Planet Bluegrass Ranch
July 23- July 25, 2010
While the Telluride Bluegrass Festival marks the official arrival of summer in June, Colorado’s outdoor bluegrass season is never fully realized until RockyGrass settles into its home in late July.
Whereas Telluride dials up the fest-o-meter with the addition of big-name acts that sometimes plummet a little beyond the radius of the bluegrass/newgrass radar, RockyGrass focuses on hosting the kind of authentic roots talent that gives the genre of bluegrass its unique position in American music. This year’s gathering saw the inclusion of genre artists Doc Watson, Bobby Osbourne and Peter Rowan and further stacked the deck with the likes of David Grisman, Sam Bush, Tim O’Brien, and Dan Tyminski, amongst several other notables.
In addition to these, the inclusion of some of the best up-and-coming talent on the bluegrass scene today made the festival seem surreally grand to those that had set up camp along the shaded banks of the St. Vrain Creek on the Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Lyons, CO.
Due to a back injury guitar wizard Tony Rice, scheduled to perform a couple times over the weekend, was unable to attend. In spite of everyone’s disappointment at this unfortunate turn of events, the show went on. Hot Rize/Red Knuckles bassist/guitarist Nick Forster was called upon to replace Rice and join Bryan Sutton on Friday. The result was pleasing enough to get the bluegrass mojo rolling for the weekend.
The hot pickin’ duet of Sutton and Forster gave way to Alaska-bred favorite Bearfoot, who put down a well received set that was marked by gorgeous vocal harmonies and go-for-broke instrumental breaks.
Bearfoot’s shining effort that centered on the efforts of its female members, set the tone for wunderkind mandolinist/vocalist Sierra Hull, who followed with her outfit, Highway 111. Hull’s set fit in perfectly, as her silky vocals carried pleasantly on the soft breeze of a balmy afternoon. Progressive powerhouse Greensky Bluegrass then took the stage for a fun set that turned some heads with a quirky jamgrass cover of Lionel Richie’s “Dancin’ on the Ceiling.”
As evening settled in, the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band took the stage. By the time Pete started yodeling on his classic “Land of the Navajo,” the audience was feeling that special RockyGrass vibration, the beautiful red rock walls over the creek lending themselves to the ancient feel of the western hills. As a nightcap, country/bluegrass cross-over artist Patty Loveless and her band wrapped up Friday’s offerings with a fun set of her award-winning country ditties.
Saturday dawned with yet another perfect summer day. Inner tubers floated down the creek (with some festivarians raising the tubing bar as they bobbed by on floating couches) and young children and families were out in full force – splashing, dancing and making the Planet Bluegrass ranch the special place that it becomes during RockyGrass.
The first couple of hours of the fest were broadcast live on Boulder’s KGNU community radio station. Radio listeners along the Front Range were treated to the sounds of the instrument contest finals as well as music by Nashville’s Farewell Drifters. After some hot sets by Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen and the Infamous Stringdusters, Arthel “Doc” Watson took the stage for a much anticipated performance.
Doc and his band, which included David Holt, Richard Watson and T. Michael Coleman, awed the audience with immensely pleasing runs through some of his longtime favorites, including well rendered versions of "Shady Grove" and "Deep River Blues." This set served as Saturday’s highlight, with other notables including a blistering hot set by the Travelin’ McCourys featuring Dan Tyminski and Wyatt Rice, followed by a genre-pushing performance by the Horse Flies that displayed how bluegrass music can be interpreted with a modern spin while still retaining its authenticity.
Sunday at RockyGrass is always special. Being the last day of the three-day fest, it tends to be as relaxed and refreshing as the summer waters of the creek. Lyons resident, K.C. Groves and Long Road Home started things off with a much anticipated set. Groves and LRH were joined by Pete “Dr. Banjo” Wernick. Their set included some Carter family material and some standout picking by guitarist Martin Gilmore and mandolin player Jordan Ramsey.
As the day progressed, we would bear witness to the down-home authentic Virginia-style bluegrass sound of Junior Sisk and Rambler’s Choice with a set that was punctuated by fine harmonies between Junior and the bass player Tim Massey. The set served as an excellent preamble to Alison Brown & Fair Weather Friends, who cooked up a crowd pleasing set with a little help from band mates Joe Craven, Casey Dreissen, and a special Sunday visit from Sam Bush.
Original Osbourne Brother, Bobby Osbourne, would fill the “real deal/living legend" shoes slot this year. He and his band played through a nice string of true Southern bluegrass staples that included his 1967 classic "Rocky Top" and did not leave a single face without a smile.
No RockyGrass would be the same without some music from Tim O’Brien, who would serve as the warm-up act for what would turn into the true main event, a great set by Wyatt Rice, Josh Williams, Rob Ickes, Bryn Davies, and special guest David Grisman (who made a very special surprise appearance at this year’s fest). While the absence of Tony Rice was felt, let it be noted that Tony’s younger brother Wyatt earned a pile of new fans with his jaw-dropping guitar work over the course of the weekend through sit-ins with The Travelin’ McCoury’s amongst others.)
RockyGrass 2010 went out with a characteristically awe inspiring set by the Sam Bush Bluegrass Band, who, in true Sam form, pulled in just about every artist backstage by the time the last note of the Sunday evening cluster pluck had been played. With the crowd yelping and whooping, Bush hit some of his favorites including “Howlin’ at the Moon” and “Bringin’ in the Georgia Mail” before leading an all-star bluegrass army through some sizzling standards wherein he, Grisman, and Wernick squared off for some classic onstage banter and antics as the crowd hung on every note before dispersing into the warm Colorado night.
On its whole, this year was as big of a success as the 37 predecessor years. The only true disappointment was the absence of Tony Rice. However, even without one of its slated headliners, the festival still delivered on what it promises – a festival in a breathtaking atmosphere with something for everyone: creeks, mountain biking, hiking, and enough bluegrass to keep the scooting aplenty. To say RockyGrass is a tradition would not do it justice. It is a staple that is sure to live on, as its legacy does nothing but grow and embed itself in generation after generation.