State Bridge concluded their summer season with the annual YarmonyGrass, a festival loved by Colorado bluegrass fans. This year’s festival was more low-key and relaxed than usual, but the number of people who turned out proved that YarmonyGrass still has a loyal local following whose dedication to the music remains unwavering. It was also a bit more eclectic than past years, with the Jam scene taking over on the second night. Despite some disappointment with the changes in the line-up, the performances exceeded attendees’ expectations. Complaints were few and far between as the weekend continued and the unexpected blending of genres provided the guaranteed thrill of entertainment that YarmonyGrass is well known for.
Arriving at the campground just after noon, we set up the tents, cracked a few beers and set out to meet some fellow festival-goers. Ours were among the first tents pitched and we watched as campers slowly filed in. The volume was unusually small, providing a spacious campground that was more comfortable than if it had been tent-to-tent, especially when a tenacious rain came with the onset of evening. When the skies cleared up and the sun came out we made dinner, took a hike up to where we could see the venue, and then made our way down to it.
Upon arrival, She Said String Band and Bluegrass Delta Force opened; they complimented the raucous set of “Rocky Mountain Guerrilla Grass” that Oakhurst brought next. Led by vocalists A.P. Hill and C. Max Paley, the band provided the high-energy fun we needed after having survived the elements. The music was hyper as the crowd jumped and twirled. Under now clear skies, we heard Oakhurst perform originals like “Jim and Nan” and a cover of “Big City Woman”–just a few of the more memorable moments of the set. The band’s beautiful lyrics were sung with equally awe-inspiring vocals, and both worked together to create an unforgettable set. Finishing the set, Hill was spotted having humbly joined us in the audience to watch the night’s headlining performance from Drew Emmitt’s Joint Set, featuring Scott Law, banjoist Andy Thorn and Keith Moseley of the String Cheese Incident.
There were Grateful Dead related tracks aplenty in the set performed by Drew Emmitt and the crew, including “Deep Elem Blues,” “Midnight Moonlight” and “Big River.” Moseley was on vocals for a number of tracks, giving us those smooth, soulful sounds that lead a melody just right. Thorn blew away the crowd with his acclaimed skills on the banjo stealing the crowd’s attention. This “joint set” was something unprecedented–a recipe that included some of Colorado’s most talented musicians. Despite the late hour, the crowd was abundantly pleased with the evening’s events. The lesson of this first night at YarmonyGrass: never knock the lineup ’til you’ve tried it. Besides, what’s better than a piece of all of your favorite bands on one stage together? Answer: Nothing.
The sun rose early Saturday morning and would remain there until night, which was a blessing to us all. The day’s weather was perfect for the afternoon festivities which took place at the campground about five miles up the road, at Rancho Del Rio. Tyler Grant and Andy Thorn, The Kitchen Dwellers and Missed the Boat performed as campers grabbed their tubes and rafts and floated down the Colorado River. We spent the day on a clean, cool river before another long night of music. No need for a designated driver when you can swim your way down to the main venue. Feeling rather dirty after a night of camping, it was refreshing to bathe in the river before the night ahead. From there, festival-goers made their way to their respective camps to fire up the grill and put on warmer clothes.
The second night of music began under a luminous moon with The Olora Brothers, Bonfire Dub and Chris Thompson & Coral Creek. The Drunken Hearts were then brought onto the YarmonyGrass stage for their annual set. Festival founding father Andrew McConathy and The Drunken Hearts brought us their twangy bluegrass, provided a smooth transition into the night’s headliner and brought the festival full circle. Throughout the weekend, each performance was as original as the next, yet all kept in line with the theme of the weekend.
The Drunken Hearts began the night’s dance party and, with time between sets, the performers at the side stage were consistently to the rescue. At some point, a DJ led the crowd into a funky groove; it was a fantastic segue into the late night music. Mixing Funk with Hip-Hop with Reggae and more, our “break” from the main stage was a whole lot more of the endless fun.
Around midnight, Honkytonk Observatory began their headlining set and slowed it down with their tireless jams and brilliant mix of musical talent. The band, including SCI’s Bill Nershi, turned everything around with their kaleidoscopic jam session that lasted late into the night. As the night turned into morning we made our way back to the campground. Waking up under that Colorado-blue sky made it difficult to leave our weekend of serenity.
The annual YarmonyGrass turned out to be another awesome weekend. The only thing that would have made it better was that third day we enjoyed in past years but missed in 2013–we want more! Either way, the festival is a Rocky Mountain tradition that will only get better with age. Thanks to McConathy and the rest of the performers, State Bridge, and the state of Colorado for bringing us a fantastic weekend of amazing music; it will not be forgotten.