Photos: RockyGrass Day 2 featuring Hot Rize, Steve Martin - Reverb

Live review: RockyGrass Festival Day 2, featuring Hot Rize, Steve Martin, Sarah Jarosz

Saturday at the RockyGrass Festival proved to be the busiest day of the weekend, and certainly had many of the fans excited to see what banjo player/comedian Steve Martin would pull off. The tarp dash as the gates opened at 9 a.m. had a frenetic air to it. If Friday and been hot, Saturday was wilting, and many people took to tubing for much of the afternoon to try and beat the heat. The line for ice cream was the longest of any booth for most of the day.

One of the great things about RockyGrass is seeing how the bluegrass tradition is handed down from one generation to the next. Della Mae, an all-female ensemble from Boston, kicked off the main stage performances of the day with silky smooth harmonies on “Blessed Hands.”

Mandolin players Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg played a set that was part instructional workshop, part dazzling instrumental virtuosity, as they took festivarians on a world mandolin tour, playing mandolin tunes from locations like Brazil and Italy.

The instructional aspect of RockyGrass can’t be overlooked. In addition to the RockyGrass Academy, which sells out every year, and the campground picks from which people can learn from other pickers, there are workshops during the day in the Wildflower Pavillion. One of the more interesting ones was Saturday afternoon, presented by the Artistworks Academy of Bluegrass. This site has brought together Marshall, fiddler Darol Anger, banjo player Tony Trischka, bassist Missy Raines and guitarist Bryan Sutton, to offer video instruction lessons for as little as $20 a month. Pickers who sign up even get to submit a video to the instructor for personal instruction. These bluegrass masters had fun picking on some classic bluegrass songs like “Sitting on Top of the World.”

Another new generation player with a long history at RockyGrass, multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz, played a dazzling late afternoon set. As a 12-year-old attending the Academy in 2003, Jarosz ended up playing a tweener set at RockyGrass. Now, 20, she just released her second album, “Follow Me Down,” and her take on the Edgar Allen Poe poem “Annabel Lee” from that record (she spells it “Annabelle Lee”) brought many festivarians to their feet to dance in the late-afternoon heat.

By the time Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers took the stage, everyone in the festival had moved as close to the stage as they could. What could have been a novelty act balanced Martin’s laconic humor on between-songs’ monologues with serious bluegrass picking on tunes like “The Crow.” The group added some humor on “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs,” sung like a traditional gospel tune, and a bluegrass version of Martin’s “King Tut.”

Longtime local favorites Hot Rize closed Saturday in fine style, kicking off right into high gear on “Blue Night,” with outstanding harmonies between Tim O’Brien and eTown host Nick Forster. A Pete Wernick instrumental, “Sky Rider,” hinted that Hot Rize might be recording a new album at some point. Hot Rize traveling fanboys Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers also appeared, doing country western songs like “Oh Mona.” Rumors abounded that Steve Martin would make an appearance with the Trailblazers, but alas, he only served briefly as Waldo Otto’s roadie. However, Waldo’s cousin Elmo did make an appearance on fiddle. Anger sat in when Hot Rize returned, adding blazing fiddle to “Shady Grove.”

Click here for a full review and photo gallery of Day 1 and Day 3.

Click here to revisit our coverage of the 2011 Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

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Candace Horgan is a Denver freelance writer/photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. When not writing and shooting, she plays guitar and violin in Denver band Black Postcards.

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