Photos by Josh Elioseff
Words by Nichole Wagner
- Friday, August 14, 2015
- Gates Open
- Songwriter Showcase
- Mary Gauthier
- Peter Yarrow
- Shane Koyczan & The Short Story Long
- Kasey Chambers
- Sufjan Stevens
After 25 years of Folks Festivals, the organizers at Planet Bluegrass have gotten the art of a well-rounded festival decidedly perfect. Blending traditional favorites and legends with newer names, stretching the boundaries of the genre, and nurturing the next generation of singer-songwriters are all fundamental to the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, and this shows in every aspect of the three day event.
The annual festivities began with the tarp run (a ritual repeated every morning as the William Tell Overture was piped through the speakers). Then the Songwriters Showcase Finalists took the stage, each performing their songs in front of a panel of luminary guest judges. Ben Shannon of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was chosen as the winner.
Local Lyons-based band TAARKA kicked off the official line-up with their blend of bluegrass, Gypsy jazz, and folk. Festival regular (her 6th appearance) Mary Gauthier followed, promising to do her best to “bring us down” despite the then-beautiful weather. She mixed her set of classics (“Drag Queens and Limousines,” “Mercy Now”) with some new songs, including a few written with veterans as part of SongwritingWith:Soldiers, a program started by Darden Smith that connects solders with songwriters to write about their military experiences.
Legendary Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary) reached nearly everyone in the crowd with his renditions of favorites (“Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Blowing in the Wind”), his lesson on the Occupy movement’s “Mic Check” process which led into “Have You Been to Jail for Justice,” and the highlight for many, “Puff the Magic Dragon,” during which he was joined on stage by dozens of children for a full-participation sing-along.
Next up was Shane Koyczan, the sole spoken-word artist of the festival. With his band, The Short Story Long, he weaved poetry with lush sonic imagery, wrapping up just as the skies darkened and sheets of rain began falling. He was also the only artists to play two full sets, the latter in the Wildflower Pavilion on Saturday evening.
The heavy rain caused the remaining headliners to be delayed by nearly an hour, Kasey Chambers even joking that they thought they’d have to return to Australia having not played the festival at all. Luckily the rains finally let up enough to continue, and Kasey and her electrified band took the crowd on a journey that hit on her expansive career all the way back to her first record, The Captain (she played the title track and “Pony”) on through to trying out a few brand new songs. A rocking cover of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” was accented by banjo (because a banjo makes everything sound better) and Bill Chamber’s electric guitar. She also stripped down to an acoustic trio with Josh Dufficy & Brandon Dodd of Grizzlee Train for a raucous version of “Rattlin’ Bones.”
Multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens closed out the day with his ethereal folk, combining electronic, computer-driven sounds with his live band. During his two-hour set he touched on a variety of styles with tunes like “Redford,” “Chicago,” and “Dress Looks Nice,” building intensity towards the finale.