth pads and ample percussion from Michael Travis and Jason Hann, making for prime and tasteful electro-Cheese.

(Listen to “Pirates” from 8/12/17 here.)

Best Set of the Weekend (Late Nights): Yak Attack (Thursday - Forest Stage)

Everywhere this band goes, they make their presence felt. Well on their way to becoming the region’s go-to late night act, Yak Attack’s funky, jazzy, dubby, sometimes housey, but always groovy brand of organic livetronica has helped the group establish themselves as a sure thing amongst festival promoters looking to throw a dance party into the wee hours.

An opening segment of “Ion The Sky” > “Marian’s House” started things off proper and gave us what was probably the best segue of the night. Their unique take on the “Stranger Things” theme song and even more unique sounding “⅞ Tech” built the meat of the set before the often-jammed out “Kinetic Dub Station,” which did not disappoint. The crowd energy reached a peak near the end of their set when the band opted for an appropriately uptempo cover of The New Deal’s “Receiver.”

Best Set of the Weekend (Garden Stage): Tauk (Friday)

This could’ve also gone to Yak Attack for their Thursday night set, but for variety’s sake, the award goes to Tauk’s stage-closing set on Friday night. This band has an interesting sound that is still somewhat new to the Pacific Northwest aside from a tour with Umphrey’s McGee and one headlining tour last year. Both their drummer (Teel) and keyboardist, A.C. Carter, possess rare talent that is near impossible to overlook and add to their unique sound that is nearly impossible to narrow down. Are they a jam band? Are they livetronica? You’re best bet is just sticking with the label they’ve given themselves, “Heavy Instrumental Rock Fusion.” Even they don’t know what they play.

Best Set of the Weekend (Main Stage): The String Cheese Incident (Sunday - Set 2)

After a fantastic Saturday night set that featured the aforementioned “Pirates,” as well as great versions of both “Rollover” and “Search,” the first set of their Sunday show got off to a slow start until a wild “Lonesome Fiddle Blues” eventually got things rolling. After a set-closing “Texas,” the band took a short break and came back out for what proved to be the best set of the weekend.

Opening with “Shine,” the only true contender for the Jam of the Weekend award other than “Pirates,” things were weird and spacey from the get go. A rare cover of the Beatles’ “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” followed and also included a spacey jam which segued into “Piece of Mind.” After the other window song, “Hotel Window,” a thirty-plus minute segment of “Rivertrance” and “Just One Story” solidified the set as the best of the weekend, with “Rosie” and the encore cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” being the icing on the cake.

(Listen to Sunday’s second set here.)

Coleman's 8.10 - 8.11 Photo Gallery

Coleman's 8.12 - 8.13 Photo Gallery

Friday, September 8, 2017

Rocky Mountain Folks Festival 8.18 - 8.20.17

Planet Bluegrass
Lyons, CO

Words & Photos by Ty Hyten

As US-36 transformed from highway to city street to a scenic bicycle-lined road along the gold and green foothills, a feeling of peace sunk in. For the three days to follow, the only thing left for me to do was to pitch a tent, get a wristband, and soak in music, in or around the Saint Vrain River.

The beauty of the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival is both in the scenery and tempo. With one mainstage, fifteen minute breaks between sets, and nice, lengthy one-hour plus sets from every artist, there’s no rushing around for fear of missing something. If you need a beer, go grab one. If you want to dip in the river, there’s plenty of time for that too. In fact, some of the most prime spots for taking in the music are in a stretch of shallow water, just right of the stage, that festival-goers fill with camping chairs. There are camping spots along the river and if you get hungry for breakfast, you can walk into the tiny downtown of Lyons.

The 27th Annual Folks Fest began peacefully. After I pitched my tent and exchanged hellos with a couple of friendly strangers, I walked into a set from Scottish singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni. Like many of the artists over the weekend, Sermanni spent the first half of the week at The Song School, a four day sleepaway camp of sorts for songwriters to hone and share their craft.

Up on the massive ship-like mainstage at Lyon’s Planet Bluegrass, Sermanni’s acoustic set was haunting and beautiful. Her songs felt traditional and contemporary at once – a ghostly old soul channeled through a young woman. Songs like “The Fog,” “Ferryman,” and “Sleep” sucked the daylight from the scorching afternoon sun and transported me into a gorgeous fog, somewhere else. This was accompanied and offset by Sermanni’s delightfully dry sense of humor and genuine gratitude to be sharing her songs with the large, captive audience.

During pauses in the set, children could be heard playing in the river – stacking stones, tubing, and splashing. The temperatures and the sun of the day were brutal all three days, so parents and artists alike took to the river as a refreshing respite from the shirt soaking heat. The river was gentle, but fast and a tube ride was a necessary activity.

The pinnacle of the festival arrived on the first evening, with a man I consider one of Colorado’s treasures, though his career has planted him firmly in the national and international hearts at this point. Gregory Alan Isakov and his talented band of hometown heroes delivered a powerful, transformative set. After the dark of night fell, Isakov took the captive audience along with him into a deep well of place, time, and emotion – transmitted as sound. He is a master of the songwriting craft. His songs gave me goosebumps, and competing emotions of heartfelt joy and deep sorrow tugged back-and-forth at one another, leaving me somewhere between a full smile and tears. Songs like “Liars” and “This Empty Northern Hemisphere” built to great waves, washing through the expansive 4,000 person crowd, breathing energy into festival sun beaten bodies.

The festival could have ended right then and there and I would have be the most content I’d been in weeks, but the energy of the show rolled out into the campgrounds, volkswagen campers, and into two more nights of fantastic shows.

As the sun rose on Saturday, children played loudly as though they hadn’t a clue what waking to screaming at 7AM feels like for a man who had stained his teeth purple during the latter half of his favorite artist’s set the night prior. The sun also wasted no time turning a cheap tent into a toaster oven. It was clear that the time had come to wrestle with an ill-fitted air mattress pump and some cheap tubes and float the St. Vrain.

The morning atmosphere on the festival grounds was that of a comfortable neighborhood. Strangers smiled and good mornings were exchanged. On the mainstage, I found Australia’s The Mae Trio, on their first US tour. Their three-part harmonies were beautiful and turned what I thought would be a quick couple of songs into a permanent seat. Their gorgeous pop bluegrass and Australian wit made a new fan out of me.

North Carolina duo Mandolin Orange was another highlight of day two. Their Americana-melding music is both sweet and approachable while still being lyrically substantial. Songs like “Gospel Shoes” and “Wildfire” were remarkably poignant in the current climate in this country and packed a strong message atop gentle mandolin tremolos. While they typically travel as a duo, they played on the mainstage with a full band. Many of the band members were on the recording of their latest album, Blindfaller, and breathed that same life into their live set.

One of the biggest surprises of the day was Loudon Wainwright III. The prolific singer-songwriter, actor, and funny-man is a fantastic songwriter. The humor in many of his songs is subtle, but his humor on stage at Folks Fest was even stronger than the melodies of classics like “The Swimming Song.” Those who weren’t familiar with his folks songs, may have recognized him from on screen appearances in movies like Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, M*A*S*H, or The Aviator.

Thankfully, Wainwright’s contract must not have made too many demands on keeping it clean for the hundreds of children in the audience. He got off to an early start, sharing with the kiddos the importance of saying “fuck you dad!” every now and then. His material, often lighthearted but brilliant, touched on topics such as sex, divorce, “that bitch Susy, at the Durango airport,” and his regiment of old man meds on the funniest song of the set, “My Meds.” Loudon’s irreverence delivered some true belly laughs and his honesty and sense of humor about growing old were comforting. In a tribute to his late father, an editor at Life Magazine, Wainwright read a long obituary for a dog that his father had written. It was a little bizarre for a concert, but entertaining nonetheless. He gave me hope for still having some fun in my seventies.

With Saturday’s sunset came another Colorado band, Elephant Revival, that has spilled out of our four borders and gained fans from across the country. If their Red Rocks show earlier this year was a homecoming, playing Planet Bluegrass must have been like playing in the backyard. Singer Daniel Rodriguez lives just over the ridge from the venue. Their set was a jungle of grooves and excited rhythms. They have a diverse musical identity that floated on the fiddle of Bridget Law one moment, the next the warm vocals of Rodriguez. Bonnie Paine’s quivering vocals were as haunting and gorgeous as the saw she occasionally played with a bow. They were joined by special guest Josh Ritter, to cover his “Girl In The War” and were later joined by Yonder Mountain String Band’s Jacob Jolliff on Mandolin. The show was missing the aerialists that often dances above them on stage, but no entertainment value was lost. Much like Gregory Alan Isakov, they’ve found themselves at the forefront of the Colorado music scene, and for good reason.

Saturday night closed with a change of genre and a lift in energy with The Revivalists. Frontman David Shaw worked the crowd, pacing the front of the the stage, hanging his legs down and singlehandedly moving more than all of the members of the bands that preceded. Their funk inspired pop-rock ended up feeling a little more like something brewed in Southern California than their hometown of New Orleans. Though they were slightly outside of this year’s Folks Fest wheelhouse, they mostly had people feeling good and going crazy upfront.

Sunday morning’s dip into music began mostly out of curiosity. The music of Ramy Essam, an Egyptian singer-songwriter, didn’t really grab me upon first listen in the days before the festival because I couldn’t understand the words. The night before his set, I was told his backstory. Ramy was the musical voice of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. His protest performances in Tahrir Square helped fuel the opposition that toppled the Mubarak regime. His music gained fame and he paid in the form of arrest and torture. I had to give him a second chance.

Most of his set, with the exception of a great cover of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama,” was all in Egyptian. His message between songs was in English. It was a simple and true message of the power of love and protest. Even though the audience had no idea what they were singing, they felt the music and sang along. His set ended with a huge conga line of people arm in arm singing for peace, “for just one day.” It was powerful.

The scene backstage on Sunday was familial. Musicians from all over the country (and the globe) mingled, exchanging hugs and talking along the river. Artists swam alongside friends, members of Elephant Revival and Dave Rawlings Machine floated down the river in tubes, and Lake Street Dive’s Rachael Price stopped to pose with a little girl.

One of my favorite parts of the day was an acoustic performance by Josh Ritter. Josh’s big smile and all-American aw-shucks demeanor was contagious. The absence of his usual band, ended up allowing him to drive the songs with just an acoustic guitar, laying focus on his craft of telling great stories through song. Upbeat newer songs like “Getting Ready to Get Down” and “Showboat” were naked, but still bursting with energy. “Idaho” and “Best for the Best” were bare and heartfelt. “Snow Is Gone” was a personal highlight, even without the drums to pickup up the beat for the chorus, the song soared; Ritter’s arm was madly strumming with a big ‘ol smile on his face.

Lake Street Dive did what The Revivalists had done the night prior and pumped a sudden burst of energy into the crowd. Rachael Price’s sultry vocals paired with the blast of Mike Olsen’s trumpet snapped people out of a blanket coma and drew them into the night. Mike Calabrese’s drumming helped get shoulders moving and heads shaking upfront. Their performance drew me from the sidelines of casual fandom to full on swimming in the pool.

The long, wonderful weekend came to an end with the Americana supergroup that is Dave Rawlings Machine. Longtime legends and collaborators David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, were joined by Willie Watson, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show, Brittany Haas, formerly of Crooked Still, and Paul Kowert, of the Punch Brothers. Rawlings, Welch, and Watson each took turns leading on their own songs, including Welch’s “Look At Miss Ohio,” and Rawlings’ and Ryan Adams’ “To Be Young.” Watson shared a handful of covers he has recorded solo and with Old Crow, like “Samson and Delilah,” as made famous by the Grateful Dead. The set was deep with classic covers and David Rawlings’ original modern imagining of yesterday’s porch music. Rawlings’ fingers ran up and down the fretboard, frantically and evenly picking wandering leads. The band shared several songs from Rawlings outstanding new album Poor David’s Almanack as well. One of the last covers of the weekend spoke the loudest, a cover of “This Land Is Your Land.” If it was meant to or not, it was the last piece in a theme that dominated the weekend, the theme of love and inclusion. The week leading into the festival was a rough one for this country. The ideas shared on stage, the community, the peace, and the songs of the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival were a reminder that love will win, and that everything is going to be okay.

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