Mon, 04/29/2013 - 6:49 pm

It's always exciting to be caught off guard by the abilities of a band you've never seen. Having heard amazing things about Rocktin Grove—a group out of Boulder—I was excited to finally see them play, especially at their biggest headlining show yet: The Fox Theater.

Friday night began with a Washington DC based trio Mission South, whose sound could be described as bluesy rock with a lot of soul. Playing songs that made you want to close your eyes and feel the power and fervor of the band, they eased their way through their music, never rushing into or out of a jam, always taking the time to allow the tune to flourish. Even when they pulled Wilson Howard, the banjoist and lead guitarist from Rocktin Grove on the stage, these practiced musicians never lost the integrity of their style or abilities.

The second band to grace the Fox’s stage was Green River Vibe, a six-piece band from Denver. They primed the crowd for a long night of dancing with groovy reggae tunes. Despite their rhythm guitarist’s broken arm, he was still able to contribute his music abilities by rocking the keys in conjunction with Ableton. After some dancy beats and a couple covers, including a fun rendition of “I Shot the Sheriff,” GRV left the crowd in good spirits and excited for more music.

When Rocktin Grove appeared on stage, Jon Kimbell (mandolin/vocals), Will Viitanen (drums), Wilson Harwood (guitar/banjo/vocals), Adrian Flynt (bass/vocals) Nate Luebbe (mandolin/violin), Theo Farver (acoustic guitar, percussion, harmonica, vocals) and Garrett Cropsey (saxophone/vocals) found themselves in a nearly full venue. Spirits were high and the floor was packed with excited locals who had been waiting for this moment the entire night. Starting off their set with a mellow tune, they brought the energy of the crowd into their hands through slow and controlled melodies, before dropping effortlessly into “Garden Song,” a fun, hip-swinging song that made you feel a little like you were in the tropics.

What stood out most about this band from the very first song was their ability to play in a way that complimented each other’s abilities. Through all their incredibly tight playing and all their quick changes in both genre and tempo, the boys never crowded one another’s sound. Each member ebbed and flowed with the other members’ energy, allowing each individual a chance to highlight their musical capabilities.

Rocktin played through the night keeping their devoted followers entertained and wowing those who’d never seen the group with smooth jazzy numbers and fast picking bluegrass. But they were particularly impressive second set when they revealed to the crowd their adventurous habits. Pulling guest guitarist and roommate on stage to perform “Loving Flow,” dancy vibes flooded the venue and everyone was spinning and shaking to this fun, groovy tune. Luebbe, took this opportunity to break out on his own and divulge in a high energy shred session. Later in the set, the audience was rewarded with Cropsey’s beautiful baritone voice as he set up the well timed moment where the band broke into heavy funk, again making the entire venue wiggle and swing. Before the night was over, we heard a fun, unexpected rap bust out, more bluegrass picking and saw the appearance of their guest guitarist one more time. By the end of the evening, Rocktin Grove stimulated every one of the senses you could ask for, proving to be a fun, diverse and high caliber group of musicians.

I find it rare to see a band with such a strong command of so many genres while simultaneously continuing to showcase their musical talents. With their ensemble of string, percussion, keys, woodwind, and brass instruments interacting so naturally, plus their creating a groovy, fun atmosphere, you can be sure I’ll be going to see them again and again. If you missed them this weekend, then make sure to catch them at their next scheduled show at the Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont this July. I promise you’ll be disappointed if you don’t!

Check out more photos and videos from the show.

Thu, 05/16/2013 - 6:28 pm

What more can one ask for than a night of great musicians and a good mix of country, rock and bluegrass? Probably not much except to have those musicians be the members of Grant Farm… and maybe include a special guest. Well, that was exactly what May, 2 was for those who went to the Fox Theatre to see The Drunken Hearts open for Grant Farm featuring, Andy Thorn. The night was filled with good vibes, an array of heartfelt, dancy tunes, and a plethora of fun, good-natured musicians on stage.

Beginning with our local, Drunken Hearts, the night started with some beautiful, ageless, outlaw type country that we’ve come to expect from the band. They played through their set staying true to their mellow style, putting the crowd into good spirits. Although they were down a guitarist, their sound still sounded full and they never missed a step. At one point they even pulled Andy Thorn to the stage, giving their music a little bit more of that bluegrassy, quick picking, edginess while maintaining the Heart’s melodic, mellow backbeat.

Then came Grant Farm with one full, turned up set. Although I’ve had the opportunity to see this band a handful of times over the past couple months, I still come to their shows with the same excitement as before. Every time they appear on stage, they have a natural ability to grab the attention of their crowd and guide them on a journey down country roads, through fields of bluegrass, and in to the vacuum of space. Even with their recent change of members, they still evoke the same enlivened response from their fans. With Tyler Grant (National Flatpicking Champion and founder of Grant Farm) forging the band’s trail with his Telecaster and Adrian Engfer (a man with some of the smoothest vocals you’ll find in this genre) holding down the bass, they’ve created a great space for a few new members to come in and add their talents.

Pete Goldberg, their new keyboardist (also keys for Smooth Money Gesture), showed off his powers and talents all night. This man has the ability to play in a way that never overwhelms the other musicians on stage, keeping a fluid melody throughout the quick picks and the airy, spacey jams. Then suddenly he brings us all into his realm of breathtaking notes that move everyone’s souls just a little higher off the ground. Sean Macaulay, Grant Farm’s new drummer, also holds a special place in the music. It is a hard thing to do, be a drummer in a band geared towards traditional string instruments, but Macaulay held the beat with ease, modestly showing off his musical capacities. A perfectly performed musical accompaniment. Grant Farm even added a brand new component to their core group of performers. Cody Russell, pedal steel player for Drunken Hearts, brings a raspy element to The Farmers’ sound. The twangy, edgy aspect of the pedal steel guitar really fits into what I think Tyler Grant has been trying to achieve with this project. To top off this array of musicians, Andy Thorn from Leftover Salmon offered his banjo and fiddle expertise to the band, creating an overall country, grassy swinging dance fest.

The five men played through the night with perfect precision and openness. Instead of demanding their jams go in a particular direction, they let them flow and travel where they needed to go—which in my opinion is just another testament to the prowess of the band. And during those moments where the light shone on one individual, the rest of the band backed off in a beautiful display of practiced musicianship.

The crowd at the Fox truly got to see a remarkable show that night. Hearing songs ranging from Emmitt-Nershi Band covers, to Grant Farm originals, to an incredible bluegrass “Could You Be Loved” rendition with Tyler Grant and Andy Thorn feeding off each other’s unbelievably precise and fast picking abilities, there couldn’t have been a better way to spend a Thursday evening. I’m excited to see this band continue to cultivate their sound and their abilities to work with one another because they’ll do great things. Get ready for them, “it’s plowin’ time!”

Thu, 07/11/2013 - 10:34 am

In just a week, on July 18th, it’ll be that time of the summer again. That time when people from all over the country storm the state of Oregon with their families, their banjos, fiddles, mandolins, guitars, etc., and head to the small town of North Plains. Slowly they will wind their way through towering green trees and down a curvy road, until finally, they find themselves in a clearing surrounded by peacocks and shimmering shades of green. Not a bad tradition, if you ask me. And it’s all for Northwest String Summit, the Western Coast’s premier bluegrass festival held at the incredible, Horning’s Hideout.In its twelfth year, the festival that people affectionately call, “Strummit,” is still stacking itself with everything the crowds are hoping for: four days of eclectic bands, paddle boating in the trout stocked pond behind main stage, the perfect amount of excited, friendly, string-loving people, and of course, lots and lots of Yonder.Along with preparing themselves for three nights of Yonder Mountain String Band, (the guys who’ve held down their position as the representatives of Strummit the entire twelve years), people should get ready for even more excitement. Attendees will be graced with the musical abilities from the likes of David Grisman, the boys of Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams, the talented couple Larry and Jenny Keel, Scott Law, Chris Funk…. I could keep going, but do I really need to?If you aren’t already excited, here’s the Maraschino Cherry in your Manhattan. The camping experience at Horning’s Hideout is probably the best you’ll ever find at a festival. Walking down fairy paths through giant trees to your campsite and waking up under their emerald canopy is a memory—no matter what state you were in the night before—that can’t be erased. And don’t forget, it’s a string festival, so you can be assured that amazing, late night picks will be as much a part of the festival as the bands— and they’ll probably even feature some of you favorite, main stage artists.Hope to see you all there next week! It’s going to be an unforgettable weekend of great music and beautiful people, so bring your friends, bring your family—this is one you’ll be upset you missed.

Wed, 08/07/2013 - 4:06 pm

Sometimes I find it truly incredible how different each festival is. Sure, when you poke around in different genres you’re going to have a different vibe, but even within the realm of strings and grass, you’ll find the good and you’ll find the bad. Northwest String Summit at Horning’s Hideout in Oregon doesn’t exactly make it into either category. I think it stands alone in the “this is the most amazing, beautiful, compelling, warming, etc. etc, festival I’ve ever been to” category—and nearly everyone you ask would immediately agree.

I arrived early enough on the weekend of the 2013 String Summit that I had the honor of being one of the first people to step foot in the grounds. This meant I got to watch the forest floor fill with characters from across the country who were all seeking the same thing: great music and fun with new friends. Thus, as a mosaic of yellow, green, and blue tents formed, the cultivation of a family began. Once set up, festival goers wondered the campsites saying hello to neighbors and expressed their excitement about the days to come—not long after, it felt as though we had all known each other for years. You can’t say this about every festival, but there is a magic at Horning’s that almost forces a bond between everyone there.

Of course the biggest topic of conversation was the music ahead, and those lucky enough to arrive Thursday, would get their fix a little early. Music started at six p.m. on the main stage with just three acts: Shook Twins, Scott Law and Chris Funk, and Greensky Bluegrass. A lot of buzz surrounded Greensky throughout the weekend, and I must say, it was all well deserved. Even over the past year, the band’s sound has filled out and their soul has deepened. And when they took the main stage Thursday night, they proved it true to everyone in the bowl.

Taking the stage with the energy they always promise to bring, they sent their crowd into a flurry of dance with the song Kerosene. It was a good song to start out their evening. Upbeat enough to get groovy but with a darker, soulful tone to it—in a way priming the crowd for the style of music they’d hear for the next hour and a half. Over that time, we were blessed with hearing a collection of both originals and covers including: Old Barns, Can’t Stop Now (New Grass Revival), Atlantic City (Bruce Springsteen), and Jaywalking. All were executed perfectly and with a presence that captured many new fans. We even got to hear a short “Happy Birthday” to banjo player, Mike Bont before they burst into Money For Nothing (Dire Straights), leaving everyone’s heads and bodies still spinning before late night.

Strummit set up the festival so there were three stages. Of course there was the main stage, where people filled into a natural amphitheater surrounded by towering trees and backed by a trout pond, but there were two smaller stages. One was set up atop the famous Furthur bus that provided “tweener” sets from an array of musicians when main stage was between artists. The other was tucked neatly in a ravine behind the Cascadia Coffee House (Ninkasi Stage). This stage was home to all the artists who performed in the mornings (I guess I should clear up that morning means both two am and ten am.). Every night, after main stage closed down, Ninkasi Stage’s PA would fire up and another round of spectacular music would start. Thursday night featured Head for the Hills and Poor Man’s Whiskey with Cornmeal’s fiddler, Allie Kral. Head for the Hills, having some country twang, was a good change up after Greensky. But Poor Man’s Whiskey again switched up the vibe of the night. Performing Dark Side of the Moonshine with Kral, they eased the night into a more mellow, jamgrass space. Not a bad way to cap the evening.

For those who were willing to wake up bright and early Friday morning, Ninkasi stage again was in action. Big E’s Majik Mornin’ Show kicked off at 8:30 followed by the Giraffe Dodgers with Allie Kral, Brother’s Comatose, Polecat, and Larry and Jenny Keel. Kral is always a pleasure to see. Her grace on stage and her precision on the fiddle is enough to leave anyone in awe. And not only did listeners get to see her play with Giraffe Dodgers, but also with Brother’s Comatose. This quintet alone brings a good time, but with the inclusion of Kral, the stage exploded. Watching Kral and Philip Brezina (Fiddle for Brother’s Comatose) got everyone so jazzed, multiple people walked away from the stage talking about it long after.

After Polecat and Larry and Jenny Keel (who would be appearing on main stage later in the afternoon), the band competition kicked off with four string bands from across the west. Hailing from Oregon, California, Montana and Idaho, the musicians fought for a chance to play another set later in the weekend and secure a spot in next year’s NWSS. With only a short amount of time to showcase their abilities using the traditional, one-mic stage setup, the bands did considerably well. Especially when it came down to a rare tie between Lil’ Smokies and Steep Ravine. After an intense two-minute string-off, Lil’ Smokies roped the win, opening up doors for themselves far beyond just NWSS. 

After the band competition, Deadly Gentlemen took the stage. I had no idea what to expect from these guys. I had heard their name a number of times and heard descriptions of their sound that I figured too strange to even be an anomaly. A bluegrass rap group from Boston? Well, it is true, only I didn’t get to witness their rap side (I guess those days are in the past). But these guys impressed me from the start. They were precise with their talents, had a great flow, and were really easy to listen to—definitely a good vibe for the middle of the day. Following those east coasters was Black Prairie then Keller and the Keels. I always love seeing Keller Williams, and when he’s with the Keels it makes the vibe even stronger. There was just an easiness in the air when they played—Keller’s soft, relaxed singing voice, Jenny’s grace and smile, and of course, Larry’s flawless flatpicking and confidence on stage—it all created an environment that made people feel at home and supremely happy to be in front of the trio. And when Darol Anger and Danny Barnes jumped on stage with them, that feeling became even more robust.

As Keller and the Keels played, the weekend crowd slowly arrived—and by the end, everyone was staking their spots for Yonder Mountain String Band. The ones who had been in the bowl dancing all day seemed at odds with whether or not to runback to camp. Those who did decide to make the trek ensured they kept their time short and made it back to see Jeff Austin, Dave Johnston, Adam Aijala, and Ben Kaufmann make their first appearance. Fortunately, in my travels back and forth, I arrived at the stage with a little time to spare and watched the band kick off their set with Raleigh and Spencer. It got the crowd moving right away. Energy exploded as people finally got their release. When they began Forty Miles From Denver I was reminded of how distinct Jeff Austin’s voice is. It’s definitely one of those sounds that immediately reminds you what band you’re listening to. In short—it makes you excited. During the beginning of their set, Aijala was having issues with his guitar, but the rest of the band held it together as best they could until Adam came back to serenade the crowd with Honestly. But the pinnacle of the first set I thought was when Darol Anger and Danny Barnes stepped on stage. The crowd jumped and twirled as the six musicians all jumped into their first collaborative song, Ruby and flowed through nearly another half hour. The end of the set left everyone, in including the band, with high spirits, wide smiles, and ready for more.

Yonder kicked off a high-energy second set with Red Bird, which sent everyone back into spin and bounce mode.  In an interview a few weeks back, when asked about classifying Yonder’s music, Aijala said the band didn’t want to be confined to one genre. Instead they like to experiment with different genres and pay attention to how the crowd reacts—this dictates what direction they go in with their music This really showed as they wove their way through different songs throughout the night—never straying too far from what people expect, but proving their ability to play in many different realms. After a little over an hour of music with great tunes like Steep Grade Sharp Curves, Pretty Daughter, and a Holding To End The Night, they sent us all off to do what we pleased. Some went to catch the Shook Twins at the Cascadia Stage and others decided to call it an early night. Regardless of their decision, everyone was satisfied and looking forward to the rest of the weekend.

Saturday morning began again at the Ninkasi Stage with acts including, Brown Chicken Brown Cow (Ninkasi Special Guest) and Danny Barnes. It was really cool seeing Barnes do a solo set. Although many people admit to becoming bored when artists loop their music, I find it to be something that speaks to the talent of the musician. The ability fill up a stage with only oneself is definitely a feat—plus, when seeing Barnes almost exclusively on main stage for the entire weekend, it’s really a treat to get so personal.

Main Stage powered up the P.A. at noon and people were showered with the talents of Betty and The Boy and another set from Head for the Hills. Then we had Iron Horse with “Pickin’ on Modest Mouse” These guys surprised me completely. Their grassed-out versions of Modest Mouse and some other classic favorites were so well practiced they could have been band originals. The stage presence of the men was also something to be noticed. They reminded me of a barbershop quartet—nicely dressed and cleaned up with confidence and modesty—yet, incredibly on point with their instruments.

Anyone who was hoping for a musical break Saturday afternoon was out of luck. David Grisman graced the stage after Iron Horse with four other all-star musicians and played a set that made your heart melt. There’s something about traditional bluegrass that eases the soul and pulls you in, and these gentlemen were no exception.  Aside from some feedback issues in the beginning of their set, their set was smooth and they played flawlessly. They finished up with one of my favorites, Shady Grove, and invited Darol Anger on stage with them. They flowed through the song with more than enough soul to fill the bowl, leaving us all with a lasting impression.

Remember—there are no breaks on Saturday.

After David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, everyone prepared for a seriously awaited group of musicians. Stashing shoes by the fence to give themselves better dancing mobility, people gathered in the bowl and waited. When the faces of Leftover Salmon finally appeared on stage, their was an eruption of cheers and an explosion of happiness that only got more intense as the boys started their set with Liza, a tropical, twangy tune that got everyone moving. Salmon always knows how to get their crowd moving and having fun. Their energy, their smiles, and especially their extraordinary musicianship exudes from the stage making everyone within their sphere swing and jig long after they’re done playing.

For a solid two hours, Vince Herman, Drew Emmitt, and Andy Thorn led the groove while Greg Garrison and Jose Martinez held down the beats. A few highlights were Down in the Hollow, Sing up to the Moon, Ask the Fish (where they got super spacey and psychedelic) and an encore of I Know You Mother—a hilarious version of the loved I Know You Rider that included Jeff Austin, Dave Johnston, Darol Anger (does he ever get tired?) and Scott Law.

With all the incredible music throughout the day it seemed like Yonder’s set came up without notice. But nevertheless, everyone was jazzed for night two and the bowl overflowed with people. They and Darol Anger kicked off their set with Illinois Rain which got everyone back into the Yonder Groove. Throughout the first set it seemed as though they were building towards something and second set proved this to be true. Danny Barnes jumped on stage and they began playing Death Trap. As they progressed into Keep On Going and through Little Rabbit, the energy was rising fast. Everything culminated when they began Whipping Post—everyone was on top of the world. I felt like this was a good night for Yonder. Their musicianship was tight and they seemed to be vibing with each other even more than usual. After their encore of Goodbye Blue Sky, Pimps of Joytime closed the main stage with a set of electronic, bassy beats, then sent us all off to Ninkasi for Fruition.

With Saturday night being when people typically push the limits of sunrise, Fruition was a good choice for the late night. The five-piece band from Portland played with the energy needed to keep people going late into the night. But there was a lot happening around the grounds that didn’t involve late night stages. Saturday night was filled with picks throughout the campsites, kiddy pool sled rides down the dirt hills and bonding with new friends. I had the honor of introducing a 10-year veteran of Strummit to something he never knew existed. Bubbles, a Sunday sunrise tradition isn’t an event for the weary, but definitely one for the adventurous and gregarious. As the sky slowly turned from cobalt to turquoise, we sat by the pond, watched glistening, oversized bubbles float through the air and bounce along the water, and talked to strangers, cultivating a Strummit family.

Sunday is almost always a challenge to wake up, but for those who were able to unzip their tents or clamber from their hammocks, music awaited them. MilkDrive, Lil’ Smokies (the band competition winner), and Horse Feathers all brought us through the morning, getting people’s dancing legs back under them.

But when D3K2 (Danny Barnes, Drew Emmitt, Darol Anger, Larry Keel and Jenny Keel) stepped on stage, any lag from the night before completely melted away. Playing classics like Cold Rain and Snow and Lonesome Fiddle Jam, the five flawlessly demonstrated how people who rarely play music together can flow with ease and at such a high caliber.

After D3K2, Yonder’s last set of the weekend came. Although it marked the closing of a weekend, a late afternoon set is always something to look forward to. With Darol Anger again, Yonder began the end with Ramblin’ in the Rambler. They held strong through the first set, especially in Snow on the Pines. Their jam was really focused and had a lot of energy. But second set was where things really took off. The crowd was full of excitement and everyone was moving right on beat. Just after Half Moon Rising, they invited a number of people on stage, including Drew Emmitt, Andy Thorn and Larry Keel (costumed in pink tutus to show love for Lily, a cancer patient they did a benefit for a few years back). After one song together, the group went into Traffic Jam. Being a song with a lot of momentum, it had everyone beaming and stomping their feet, but as the jam was building and just after the lyrics “it makes a lot of noise,” the power went out. Not just the PA. Not just the lights. Everything. It was so absurd that it almost seemed planed. Unfortunately it wasn’t and morale crashed. The crowd, the crew, the musicians—everyone was disappointed. Quickly the crew realized the stage’s generator went out, but because they couldn’t obtain another in a short time, they had to improvise to complete the show. So after a forty-minute break, Yonder came back out by themselves, picked up Traffic Jam from the point the power went out, and did an “acoustic encore” with only four speaker wedges. Definitely a rough finish. Although some Yonder fans walked away somewhat distressed, I think everyone understood how hard it was to even come back on stage without a full PA.

A lot of people left Horning’s that night having Yonder as their capstone in order to work Monday, but for the ambitious, there was still more music to be had. Ninkasi Stage booted up again for one last hurrah. MilkDrive, Deadly Gentlemen, Scott Law with Dead Gents and finally, The Congress closed out the weekend leaving people well danced and perfectly fulfilled.

Waking up to empty camping spots and cars slowly filling with tents and people never evokes smiles after a weekend so full of magic. But everyone did leave feeling as though their time was well spent. Many friends were made, many artists discovered, and many more memories were created. And although the 2013 NWSS was ending, the most uttered sentence I heard that morning was: “I’ll see you next year”—and I have no doubt that it was true.

Check out more photos from Northwest String Summit 2013.

Sat, 10/12/2013 - 2:47 pm

A light blanket of snow settled on the still-green trees around the amphitheater, thin layers of ice coated wooden planks and steps, and expertly positioned heaters scattered the stage. It was October 4th at Red Rocks, and it was cold. But timing wasn’t much of a choice for Lotus and their supporting bands BoomBox and Break Science. After having to reschedule Lotus’s September 13 show because of the recent flood that devastated Colorado’s Front Range, everyone hoped a new month would bring better weather. And it did to some degree—cold is definitely better on electrical equipment than water—but the temperatures weren’t for the feeble. Looking around the venue—dressed in goose-feather jackets, silly hats, onesies, and sparkles—you saw the real Lotus fans. The fans who were preparing for an incredible night of their favorite band.It wasn’t until close to 9:30 that The Rocks began to really fill up, but some came for the very beginning to see Break Science start the night of music. The two producers, Adam Deitch who previously toured with Pretty Lights (among other national acts) and Borahm Lee, keyboardist for names like Kanye West and Matisyahu, teamed up in Brooklyn and have since created an electronic duo with dancy, synthetic hip-hop beats. Their base heavy tunes hit just the right spot for some of the crowd and got the people moving.BoomBox was the second act to brave the cold. Zion Rock, son of the Grateful Dead’s Godchauxs, held down guitar while Russ Randolf maintained a steady flow and great change ups on the keys. Together they brought a really groovy sound to the stage where each song seemed to build the next, feeding the energy throughout their set. People everywhere stepped into a solid groove that kept them moving at a steady pace during the hour. An element of their sound I really enjoyed was Godchaux’s voice. It blended into the style of music that Boombox is, creating an all-encompassing feeling of cool, mellow vibes.After BoomBox and a quick moment to warm up in the Red Rocks Museum, Lotus appeared on stage at 10:15 opening with Wax, a relatively old school song from 2007. It got the entire crowd back on their feet, moving and smiling, finally getting what they’ve been waiting for for the past month, never mind the night. After Wax, Lotus jumped right into Bush Pilot then pushed into some of their newer tunes. Middle Road was the first of the songs to hit our ears that was released on an album this year. With a lot of bands, I feel like devoted fans don’t always like new releases, but I never had this feeling from this group of people. Even in Lotus’s evolution as a band, they maintain their underlying groove and flow while adding an edge to their music. May it be a heavier synth, vocal recordings, or guest rappers, there remains a noticeable commitment to the quality of the music they are producing and a devotion to keeping their relationship with their fans.I especially noticed this to be true when Lotus hit the first notes of Gilded Age. The entire crowd’s energy exploded and the amphitheater of puffy parkas and animal suits turned into a bouncing sea, surging with bliss. Lotus then brought the energy back to something a little darker with Neon Tubes Part 1 before surprising the audience with guest rapper, Ras Arcane for Cloud 9 (a song from their newest album, Monks).The rest of Lotus’s set was stacked mostly with older favorites like Plant Your Root, Wooly Mammoth, and Umbilical Moonrise with just a couple new songs threaded in. It was really cool to see that the band was still more than capable of playing music they created nearly ten years ago (in some instances), yet we were also able to witness their progression and enjoyment of experimentation. One thing is for sure; over the years Lotus hasn’t lost their talent for perfectly timed transitions. Their music remains crisp, conscious, and enlightening.The five musicians dazzled us with Shimmer and Out for an encore, leaving the crowd in high spirits as they left the icy amphitheater. Seeing amazing musicians perform well in below freezing temperatures leaves a lasting impression. Lotus truly put on a good show and regardless of the weather, I think everyone who was present is still vibing on that night.Check out more photos from the show.

Tue, 10/22/2013 - 8:44 am

Ani DiFranco is a badass. Since early in her life she has chosen to be a leader against the conventional. At fifteen she legally chose to live on her own. At nineteen she began her own record label—Righteous Babe Records—in order to avoid the grasp of mainstream companies. And throughout her career, she has been at the forefront of multiple rallies fighting for women’s rights, encouraging people to vote, and just expressing what she truly believes. In short, DiFranco is not someone who can easily be ignored.

This showed true Sunday, October 13 at the Boulder Theater. A different type of excitement was in the air than you typically find at a Boulder show. You could tell someone special was in town.  Someone who lives to inspire and empower the people she connects with. And as the sold out theater filled with people who had bought their tickets months in advance, an excited tension grew. Smiles were everywhere and intellectual chatter could be heard anywhere you sat. Many of these people had been waiting DiFranco’s return since her appearance last year.

But before they could get their release, the crowd would be graced by Toshi Reagon, a woman on DiFranco’s record label. I often feel as though openers for smaller shows aren’t given the same respect as the headliner of the night. The crowd is typically just a few people wondering around never paying attention. This wasn’t the case for Reagon. She walked on stage to a nearly full venue with people who were just as excited to watch her perform as they were to see DiFranco. Definitely for good reason. Reagon was a solo acoustic guitar act who had soul in her music. Her words were moving and the tone that emanated from her vocals made it clear that she put a lot of power and emotion into her writing. On top of that, she was incredibly funny.

Ani DiFranco

After a quick break, DiFranco arrived on stage with an energy that took the whole room. Bouncing around and smiling from ear to hear, she, her bassist and her drummer jumped into her first song, Little Plastic Castle. She radiated charisma and power while simultaneously coming off goofy and funny in both her music and in the moments between playing. This remained true the entire show. Even in her songs that made the room a little heavier, the crowd was enlightened just by her presence.

DiFranco’s song writing evokes a lot of feelings from listeners. With her lyrics ranging from talking about politics to talking about love and the many things in between, each song was moving. But it wasn’t only her songs that inspired the people that night. I saw the evening as a combination of each of Difranco’s parts: lyrics, emotion, worldliness, and her true, no-bullshit self. Everything culminated to create an experience for the crowd that was more like being in a room with a close friend rather than an untouchable entity.

She closed the night out by inviting Reagon back on stage to perform “Who is She,” and “Which Side are You On?” Seeing both Reagon and DiFranco on stage together brought a new thrill to the crowd. Their voices and talents meshed perfectly and brought the night to a powerful close. Everyone left that night feeling satisfied—not because they got a night out drinking and dancing—but because they saw inspiring people who are touring the nation with a purpose.

Check out more photos from the show.

Tue, 01/07/2014 - 1:40 pm

Yonder Mountain String Band graced us again this holiday season with a five night run at Boulder Theater. Each night featured a different master musician as a guest for the entire show, and on the third night, December 29, Jerry Douglas, the dobro virtuoso, was our guest star.

The first few songs, I felt as though Douglas only had room in Yonder’s mix to really stand out a couple times… and I wanted more. Those desires began manifesting as the show progressed, especially in “Northern Song.” You really started to hear Douglas’s notes slip into and out of Yonder’s music. He played clear and crisp, and when given the space to break out, he took complete control of the crowd with a slow build up of perfectly placed notes, culminating in high energy, foot stomping tunes.

We then got the opportunity to hear Douglas sing and lead a song for the first time of the evening. “Hey Joe” was performed dobro heavy and Douglas’s voice added a good, unique twang to the song. The crowd responded with grateful cheers and even the other musician’s faces showed deep appreciation. I think Kaufman spoke for the entirety of the room when he stated: “Jerry Douglas is the best that’s ever been.”

Second set I felt like the band really caught their flow, and throughout the rest of the night the five musicians ebbed and flowed, effortlessly creating a patchwork of harmonic rhythm. Although nearly every song added to the fun and entertainment of the night, the cap for me was the first song of the double encore: “Althea.” Maybe I’m biased because of my love for the song, but the slightly grassed-out rendition was heartfelt and well performed. Hell yeah, Yonder.

When I first arrived on the 29th, I was excited—not only to see Yonder, but to see Jerry Douglas and all their interactions. The five musicians did not disappoint. When I left late that night, I was feeling fulfilled and judging by joyful chatter and energy after the show, I’d say everyone else felt the same way.

Check out more photos from the show.

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 6:47 pm

Before and after the Pigeons Playing Ping Pong show on St Patrick’s Day, I had the opportunity to chat with the band's front man, Greg Ormont. In the past couple years, he and his three other band members have been touring extensively, playing spectacular shows, and have even founded their own festival, Domefest. If you haven't heard of them yet, I'd bet you will soon. With the way their “Flock” is expanding, I'd be impressed if these guys remain under anyone's radar much longer.

(Pre Show)

Grateful Web: So how did you guys get together as a band?

Greg Ormont: We all met at college and although not all of us graduated, that is where it all started. It was at University of Maryland, and that was in 2006 when the first two members, myself and the guitarist, Jeremy met. Then in 2007 we met the other guys and started playing together for fun.

GW: Awesome. You say for fun? You didn't expect to see yourselves becoming as big as you are now? Or was that kind of your goal to begin with?

Greg: It was not my personal goal, but it doesn't surprise me because we all love to play music and perform and spread, you know, fun vibes to as many people as possible, be it on stage or off.

GW: You can definitely tell that's true when you're on stage. Well, do you see yourself going along with how things have been moving for you guys, now that your career has progressed?

Greg: Oh absolutely. Everything is moving in the right direction and we're keeping our head down, having a great time playing music, constantly writing new stuff and playing up to 200 shows a year, which will move things along. So we are incredibly stoked at the opportunity to keep this thing going. And we're going to do it as long as it stays fun.

GW: Hell yeah. So what were your influences starting out?

Greg: Well, I grew up in like a classic rock house, I was actually in a bunch of musicals and plays growing up. Then eventually, when I met my guitarist, he introduced me to Phish and the jam scene and funk. More so than classic rock funk. And really, seeing Phish in 2009 was a big turning point in my life because I really saw what live music could do to people and wanted to be part of that as much as possible.

GW: Well that brings me to my next thought. What are you trying to do with your music? Not just looking at your career or how many tickets you sell a night, but what are you trying to accomplish for the people coming to see you?

Greg: All I want to do is make people smile when we play. No matter what size the crowd. The bigger the crowd the more energy is in the room, and that can result in a really incredible experience. But even a tiny crowd is something I look forward to, because people who go to see live music go to turn off their minds a little bit and connect on an innately subconscious and incredible level. We just want to spread that as much as possible.

We try to focus on the process of things like playing shows and making people happy on a day to day basis, as opposed to getting caught up in the major goal, because when you hit that goal, then what? You know?

GW: Definitely. I think that's awesome. Can we be expecting new music from you in the near future?

Greg: We have a new album that should be coming out in early summer.

GW: Last one was in 2010, right?

Greg: Yes, so it's our first release in four years, it's coming out early summer, and it's called Psychology. We are so excited to get our sound out again, because it's been so long since we hit the studio—mainly because we've been touring so much the past two years.

We also have an official live album coming out this year which we're really excited about because studio is one thing, but the energy we put out on our live shows is hard to replicate in such a sterile environment. So we're stoked to get that out and see if it translates into car stereos.

GW: Cool. Well, as far as big shows coming up, is there anything we should keep an eye out for?

Greg: First week in April we'll be doing our first tour in Florida. We just played Aura Music Festival at Spirit of Suwanee down in Florida. It was just, it was so beautiful in every sense of the word. So we're really excited to revisit the new Florida Flock. And ah, there are a lot of festivals coming up this summer, can't talk about too many, but there's gonna be a lot of awesome ones.

GW: It's pretty incredible that you were opening last time you were here and now you guys are the ones with your name extra-large on the marquee. How do you think tonight’s show is going to go?

Greg: I agree it's pretty incredible that we were here a few months ago opening and now we're headlining on our own night, on a holiday no less. We're incredibly humbled and honored and ready to take it full speed. You know, we love builder and it's been a really natural uprising for us and we're just so happy. It feels like home, even when we first played here a year ago. So, this is only our third time in town, it feels like we've been here a million times, and I'm ready to crush our first headliner at the fox.

(Post Show)

GW: How did you feel about the show? I know it didn't sell out, but there was a lot of energy in there. How did it make you feel?

Greg: The energy was off the wall and it was so fun to feed off the crowd and build on their excitement. It had all the symptoms of a sold out show. Definitely didn't feel like a Monday.

GW: Being a college town, I'm curious how the Fox was different than others in your Colorado run.

Greg: Well first of all, Boulder's crazy. In all the right ways. We always see a twinkle in the eyes of our Boulder Flock reminiscent of summer festival crowds. The Colorado jam scene is very impressive, and it seems Boulder understands jam to its core.

GW: What is it like having other people come on stage and collaborate in your songs? Like tonight, when Wilson Harwood sat in for encore?

Greg: We love having guest sit-ins, as long as they are not in their own world. Wilson's sit-in on "Cliffs" was awesome and exactly what we look for in a guest player. He did a great job of shining when necessary, and also laid back into the mix and added new appropriate layers throughout. Too many talented musicians get caught up in soloing and flair and lose sight of the ultimate goal of adding value to the group's overall sound when sitting in. It was so refreshing to hear Wilson casually mesh into our music, then crush a solo, and even sing a verse! Love that guy, and Rocktin Grove killed it, first time I've seen them.

GW: Did you get everything you hoped from the evening?

Greg: Absolutely. I'm really excited about Boulder. Things are moving in the right direction in Colorado, and I have a feeling Boulder might be a big one for us. I guess I'll have to wait and see, and most importantly, keep coming back!!

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 9:59 am

F.U....N.K. But seriously, funk. It was the theme of late night at The Fox Theatre, Monday, March 17th. Coming all the way from Baltimore, Maryland, we had the honor of spending a night with Pigeons Playing Ping Pong on their twenty-five day tour, one of the funkiest, psychedelic, up and coming jam bands coming through this town.

When the four musicians arrived in front of the crowd on St Patrick's Day, a strong presence filled the room. No doubt their contagious smiles had something to do with the ripple of excited energy through the crowd, but their costumes definitely helped. Frontman, Greg Ormont appeared wearing a Buzz Lightyear onesy and giant goggles—somehow, even while the room grew hotter, he continued to rock the suit. Guitarist, Jeremy Schon wore big bright pants and something that resembled a bright green hawaiian shirt. Bassist, Ben Carrey sported a funky vest and a ridiculously awesome hat. Then, drummer, Dan Schwartz kept the rhythm going with an all silver metallic outfit—with of course some sexy shades. Just looking at the stage you knew it was time to get your party on.

The moment they touched their instruments, they jumped into Time to Ride, a jammy, marching groove that showed off just the tip of their talents. From there, they moved into a supremely funky base line that got the crowd throwing themselves around, giggling giddily and bursting at the seams with happiness. Throughout rest of the night the band kept a solid funk tempo, occasionally slipping in and out of super psychedelic jams, keeping an instrumental tightness between one another, yet leaving enough space to allow for anything to happen in their music.

Of the many things I love about this band, their song choices may be my favorite. First, what's most impressive is the amount of original material they have in their catalogue. If these guys chose to never play a cover, they would have no issue filling a couple hours with their own music. On top of that, their originals are fun and catchy. Over the night I heard songs I was excited for, like F.U., Julia and Melting Lights, but now I have another five songs I'm stoked for when they come around next time. Hell yeah, PPPP, I definitely can't say that about every up and coming band that comes through.

Second, when it came to the covers, they didn't go the typical route. Nope, the boys took the Big Bad Wolf trail, and they came out winners on the other side. Remember that tune from Eiffel 65? “I'm blue, da ba dee, da ba dai,” or some may say: “if I was green I would die.” Yeah, they did that, but they made it St. Patrick's day friendly. “I'm green, if I was blue I would die, if I was blue I would die.” This definitely got the crowd smiling and shaking their booties. Then, from nowhere, the Pigeons threw Hava Nagila into their mix. There were definitely a few people in the Fox working on their Jewish folk dancing for a moment.

Needless to say, this night rocked. The boys in PPPP were on point, the morale in the venue was as high as it could be, and we even got to see Wilson Harwood (Rocktin Grove) jump in on the encore. I see good things happening to this band. Look for them in the upcoming months in festival line ups, venues across the country, and definitely check them out at their upcoming festival, Domefest, May 30-31st in Terra Alta, West Virginia. You'll get two sets of Pigeons and lots of other bands such as: The Mantras, Twiddle, Turkuaz (performing Stop Making Sense AND an original set), the Yellow Dubmarine and a whole lot more.

Check these guys out on Facebook, Twitter, and on their website.

Also, for information on Domefest check out: www.domefestival.com

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 2:12 pm

In just a couple weeks, Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, Oregon will be hosting the 13th Annual, Northwest String Summit. Not only is this festival held in one of the most visually appealing venues in the country, there’s a stellar line up, great people, and lots of things to do even for the young ones of your group. Check out this interview with Skye Macdonald, the promoter for this amazing festival, and see why you should be so excited for this year’s bluegrass extravaganza.

GW: This is Marley Lumbard here with Grateful Web and I’m here talking with Skye Macdonald, the promoter for North West String Summit… Skye, I was thinking we could start with some history, and I was wondering if you’ve been with Strummit since the very beginning.

Skye Macdonald: Yes, I have. I’ve been with it since before it was North West String Summit. It was Dexter Lake Music Festival, outside Eugene, Oregon. I was not the promoter at the time, but I was still working in the organization with Yonder Mountain String Band. Then it moved over to Horning’s Hideout in 2002, I believe, and it was run that first year by a different promoter, Segway Productions, then he got out of it and my partner Greg and I took over all operations in 2003.

GW: Cool, yeah, actually one of my questions was how did Horning’s Hideout get chosen?

Skye: From what I understand, it was Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident who did some shows out there sometime around ’99 and put it on the map as a potential music venue. It was kind of still just camping and the Hideout, I guess, and it came on the radar in early 2000’s.

GW: I’m really glad it did. It’s a really, really cool venue. Probably one of the coolest in the country. How or what ways have you seen this festival evolve over the years? Aside from the obvious?

Skye: Yeah (laughs). Very organically. Very organically. You know, I gotta say, it’s maintained kind of the same backbone, then just grown organically all along, you know, with Yonder being the perennial host, or what have you, to the stage development, like the multiple stages developing, the crowd… most of the crowd you’ll hear has been there for as long as the festival has been there and I think that’s a testament to it’s organic quality. You know, it’s actually tripled or more in size since 2002.

GW: Wow… and it still seems so small.

Skye: (Laughs) Yeah, and that is definitely the physical surroundings of Horning’s Hideout and the overall vibe of the people that come out there… A glorified family reunion is how my partner and I like to think of it. And we like to bring in natural, good feeling, supplemental things to keep it that way, but obviously help it to continue to make enough money to continue. That’s really been the goal all along, it’s not an enormous money maker for anyone, but it’s such a great event and the magic that the fans bring and the artists bring and that we try to instill really has kept us floating on the surface. Keep our heads above water (laughs).

GW: That’s awesome you have that support from the bands too, not just the people. Um, I did see a comment that you made… I think it was in the press release, but you said you were excited to be refocusing on stings and acoustics, and it was interesting reading that because I’ve always thought of it as a strings and acoustic festival, so I guess I’m wondering, what do you mean by refocusing back on strings?

Skye: Well, its an amorphous musical event, you know, and while Yonder is the curator of the event, their extended musical family—which goes well beyond the acoustic and strung instruments—has definitely been integrated in the event all along, I mean if you flip through the history, there is that undercurrent of a jamgrass and a bluegrass centric vibe, but it also reaches out to horns, and rock and roll, and jazz, like Bill Frisell. One year, the horns were Karl D, then we had Pimps of Joy Time… We had the rock and roll theme a few years back, which was pretty strong and evident… we were celebrating Garcia’s 70th birthday that summer. So I guess from my perspective, refocusing was meant as, we aren’t spreading our wings so much, and theming it in another direction. This year, it is very newgrass centric and we have a lot of the same flavors just to compound on each other, to really drive home that this is the niche that we are trying to focus on.

GW: Cool! So beyond Yonder—who obviously headlines every year—the line up this year is pretty awesome… and I know that some of the people playing are in big enough bands that they are just kinda promoters in themselves having their name on the line up… but there are a lot of small bands I’m seeing that I’m excited to see, and I’m wondering if you could shed some light on them, especially those bands who are up and coming and have never been on the line up.

Skye: Yeah, anyone in specific?

GW: Yeah, I guess like, Lil’ Smokies won the band completion last year, Gipsy Moon… I don’t think I’ve seen them on the line up before, um and maybe some that you were excited to have on the line up this year and are excited to be promoting.

Skye: Yeah, well, to speak to the ones you’re talking about, we have… just to kind of tangent for a second, we have the band competition that brought the Lil’ Smokies to us as an entrant last year, and um, they went in to the first ever “string off” that was between them and Steep Ravine. We couldn’t’ decide as a judging panel made up of members of Yonder Mountain String Band and Greensky and our staff and so forth… we couldn’t decide between the two because they are both amazing bands who have great original material and very obvious talent both vocally and with their picking, so we had another round of semi-finals (laughs), and the Lil’ Smokies ended up winning, and they just naturally fell right into the event, they played all around the venue, and that’s what we’re all about… sure you come out and you get a Main Stage or a Ninkasi Stage to play, but it’s really about the picking that goes on in the camp ground and what not. So with that said, I am actually bringing back Steep Ravine this year. I found some time for them, and I’m excited to see them and the Lil’ Smokies. They are all great guys and I really enjoy hanging out with them and their enthusiasm with their instruments and in the scene all together. Gipsy Moon, to talk to that point, those guys are just up the road from me. I live in Lyons and they’re up in the Ned area… and they have actually been to the event, but not in any official capacity. There are some hidden stages in the camp grounds that they have come to play at in the past, and I’m not sure if it was last year or two years ago when they were really just getting off the ground, but Silas came out with whatever the band’s configuration was at that point and they played some. And naturally, they’re taking off, we see it foremost on the Front Range, but we wanted to help give them a little boost in the Northwest where his dad Vince is so popular and lives now. Um, some other acts I’m excited about for this year, I really dig those Polecat guys from Bellingham, they have such a great sound and I’m excited to see them. Um, the Blackberry Bushes, they’re great out of Seattle… I think they were in the band competition a few years ago. I’m also really excited about Benny Galloway’s new project, Burle and the No Brainers. It’s so chalked full of talent. You know, him being just a phenomenal song writer and then the talent behind him in his three piece band with Tyler Grant and Jordan Ramsey is amazing, and I’m really excited to put that in front of people in a few different scenarios down at the String Summit… You’re in Colorado, is that right?

GW: Yeah.

Skye: So you’re probably aware of them and what kind of pickers they are individually, it’s amazing.

GW: Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve worked personally with Tyler Grant a few times now and he’s an amazing musician and he’s a really nice guy. It’s always a pleasure working with him.

Skye: Yeah, he’s a flatpicking champion, and he’s just an all around amazing musician on acoustic and electric guitar. So Grant Farm will also be there on Thursday late night with Andy Thorne, which is going to be pretty awesome.

GW: I’m definitely getting excited for this year’s festival (laughs), that’s for sure. So beyond music, I feel like the festival is so much more, I was thinking about the Futhur Bus. It’s the fiftieth anniversary right now, and I was wondering how it got involved with the festival at all and what we should be looking forward to this year with it.

Skye: You know, Zane Kesey is Ken Kesey’s son who operates the new rendition of the Furthur Bus, and it’s an amazing machine. He was introduced to me by some folks from the Oregon Country Fair. And his presence there is perennial, in fact I think the bus is parked on the Lane County Fairgrounds most of the year…or it’s somewhere near there. And that’s sort of where its home has been, also, the original is parked and dilapidating in the woods around there, so anyway, I got introduced to him, I knew of his vending at the Country Fair where he does blotter art…. He has some really cool designs that are Grateful Dead and Merry Prankster related, so I thought it would be a really great addition. I believe it was the Jerry year, the 11th annual festival for the first year he came. And he happens to have a stage on the top of his bus, which is super neat. And he has a little PA on the top of his bus, which was underutilized the first year. People would just hop up there sometimes and start playing, and we noticed that and decided that this is a great addition, where it’s parked at the top of the amphitheater, you know, we could turn it into an official Tweener Stage, and you know, have continuous music all day long and the bus could be the stitch in-between it all. And so that’s what we’ve done. We utilize the top of his bus as a Tweener Stage, and this year it has actually expanded to 20 minutes before the main stage begins, acts hop on the bus and then there’s a set on main stage, then, during fifteen to 25 minutes set breaks there will be music that pops up again on the bus. It’s all kinds of stuff this year, and that’s the exciting part, we actually have a budget for it. Before it was really just picking and playing, and that has it’s own magic, but this year we did some scheduling and it has some really, really amazing musicians from main stage that are doing special sets, Paul Hoffman (Greensky) and Jay Anderson of Fruition are doing a set up there, Dave Bruzza of Greensky and Scott Law are doing a set up there, we have everyday a Furthur Bus 50th Anniversary of Dead and psychedelic related music that’s really going to be special. It should span the entire scope of the Grateful Dead’s history… I don’t know if it’s going to be chronological, but nonetheless it’s going to be an all-star cast before Yonder every night, and that’s really exciting. So that will commemorate the 50th anniversary.

GW: Cool. How ‘bout the family aspect of the festival? I fell like that’s such a huge part and there’s even like the kid’s parade, there’s stuff in the morning for kids… how did that become such a huge part of the festival?

Skye: You know, it comes with watching the crowd and hearing their feedback, and those that would come out year after year, like I mentioned, some of them were kids when they first came, and now they have kids and they want to bring them. I didn’t have kids until a couple years ago, but nonetheless it was still a very important aspect because these people can’t go out and tour all the big festivals that they want. But they do want a wholesome festival experience to share with the kids, and that’s really important. So we want to keep the kids happy and safe and with plenty to do, and it just naturally just grows on itself. We’re lucky to have such a solid crew of staff members. They’re just brainstorming every year about how to bolster that aspect of the festival, but you know it’s grown from the kids area that was a small, Saturday and Sunday and only four hours or so to do crafts, to it being all day Friday, all day Saturday, all day Sunday with tons of crafts. Instrument building to tie-dyeing and kite building and puppet building… And you know, we fund all the crafts. We ask parents to bring some of their supplies, but we still have a lot of the supplies for them to use. Then, Tyler Fuqua, who does a lot of amazing giant puppet building for Burning Man, comes out and leads the parade with people on stilts, it’s a circus. There’s a huge 30 to 40 person long dragon. Then he also builds all kinds of stuff for the rest of the event… like last year there was a fuzzy forest for the kids where there were these cubes (laughs), like one by one cubes that had hair on it that that you can bat around and smack your sister in the head with… and then we have a family camping area, and that has been one of the fastest growing areas of the event, it’s just quadrupled in demand every year, and all it is is just a quiet zone where kids can sleep and get up early and you don’t have to have people otherwise having their fun on a different schedule. I gotta say, a history on the kids aspect, I grew up going to Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Rockygrass, and part of what was so awesome about those is that you have a whole spectrum of folks from people who want to rage the whole time to those who just want to take their family and watch some of their favorite music with the kids. And so we barrowed that aspect and put our own spin on it however it works for Horning’s.

GW: Cool, I gotta say I’m a little jealous of the kids right now (laughing), I want to go make instruments and hang out in fuzzy forests too. But that’s a good lot of stuff for people to look forward to this year with the kids. So I know there’s a lot of talk about Yonder having just lost Jeff, and I know that this year Strummit is the only festival going on at Horning’s Hideout, there’s people wondering if this is going to be the last year… I don’t know if you can shed any light on that? Can we expect the festival to continue going?

Skye: Absolutely. Yonder is still Yonder Mountain String Band and Jeff has Jeff and Friends and we expect to have both in the future. I can’t speak to how the festival will evolve because we really have little control over the true evolution of the event, but it will continue regardless. It’s proven to have enough momentum and backing and support that a change with our curating bands won’t change it by any means. And it’s actually exciting; it opens some new doors and puts us on our toes to switch it up perhaps. So we’ll see, I’m excited.

GW: Yeah me to. Well, is there anything else you want to touch base on that I haven’t brought up yet?

Skye: You know one thing I do want to mention is our continuing commitment to sustainability. It’s becoming increasingly important to save and not waste, and it’s even proving to affect the bottom line when we are not as sustainable. It’s great to see all these organizations jumping onto the festival scene to help them do what they wanted to do, but just didn’t have enough time or the means, and people like our Horning’s recycling crew who literally paw through all the trash, and who try to separate recyclables, compost and trash. They literally go through all of that to pull out things that might have made it into the wrong bucket. That to me is astonishing that they do that. The last few years we’ve had Eco-Products of Boulder help support us with all of our containers and all of our compostables and recyclables and reusables, so everything that you buy from food vendors or concessionaire services is one of those that’s either compostable or recyclable and they’re devoted to really lessening the carbon footprint of our event to hopefully having a carbon neutral event in the next two or three years.

GW: That would be amazing.

Skye: Yeah, I want to see it happen, I’m going to have an initiative push with the campers, for example, Leave No Trace, another Boulder organization, is out there putting on this Campsite Challenge and we’re really stocking the prize category together to really give people incentive to leave no trace and be completely carbon neutral in their footprint out there. We’re even bringing in some generators that are solar powered; all the other ones are biodiesel powered… Our car pool convoy where we charge for parking because of the environmental impact, and if you carpool you get entered in to win tickets and all kinds of other fun stuff. It’s really important and I want your readers and our patrons to understand how important it is to keep the festival and the Horning’s grounds in really pristine shape.

GW: I think that’s definitely a crucial thing. And it’s nice to have a festival spearheading that. It’s awesome you guys are doing it… Well, thank you so much, Skye.

Skye: Thanks Marley for your time.

GW: Yeah, no problem, and I’ll see ya this summer.

Skye: Yes, looking forward to it. Take Care.

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 7:05 am

No single thing makes a festival the “best festival ever.” Sure, one great band can make it really good. Or maybe the campground scene was where it was at. But it’s really when you group those moments with the ones of unbearable laughter, silly dancing, and inspirational people that a festival becomes the “best ever.” And you know what? The Northwest String Summit consistently brings the best.

When I arrived after my eighteen-hour drive on Thursday the 17th, I waded through the thick, 95 degree air to find the perfect camp sight. I succeeded. The sun seeped through branches like crystal rays onto our newly formed home and I felt that there was no other place that I wanted to be. There couldn’t have been a place that felt more like a home away from home. The trees shot high into the sky like a protecting force, birds chirped in endless conversation, and the sweet smell of moss and pine floated through the air. It was pure contentment. But as the rest of our neighbors filled in around us, the anxiousness set in and I was feeling ready for the music to begin.

Around five o-clock my wishes were granted. The Furthur Bus started us off with Pete Kartsounes, a Boulder, Colorado local who made for a good transition into the rest of the day’s music. Back a few years ago, Thursday was kind of the “off” day where only a few people would be there to see the music. And as for music, there was very little of it to see. But now, Thursday has become it’s own entity. Musicians with huge draws come to NWSS early just to play and hundreds of people leave their jobs a day early to see these first class bands.

This year, Fruition and Greensky Bluegrass were the reason festival goers flocked early to Horning’s Hideout. Fruition of course has a huge following in the Northwest and always brings a party. But Greensky was the biggest draw. They have come up in the scene as one of the most popular, new jamgrass bands in the music industry. They’re also one of the most dynamic bands you will currently see playing. The band brings their audience in with smooth and dramatic changes in tempo while simultaneously changing the entire emotional complex you experience throughout the set. Their crisp transitions from melodic tunes into traditional bluegrass rhythms are always so astounding it leaves chills. Not only that, but the production that goes into their shows ties everything together. It’s like with Yonder… Yonder is not just a music show, it’s a show that includes incredible lighting, stage presence, and occasionally the weird circus acts. And this is honestly what I see Greensky moving towards. They put on a clean, high energy, and dynamic musical event while their production creates a visual aesthetic that is wonderfully impressive.

The rest of Thursday night was just as amazing. Gipsy Moon, a band from Nederland, Colorado, played one of the best sets I’ve ever seen done on The Furthur Bus. As everyone streamed up to the top of the bowl from the Main Stage, the five musicians quickly captured people’s attention. The whole essence of what was going on at the Furthur Bus was impossible ignore. The way the light cast dancing shadows on the artist’s faces made them look like true gipsies—strange, unknown travelers and bringers of magic—and their music made it all true. The gypsy grass, swing, and dark folky tunes enveloping the crowd created an atmosphere that completely possessed your soul. Everyone was spinning, singing, stomping… it felt like you were under a spell. A magic spell…

After the energy simmered, the night continued on. To the campsite? Or to The Ninkasi Stage to see Grant Farm and Shook Twins? Neither is ever a bad option, but on the first night you’re usually feeling like you got a lil more pep in your step, so the majority of people headed down to see music.

I have a pretty strong love-hate relationship with The Ninkasi stage. Due to the size of the standing room and the number of people in the ravine, it’s always been a little difficult to venture down to where the stage is. Of course that is the best place to see the musicians, but because of the ninja moves you have to pull to get through the crowd, the ramp heading down into the madness usually ends up being the most comfortable.

But this year when I first saw the placement of the stage I got little mini butterflies. They angled it ever so slightly so people on the hill could see the musicians! It was an exciting thought. I think it was somewhat planned around the install of a new beer garden at the very top of the hill. You could get a beer (which in previous years this was not an option) and hang out in the beer garden to watch the show. Hell yeah. Unfortunately, not all the kinks were worked out. The visual appeal was amazing, but the technicalities of the sound made it really hard to hear certain frequencies. So again, unless you dared to venture close, you weren’t going to get the show you were hoping for. It’s too bad because some of the most fun acts of the weekend are on that stage. Plus, the intimacy of it allows for an incredible bonding experience between you and the musicians.

But regardless of cons, Ninkasi is where you wanted to be any given night. And Thursday late night, Grant Farm and Shook Twins got the crowd jazzed and ready for the rest of the weekend. Hold yourself together everyone, the ball just started rolling.

Friday morning I think everyone was feeling a bit hurt. For the early risers and them go-getters, The Ninkasi Stage was popping off again. Like years past, the days always started with something geared for the kids. Big E’s Magik Morning Show kicked off Friday who was then followed by The Student Loan, Blackberry Bushes and a few other amazing artists. Benny (Burle) Galloway, Travis Book, and Anders Beck also did a really cool set down on The Ninkasi Stage. Joined by Andy Falco and Jordan Ramsey, they performed a mellow set that just got into your heart and made you feel good.  The perfect tunes to sit down and hang out after a long night.

The first act on Main Stage Friday was the band competition. I need to say the band comp is one of the coolest things that happen over the weekend. Okay, I can probably say that about most of the things I do at String Summit, but really, the band competition is a passageway for so many bands… how can you not get excited for it? This year, a handful of bands competed and when I arrived, the Kitchen Dwellers were just coming on. They played really strong and gave the crowd an incredible show. So much so that I thought they had the title in the bag. But then the next couple bands came on stage. Wow. With the talent that was in front of me, I realized picking a winner was going to be a difficult choice. But even with all the amazing bands, one had to come out on top, and Left Coast Country took the win.

But that’s just the beginning of Friday. Happy faces strolled into the bowl throughout the day. They ventured through the shops looking at everything from cowboy boots to handmade kaleidoscopes. They aided the economy of the amazing food trucks that String Summit always brings in. And they basked in the hours of incredible musicians on the Main Stage and the Furthur Bus.

After the band competition, it was time for The Shook Twins. I think they are one of those bands who truly have their stage presence down. They are a little awkward in a funny way and when they’re playing they are just deep into the moment. When I was taking photos, they were one of the most enjoyable bands to photograph. Then, on top of all that, they were amazing musicians. I like this band a lot.

A lot of the people who weren’t there for Shook Twins planned their days accordingly and strolled in for Sam Bush Band. Of course Sam is one of the guys we hear about and who plays with everyone, but he’s not a name you always see at String Summit. I guess that just makes his presence even more enjoyable than usual. They played some feel good songs and even some with a little reggae which got everyone moving their feet a little bit. For many it was the first time that day.

From there we moved into The Infamous Stringdusters who have been rapidly gaining speed and acknowledgement in the music industry. They’re a high-energy jamgrass band who just a few years ago were playing at little venues around the country. Why have they grown so popular? Well, because of their flawless musicianship. Their changes are always spot on, rarely do you hear a flat note, and beyond that, their entire set is full of finesse. You’ll never hear a show that you feel The Dusters are plowing through. Most definitely a band to go see.

Now it is well figured that the people who come to NWSS come there to see Yonder Mountain String Band, and that is true for the most part. But those who came to see other bands and could care less about Yonder probably changed their feelings towards the band this weekend. In my opinion—wait for it—Yonder is playing better than I’ve ever heard them play.

I will always love Jeff’s voice. It has made my Yonder experiences nostalgic, and even now I can’t get his voice out of my head. I think Yonder and I hear Jeff’s intense, driving vocals. But with his departure a new era has begun—and it’s definitely not a bad one. Fans may not get the sound of Jeff they are used to, but they get a genre of music that has leaned to the more grassy, jammy roots Yonder began with.

In the past, I oftentimes felt as though one instrument was always overpowering another. But with the addition of Jake Jolliff on mandolin (I’m wondering if he’s going to be a permanent replacement…), it seems that a more even playing field has been created. Maybe it is the chemistry of the people on stage, but from what I see, everyone seems to be shining. And Friday night, change after change, they were all on point and moving together in a flow I’ve never seen Yonder achieve. And in keeping true with Yonder’s history, nearly all the musicians at String Summit came up on stage to play with them (okay, I’m exaggerating). But for the entirety of the weekend, Jake Jolliff, Allie Kral and Darol Anger played as if they were part of the band and every couple of songs, someone new would appear. And just in the first night we were blessed with the presence of Sam Bush, Jay Elliott, Andy Falco, Chris Pandolfi, Andy Hall and Jeremy Garrett. That’s quite a line up.

The night ended with a late night Greensky set down on the Ninkasi Stage. Acoustic and beautiful. It’s really cool hearing these guys play on a tiny stage. It makes the show so intimate and hearing them play some old-timey sounding songs is one of my favorite things. Then, once their set was done, it was time for either campsite partying or sleep… I chose the latter.

Saturday is always the day of any festival when the energy and the music just never stops. NWSS is no different. As the late night ragers were only thinking about getting out of bed, Ninkasi had already gone through the morning kid’s show, Sugarcane and Danny Barnes, which meant that it was that time to open the Main Stage.

As the band comp winners from 2013, Lil Smokies had the honor of starting us off. They were just as good as I remembered them. But I have to say, Dead Winter Carpenters—the band who played after Lil Smokies—came on and were one of the biggest surprises of the weekend for me. I had seen them once in Boulder, but I couldn’t remember what they were like. However, that Saturday afternoon at one o-clock, these guys came out ripping. Their music blended together into a rolling melody with changes that got bluesy at times, funky at others, then a little folky. I also really enjoyed the lead vocalists. They were a little country sounding with moments of rock and folk. A really talented, feel-good band.

Steep Canyon Rangers came on Main Stage after a quick fifteen-minute change over. These guys seem to be getting better and better. But part way through their set, it was time to get ready for the night. It felt so early in the day, but whenever I looked at the schedule I was floored by the next ten hours of music. And a little time to mingle with neighbors and put my feet up ended up being most necessary when we arrived back in the bowl for the beginning of The Wood Brothers. I know this is personal preference, but this was my favorite set of the weekend. Maybe the Brothers just struck the right chord for the mood I was in, but I would have continued listening to them all day.

Chris Wood, Oliver Wood, and their multi-instrumentalist companion, Jano Rix came on stage with a little different presence than we’d seen all weekend. Their jazzy roots shown through even in the first notes of their first song. Slowly they built up into something full of funky, jazzy jams that had everyone moving a little differently, which might I say, was refreshing after two and a half days of fun bluegrass stompin’.

The much-anticipated Railroad Earth was on next, but not before a tweener set by Polecat, a band out of Portland, Oregon. These guys are great. They have fun, driving music that makes you want to move. They are definitely grassy but a little more outside the bluegrass box than some of the other up and coming bands. I see these guys doing really well some day.

Railroad Earth came on and they did nothing but please the crowd. They have the most amazing music that sets deep into your soul and makes every bit of you want to smile and cry at the same time. “Heart chakra music” a friend of mine once called them, and ever since that moment I fully believe that’s what they are. Through their set they wove a couple of their older songs in, but focused mainly on their new material. And no, nothing has been lost in the new stuff. It is still just as Railroad as ever.

The smiles on everyone’s faces was amazing. The energy from the music combined with the energy of the crowd made the atmosphere of the bowl infectious. The day was so full of love, excitement, music, and friends that it was difficult to not be high on it all. And when the time came for Yonder Mountain String Band, people were bursting with anticipation.

For good reason. Yonder played brilliantly. Starting with “All The Time,” they came out of the gate with incredible ferocity. Their rhythms were spot on and they were all riding the pulse with each other. The crowd as a whole was moving and dancing harder than I had seen them all day and a sea of perma-smiles surrounded me. The entire set continued this way. We got to hear songs like Pretty Daughter and an absolutely incredible Jolene sung by Allie Kral, meanwhile being graced with the likes of members from Infamous Stringdusters, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth and many more. When eventually coming to an ending with Down the River Road, the crowd dispersed for a quick break before it was time to funk down.

When I say funk down, I mean FUNK DOWN. For those of you still confused, it was time for the weirdest, quirkiest dance moves you could possibly envision. And that means The Motet was on stage. When they came in front of the crowd and started their ridiculously groovy rhythms, it got everyone a little silly. Sprinkler moves, driving the car, cat eyes… the works. For two hours, we had nothing but superbly dancy tunes, intense lights, and incredible made up dance moves—it was everything you wanted to keep your high going. Then to top Saturday night off, fruition played the finale. Oh yeah.

I believe Sunday is the most special day of a festival. Maybe some will disagree, but I feel Sunday is the day everyone is a little mellower, the music plays to your exact mood, and you often listen to the sounds of the stage from a seat (instead of your feet) while enjoying the company of your friends and drinking beers. Well, this was my Sunday this year (it’s not always the way I’d like it to be… hungover rings a bell) and I fully enjoyed the sets on Main Stage. I took my time in the morning and got to the bowl for Dave J Banjo Strummit.

But what really tugged on my Sunday heart strings was Vince Herman and Friends. While I layed under the cool, green canopy of trees, the music started and immediately I felt like nothing bad could happen. On stage with his mandolin playing son, Silas, bass player, Matt Cantor, dobro player, Jay Starling and banjo player, Andy Thorn, the band causally strolled though beautiful songs. Classics, originals, everything you could think of. There was a point where Darol, Jay and a clarinet player came on stage to bring us a song that reminded me of an Arabic tune. The clarinet added something to the grassy music that I never would have imagined. This was more than I could have asked for on a Sunday afternoon.

At this point it was time for Sunday Yonder Mountain String Band, which is always a nice treat. Daytime Yonder always seems more twangy and laid back to me. When the sun goes down it’s party time, but while it’s still up, we enjoy, jig, and spin around to the grassy sound that surrounds us. Yonder sailed through their first set making everyone stomp and swing in the most perfect of weather. Then, during their set break, the annual St. Baldrick’s Donation Collection took place. This is when the Sunday theme, Frilly for Lilly all comes together and people have the opportunity to donate their hair for cancer patients. And as Gipsy Moon played the Main Stage during set break, a woman named Peggy Davis did just that.

Second set began with an incredible “Up On the Hill Where They Do the Boogie” sung by Vince Herman. Anything by John Hartford makes my heart jump, but hearing Vince’s voice over the PA with Yonder behind him… there was something magical going on. It seemed more like a tribute to a friend than just a cover of some song. After that wonderful kickoff, they cruised through second set with many crowd pleasers and numerous guests. To top it all off, they closed the weekend on Main Stage with Crazy Train. What a day.

For many the weekend was over. People had pre-packed before Yonder and were heading back to their lives in the real world. But for others there was still music to be heard and dancing to be done. With half of the festival goers gone, there was a noticeable change, but the energy was there nonetheless.  And these music hounds pushed through another four sets of music on Ninkasi Stage finally ending with a Gipsy Moon and Vince Herman finale.

And there you have it. Another weekend of bluegrass at what I consider the most beautiful festival ground in the Northwest. It’s not just the many shades of green from the forest make me feel like I’m in an enchanted land, nor the beautiful trout pond that’s the backdrop to Main Stage. It’s the people. I still have images of smiles and friendly faces floating in my vision. It’s the people I just met, the people who I hadn’t seen since last year’s Strummit, and definitely my festy family that made the campsite so much like a home. Thank you, String Summit. Your weekend is the only weekend of the year I’m continuously counting the days till. Until next time!

Check out more photos from the 2014 Northwest String Summit.