Reviewing a music festival is like reviewing sleep — it’s a different experience for everyone. If your guests include a 3-year-old and a 4-month old at a festival that incorporates camping, 12 musical acts (though no Yo Gabba Gabba) and no toys, your impressions of the stage performances are at best episodic. Did I say *your* guests? I meant *my* guests.
That said, the Meadowgrass Music Festival, now in its second year, is a superb festival to bring children to — or anyone. This year it benefited from outstanding weather, compelling folk, old-time and bluegrass performances and a secluded, idyllic setting at the La Foret Conference & Retreat Center in Black Forest, 15 minutes northeast of Colorado Springs.
Cloistered amid 400+ acres of pine trees above 7,000 feet elevation, the site had a summer-camp feel and featured a festival green directly aligned with Pikes Peak with no view of the city below — giving visitors a High Rockies sensation despite being 10 miles from the eastern Colorado plains. Fifty dollar festival passes included camping, and since similarly-appointed campsites would cost as much (and be harder to book on Memorial Day weekend), the music could be considered a throw-in.
It’s amazing to me that no major music festival has been held on this site, which I could not help comparing to the Planet Bluegrass compound near downtown Lyons, which hosts acts in parallel genres. While Planet Bluegrass has a charmed location with the St. Vrain river running through it, their camping and parking logistics are daunting, and with traffic rushing by toward Estes Park, you never feel you’re truly away. Meadowgrass was truly a getaway — though one that could easily handle three times its 500-ish (maybe more Sunday, maybe fewer Saturday) patrons.
I’m 60 percent of the way through and I’ve not mentioned the music, not because it wasn’t excellent… but for various reasons (see paragraph 1) I don’t have much distinctive to say that you couldn’t glean elsewhere, and probably more authoritatively, online.
I can report that Boulder indie-folk performer Gregory Alan Isakov was Saturday’s hit — with headliner Grant Lee Phillips playing an solid but abbreviated set… the day was done by 7:40 pm, a bit early for a festival Saturday night. And Elephant Revival was the rage on Sunday, with an old-time acoustic authenticity and flair that resembled Paonia’s Sweet Sunny South. I had much anticipated, but missed the Great Lake Swimmers and the Greencards, but whether they were sublime or merely pleasant wouldn’t change my review.
In a nutshell: the Meadowgrass Festival is an outstanding experience, and being within a 1-hour radius of a population of more than 1 million, could grow to be a signature Colorado summer festival, if it cares to. The organizers are still getting their feet wet (or dry rather, since last year’s inaugural festival was soaked by rain). But Meadowgrass’s openness and intimacy were a refreshing contrast to larger summer festivals. It was like attending a really happening garden party, and on the summer’s first weekend, could you wish for more?
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Jeremy Simon is a Lafayette freelance writer and regular contributor to Reverb.