21st Annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival 2011

Santafe.com - September 7, 2011

"...this is a festival to look forward to all year long"

Every year, there are big and little surprises at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. From first peering over the artist line-up email (subscribe to their newsletter at Planetbluegrass.com) to arriving at the festival grounds full of anticipation and then three days of glee experiencing talented vocalists and musicians sharing their craft, this is a festival to look forward to all year long.

The Rocky Mountain Folks Festival is put on by the Planet Bluegrass folks – you probably know them for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival or Rockygrass Festival – and I have to tell you this staff has ‘festivarianism’ in their blood. It’s Festival Heaven -- from the crisp, perfect sound from the stage (no matter where you’re standing on the festival grounds) to the ‘Sustainable Festivation’ – picture a recycling/composting program with a teenage volunteer posted at stations throughout the grounds to help you sort your ‘stuff’ -- to the high caliber of performers (can you say ‘Brandi Carlile’?).

You’re welcomed from the moment you arrive at the outdoor, covered ticket counter, and it’s the most streamlined, accessible, error-free check-in you’ll ever find. THIS is the way festivals are meant to be!

The 2011 Folks Festival sold-out – which is a big heads-up to plan for next year. From the friendly community of the town of Lyons , to the crystal clear St. Vrain river running beside the stage (bring the kids for innertubing!!) to a festival community tarp-to-tarp under the blue skies of Colorado, there really isn’t anyplace I’d rather be.

The three-day festival begins Friday morning, with finalists from the Songwriter Showcase, a nationally-recognized songwriting competition; this year’s finalists stretched from San Francisco to New York, clear to Montreal, Quebec. It’s a great opportunity for emerging artists, and big news this year, KBAC-FM/Radio Free Santa Fe’s darling, Jason Spooner, placed as a top-ten finalist in this year’s competition (out of nearly 500 entries). Kudos, Jason!! Top place went to Caleb Hawley of New York, who wins a Taylor guitar, $300 cash, PLUS Caleb will perform a full set on the Main Stage at next year’s Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. Quite the jump-start for a singer-songwriter!

On Friday, following the Songwriter Showcase, Vance Gilbert entertained the crowd, with plenty of storytelling and song. Top artist-new-to-me surprise was Anais Mitchell, on Ani DiFranco’s label, who swooned and soared for the packed crowd, singing several cuts from her Folk Opera, Hadestown (featuring notable guest artists including Greg Brown and Ani DiFranco – both prior years’ Folks Festival performers). Pick up this CD – you won’t be sorry.

Next up was Livingston Taylor (yes, James’ younger brother) whose 40+ year music career shone brightly with "crafting introspective heartwarming songs…"

p> Next up was Sweet Honey in the Rock, followed by Martin Sexton, leading to the grand finale of the day, with Brandi Carlile headlining the night. We sat in awe as she blew us away with her stunning performance – from her far-reaching vocals (the best rendition of Patsy Cline’s "Crazy" I’ve ever heard, and not surprising; Brandi first discovered music through her mother’s love of Patsy) to her command of the stage and her incredibly tight band, this was an act not to be missed!! If Brandi Carlile is coming through your town, don’t you dare miss the show!!

Saturday’s performances began with Megan Burtt, the 2010 Songwriter Showcase finalist, then on to saucy Australian songwriter Mama Kin, who engaged the crowd with "New Orleans swamp and foot-stomping piano grooves…" as she shared her stories of life, love and rising above. Mama Kin was perfect festival medicine to accompany cooling off in the St. Vrain River or just hanging out with friends tarpside.

The afternoon line-up brought festivarians a KBAC-fave, Mary Gauthier, followed by Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion (yes, Sarah Lee being the youngest daughter of Arlo and granddaughter of Woody). Early evening cast an exciting collaboration of Red Horse: Eliza Gilkyson, John Gorka & Lucy Kaplansky, featuring trade-offs on covering each others’ songs, as on the album of the same name. With ‘landmark 20+ year careers, swapping lead vocals and wrapping each other’s songs in warm, inviting harmonies’, the only thing that could have improved this trio was a longer set!

We then waited with anticipation for Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band – if you haven’t seen Josh Ritter perform, his energy is contagious, and his stage antics leave you wanting more. You can’t go wrong with Josh Ritter’s CD’s – if they aren’t already in your library, check ‘em out!

Saturday night wrapped up with three generations of songwriters -- none other than Bob Weir, Chris Robinson (lead singer for the Black Crowes) and Jackie Greene. The weather cooperated for a beautiful night under the Colorado skies, with harmonies highlighted by the talented Jackie Greene.

Sunday morning began with Tim Eriksen, followed by Danielle Ate the Sandwich, and intriguing Dan Mangan in the early afternoon. The brilliant harmonies and evocative music of The Civil Wars had us wanting more. And speaking of more, if we hadn’t had to drive back to Santa Fe, we would have loved to have stayed for the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Missy Higgins and the infamous Jackson Browne.

Don’t miss out next year!! The Rocky Mountain Folks Festival is the best festival around. Check out www.planetbluegrass.com to sign on for 2012 dates and festivarian news!!!

Photo Credits: Robert J. Kelly