Lyons — Craig Ferguson stands at the entrance of the main pavilion on Planet Bluegrass Ranch gesturing above eye level to show the height of the river that tore through the Lyons festival grounds 10 months ago.
“The water was basically right up to my head,” the Planet Bluegrass owner says over the sound of hammering, power tools and the hum of a shop vac that continues to suck water from underneath structures. “Words can’t even explain it.”
At first light on Sept. 12, 2013, Ferguson and his family climbed the cliff overlooking Planet Bluegrass Ranch and watched in horror as a 500-year flood ripped through the grounds, bringing fences, debris and entire structures with it. His daughter filmed videos that would quickly go viral on social media, showing the once-tranquil home to RockyGrass and Rocky Mountain Folks Festival sitting under 4 feet of water, littered with lumber, dirt and destroyed vehicles.
At that time Ferguson could think only one thing: “As long as that stage stands we can put on our show.”
The stage held, though the vegetation and Planet Bluegrass buildings and offices were damaged or destroyed — including the main pavilion and Ferguson’s home, which sits at the center of the grounds.
“Once that stage stood, we didn’t have any second thoughts about putting on the shows this year,” Ferguson said. “I didn’t really have a choice. Once we decided we were going to do it, it was like, ‘Where is the hammer.’”
Two days later, Ferguson and the Planet Bluegrass crew went to work, vowing to rebuild in time for RockyGrass, a sold-out annual festival attracting Alison Krauss, Béla Fleck, Ricky Skaggs and more to perform July 25-27.
With eight employees working full time and, at its peak, crews of 40-50, Planet Bluegrass spent $1.3 million during the following months repairing the damage.
By December, Planet Bluegrass employees huddled in offices taking ticket orders for the organization’s biggest event, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Ferguson refused to move the Dec. 6 on-sale date, even though the offices were still in disarray.
With no bathrooms, one phone on the ground and only a small space heater, employees worked as tickets sold out within 16 minutes. They put blankets on the website server, terrified that it would crash from the cold.
During the months after the flood, Ferguson did his best to book the artists for Planet Bluegrass events, driving up the hill to where he got service to call agents and spending days in hotels with Internet availability.
On a recent morning, Ferguson proudly hiked the grounds where RockyGrass and Rock Mountain Folks Festival will bring more than 20,000 people through Planet Bluegrass’ gates this summer.
In a few weeks, Ferguson said, “we have to turn the power on for RockyGrass.”
But that power grid isn’t up and running yet. If the water isn’t all removed and the power lines put down, Ferguson will have to use generators to give electricity to the main stage.
As yellow earth movers rolled by, Ferguson talked about the flood’s devastating path. “My brand new BMW, the one I’d been waiting my entire life for, was flipped over down there,” he said, pointing to a spot about 50 yards away, where an employee applied a fresh coat of paint to a new fence.
Ferguson said 20-foot-tall mountains of sand and sediment had to be removed once the water had been diverted from the grounds. It took more than 1,000 dump truck loads.
Now, the grounds are blanketed with a pristine layer of grass, the buildings stand stronger than ever with new wood and layers of cement, and the field in front of the main stage now slopes up, where crews dumped some of the sediment to improve the views from the back.
This Planet Bluegrass 2.0, as staff calls it, is thanks in part to donated time from the community, a bank loan of $1 million and donations from the festival’s loyal musicians.
The biggest donation came from Yonder Mountain String Band, the nationally known, Nederland-based bluegrass group that got its start playing Planet Bluegrass festivals.