By Ken Singer
For the last decade or so, the RockyGrass Academy, which precedes the annual festival at Planet Bluegrass, has become one of the “hottest tickets” around. Eager musicians of every stripe dream of the opportunity to “learn from the masters.” This year, eight Lyons residents joined the two hundred and seventy students and instructors in advancing their musical skills. The students in attendance are not only musicians from Colorado and across the country, but
some have traveled from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, England, and Northern Ireland.
There are classes for novice, intermediate, and experienced players, as well as opportunities for songwriting and instrument-building during the four days prior to the festival. It can be a family affair; kids ranging in age from seven to fourteen can also advance their skills.
Brian Eyster, director of communications for the Planet noted that the expansive grounds of Planet Bluegrass allow for small classes to be held under canopies as well as the Wildflower Pavilion. The distance between classes and the bucolic backdrop of the St. Vrain Creek (white noise) ensure the sounds do not to carry from one “classroom” to the next.
The Academy offers classes for banjo, mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, guitar and dobro, all of which are often found at the “Tuesday Bluegrass Pick” at Oskar Blues. In addition to morning instruction for these instruments, breakout elective classes are offered in the afternoon. Some of the classes cover subjects like technical applications to the instrument, singing in duets, harmonizing, improvising, surviving the road on any budget, and many others. Typically, a "graduation” ceremony is held on Thursday alongside (or sometimes in) the river,” according to Eyster. Many of the Academy instructors stick around, and perform on the Main Stage or Wildflower Pavilion during the festival weekend.
As usual, there are ubiquitous reminders that the Academy as well as the RockyGrass and Folks Festivals are zero waste events. The meals that are provided for students, as well as those purchased from festival vendors, are served on compostable plates and utensils that go into the many containers for compost. Eyster also proudly pointed out that the campsite nearest to Apple Valley Road (behind the Main Stage) is now grass, rather than the wood chip surface of the previous festivals, which makes for a much more enjoyable festival camping experience.