Under three blazing hot days at the Planet Bluegrass ranch in Lyons, a sold-out crowd enjoyed what more than one festival-goer referred to as “adult summer camp” during the 39th annual RockyGrass Festival.
Rockygrass feels much like a family reunion, as not only do many of the same artists return every year, but many of the same friends that you might meet at late-night picks in the campground. The music starts Thursday night, and doesn’t really end until Monday morning. The picks just don’t happen between festivarians either; every night in the backstage area, artists who have played during the day gather for a late-night picking session that often lasts until the early-morning hours.
Many of the artists who played on Friday had been at the RockyGrass Academy all week, instructing eager bluegrass music fans in the nuances of the music. This camaraderie carried over to many of the main stage performances on Friday.
Darol Anger, fiddle-master extraordinaire, seemed to be everywhere all weekend. Friday, he brought his Republic of Strings to the main stage in the early afternoon. Anger and Lauren Rioux played a rousing fiddle duet on “Melt the Teakettle,” a tune he played with Natalie MacMaster on his “Diary of a Fiddler” CD.
Flatpicking maestro Bryan Sutton, who would play Saturday with Hot Rize, brought together an ensemble that included Anger and mandolinist Mike Marshall (another Academy instructor) a set that showed smooth, sweet playing on the trad number “Way Downtown.”
The first of two former members of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, Peter Rowan, delivered a late afternoon set marked by his yodeling delivery on tunes like “The Raven” and longtime favorites “Panama Red” and “Midnight Moonlight.”
The dinner set fell to David “Dawg” Grisman, who normally brings fierce instrumental creativity to sets filled with jazzy instrumentals. Given the setting however, Grisman chose a different tack, giving the fans a history lesson with tracks spanning the origins of bluegrass and Appalachian folk to some of the modern bluegrass standards, including “Cuckoo Song” and the Monroe Brothers’ tune “Going On.”
Another former Blue Grass Boy, Del McCoury, closed the first day of the festival with his brilliant singing on favorites like “Nashville Cats.” He got a cheer from the hippie-grass fans when he introduced “Beauty of My Dreams,” a song Phish plays, and brought Rowan, Grisman and Anger for some picking and jamming on “Dawg’s Bull.”
Fans retired back to their campgrounds to continue the musical exploration on the late night picks, while others queued up for the race for tarp space Saturday morning.
Click here to revisit our coverage of the 2011 Telluride Bluegrass Festival.