PHOTOS/REVIEW: 24th annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival


:: Rocky Mountain Folks Festival ::

:: Planet Bluegrass Ranch ::

:: August 14 – 16, 2014 ::

Photos by Josh Elioseff

Words by Monica Colbi

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Folks Festival Day 1

On September 11th, 2013, the Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Lyons was devastated by at least four feet of flood water and debris that erupted from the St. Vrain River.  In the aftermath of the historic flood, the Planet Bluegrass family vowed to rebuild the ranch; not only the basic structural and grounds repairs, but to upgrade and become a leader in sustainable festivation.  With unfailing determination, countless individuals and donations made the 2014 festival season not only a reality, but a hearty success.

The Ranch boasts a main stage that is not only beautifully designed and constructed, but provides a great view for the crowd and houses an impressive and state of the art sound and lighting system.  The newly rebuilt Wildflower Pavilion has revamped acoustics and 41 years of Telluride Bluegrass posters hanging along the walls.  The filtered water stations and conscientious disposal stations, with volunteers to assist in proper separation of compostable, recyclable, and landfill items, are obvious efforts toward sustainability and responsible festivation — a movement that the Planet Bluegrass crew has been leading for nearly a decade.  The family tent provides art, crafts, educational activities, and face painting to keep the younger festival attendees busy and entertained.  The St. Vrain, which now flows at a lazy pace, provides a reprieve from the hot summer sun.  Whether looking for a game of cornhole or hacky sack, hula hooping or tubing down the river, playing or listening to music with friends, or finding inspiration in the countless stories of loss and rebirth, every corner of the festival offers something for everyone.

Upon entering the grounds on Friday August, 15th, the north and south ends of the ranch had transformed into “tent cities”, with most in these makeshift communities comfortable and considerate in offering space and resources to others in the vicinity.  The Songwriter Showcase kicked off the main stage music for the day, with showcase finalist Patrick Dethlefs explaining how “Colorado is an easy place to find inspiration.”  Steve Poltz, who has been touted as being one of the most talented and prolific songwriters of our time, played a set on both stages, delighting the audiences with his conversational storytelling and use of loops and effects.  In the packed Wildflower Pavilion, Vance Gilbert received a standing ovation for his set, followed later by Kai Welch, who inspired generous applause with his impressive multi-instrumentalism.

Back at the main stage, Sarah Jarosz, with her crystalline voice, melodies that varied between haunting and upbeat, and powerful presence, delighted the audience in her first Folks Fest appearance.  Festival and crowd favorite, Greg Brown, in his 13th appearance at the festival, did not disappoint as his somewhat “outlaw country” sound pleased the audience along with his statements like “I’m an American and I’m gonna’ let my freak flag fly!”

The most anticipated set of the day came from another festival favorite, the fiery and high energy Ani DiFranco.  She was all smiles as she expressed her gratitude for all of the hard work to rebuild and recover.  Along with the favorites, she introduced a new song, “Happy All the Time”, which was sensuously satirical, and sang “Fuel” as a power anthem in solidarity with the protesters in Missouri.

Dispatch closed the day on the main stage and was greeted by the crowd with a deafening roar.  The audience was on their feet as the band began a high intensity, musically diverse set.  With a fusion of funk and reggae (with breaks bordering on punk/ska), blues, rock, and the occasional Latin lick, the band interacted with one another and the audience with joy, enthusiasm, and togetherness-hammering the spirit of the festival home.


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Saturday was sold out, and with acts like Arthur Lee Land, Imelda May, and Brandi Carlile, it’s no secret as to why.  The Stray Birds played on the main stage, captivating the audience with Maya de Vitry’s soulfully velvet voice, tight harmonies, and impressive songwriting.  Hurray for the Riff Raff played the big stage next with songs like “Slow Walk”, an ode to not giving up on your dreams.  Their unique sound ranged from a honky tonk/doo-wop fusion, to a more contemporary country bluegrass sound, with a little yodeling thrown in for good measure.

Meanwhile, at the pavilion, Arthur Lee Land inspired spontaneous outbursts of joy and applause with his multi-instrument looping and his enjoyable and relatable vocals.  Following Arthur, the showcase finalists played “in the round” style, sharing their gifts of songwriting with listeners.  Justin Roth finished off the day at the Wildflower Pavilion with a touching tribute that he wrote after the flood titled “Rise”. He has been performing and selling copies of this beautiful ode over the past many months, with 100% of the proceeds of the song going toward rebuilding and recovery.

In the late afternoon sun, Governor Hickenlooper took over MCing the main stage for a moment to congratulate the Planet Bluegrass family for their spectacular feat of rebuilding.  He then introduced Imelda May, a native of Ireland who’s rockabilly sound and style, upbeat to slow and sultry songs, and powerful voice and delivery left revelers breathless.  She was supported with applause when she made the comment, “Yes, I know that this is a folk festival, but without folk, there would be no rock and roll.”

Appearing to be the most anticipated act of the festival, the amazing Brandi Carlile took to the main stage to close out Saturday evening.  She and her band did not disappoint as they began with immeasurable energy and a percussive and driving opening.  Between songs, which ranged from well-known favorites, to brand new tunes, to amazing covers including Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, she praised and honored everyone involved with and attending the festival with a heartfelt salute and stories of her connection to Colorado, seeming to choke up on occasion from overwhelming emotion.  Her unique and powerful voice, along with the incredible musicianship of her band, made Ms. Carlile a true highlight of the entire weekend.


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While Peter Himmelman, who later played a set on the main stage, began Sunday in the pavilion with his popular kids show, the Drepung Loseling Monks could be heard and seen on the big stage chanting, dancing, and providing educational and fun skits for the entire family to enjoy.  The monks later closed the day at the pavilion with a ceremony invoking peace and healing that included handing out and spreading in the river the sand from the impressive mandala that they had been patiently working on the previous week alongside the Song School students and instructors.

The early afternoon saw Ben Sollee take the main stage with his unique and impressive vocals and distinctive cello playing, using unusual bowing and fingerpicking techniques to pull out of his instrument an amazing array of sounds.  His love song, “Prettiest Tree on the Mountain”, inspired by mother nature, was as refreshing as a mid-day summertime breeze.  Later, crowd favorites Elephant Revival delighted and entranced listeners from the main stage with their range of soft and ethereal to driving and toe tapping music.  The crowd roared after every song and all but demanded an encore, which the lovely Bonnie Paine obliged them with a beautiful a cappella tune.

Later that afternoon, Ellis played to an overflowing crowd in the pavilion.  She had the crowd laughing and crying with her touching stories and songs, dedicating “What We’re Made Of” to the town of Lyons.  She explained how she was “mind-blown and inspired by the strength and perseverance” of Lyons residents.  All seemed affected by her set in an emotional and spiritual way.  Shortly thereafter, Lake Street Dive blasted onto the main stage with Rachael Price’s powerhouse vocals, seamless harmonies, and understated musical excellence.  The soulful, yet highly danceable songs kept festivarians more and more enraptured with each passing note.  The personable, humble, smiling band told the crowd that they could take some responsibly for the “swagger” that the band developed only after coming to Colorado and being so well received.  During their encore, which the crowd enthusiastically requested, Rachael coyly asked, “You all DO know that Randy Newman is coming up next, right?”  The audience responded with jubilant anticipation.

The incomparable Randy Newman closed the festival on Sunday night.  With only himself and his massive grand piano, the feeling was as if a couple thousand people were hanging out in his living room, listening to his hysterical stories of his decades long music career, and encouraging him to play favorites such as “Short People”, “I Love to See You Smile”, and “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”.  He also offered an array of more emotional and tender songs like “Guilty” and “I Miss You”, rounding out his set and the audience’s experience.  His charm, easily recognizable voice and piano playing, and down to earth attitude made his set a joy to behold and the perfect ending to a magical weekend.

The recovery of Planet Bluegrass and the town of Lyons is not over, but Folks Fest provided a renewed sense of hope, togetherness, gratitude, and peace.  It was obvious that people were not excited to leave the festival, as evident by the unusually slow pace at which they filed out of the grounds, already discussing next year’s festival season with excited anticipation and enthusiasm.


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1 Comment

  1. Linda Glickstein on

    Josh, you outdid yourself at Folks Fest. Your photos rock, Sir! Thanks for the great job. Always a pleasure to see you work.