If Friday’s performances at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, for the most part, got to the intimacy of much about folk music, featuring solo singer-songwriters, Saturday got to the heart of folk rock, hitting sultry, swampy Delta blues, transcendent electric guitar, country twang, and, at the end of the day, the Grateful Dead.
Last year’s songwriting competition winner, Coloradan Megan Burtt, kicked off the day’s performances, as she and her band woke up the crowd with the smoky “Picture” and a transcendent “Gonna Be Lovin’ You.”
Mama Kin, aka Danielle Caruana, who is married to John Butler and sang with him last weekend at Red Rocks, has a rich, smoky alto that resonates with swampy, earthy, Delta blues, infusing a sultriness to songs like “Love’s Not So Great” and “Bitter Tears.” She was wonderfully expressive on stage, dancing back and forth between her brother Michael on piano, who celebrated his birthday at the show, and her drummer.
Mary Gauthier contrasted with the day’s first performers, stripping everything down to naked, honest, heartbreaking songs with spare instrumental performances. Performing with brilliant Canadian fiddler Tania Elizabeth, Gauthier’s performance on tunes like “Drag Queens in Limousines” really connected with the audience.
As the third generation in perhaps America’s first family of folk music, Sarah Lee Guthrie, daughter of Arlo, talked about her dad and the “Alice’s Restaurant” church, while she and Johnny Irion delved into the country rock twang of songs from their album “Bright Eyes,” such as “Seven Sisters.” Guthrie had a self-deprecating stage presence, at one point stopping a song and apologizing to the crowd when her monitor started to feed back.
Performing as Red Horse, Lucy Kaplansky, Eliza Gilkyson, and John Gorka staged a songwriter’s circle, turning the Planet Bluegrass stage into the intimacy of a living room. Each would start a song, and the others would add some harmonies and the occasional guitar part. Gilkyson got a cheer from the crowd when she discussed how wonderful the day was, saying “Today doesn’t suck.” Gilkyson’s performance of “The Beauty Way,” a song about guitar players and her love for them, stood out. The trio underestimated their stage time, and could be heard over the PA discussing how to fill out the time in their set, eventually adding “Wayfaring Stranger.”
Some artists ooze an infectious, goofy, happy vibe. John Ritter and the Royal City Band played brilliantly. Ritter at one point did push ups on stage, while his bandmates filled out a huge, chimey sound on songs like “Folk Bloodbath” and “Thin Blue Flame.”
No one was really sure what to expect from the Bob Weir, Chris Robinson and Jackie Greene set to close the day’s festivities. The trio gave the people what they wanted, a lot of Grateful Dead tunes. Weir introduced “Friend of the Devil” as something “in the people’s key of G.” Greene’s folksy banjo added a rootsy quality to “Ramble On Rose,” and the trio’s harmonies on “Suagaree” were soulful. There was, of course, some exploratory jamming, with Robinson adding a Garcia-like solo on “Bird Song.” On the encore, the entire audience sang along with the three on “Ripple.”