By Ken Singer
Tickets went on sale for the 46th annual RockyGrass Festival months ago, and quickly sold out. The reputation of this production, as well as having some of the biggest names in bluegrass, drew people in from across the state and the country, as well as a host of international music fans. A good number of the bands had a connection to Colorado
and/or Lyons; either having performed here or at the Telluride festivals. And many of the volunteers and other staff were familiar faces to the local Festivarians.
This year, the festival provided camping and parking at the newly acquired Planet Bluegrass Farm (on Route 36 north of Planet Bluegrass) for about 1000 cars and tents and campers, with additional tent camping at the Planet, Riverbend, and RVs at LaVern Johnson Park. Absent around town this year were the school buses shuttling campers from Bohn Park to the festival. Parking, on the Planet grounds, was limited to the usual bicycles, golf carts, and motorcycles; as well as the cars, vans, and buses for the performers and Academy students. Much of the local staff was on duty for a full week, from the Sunday before the four-day Academy started, through Sunday when the festival ended.
People handling the wristbands for the numerous categories (one-day, three-day, students, performers, press, and many others) did well maintaining a steady flow of Festivarians coming through the gate.
Dawn Weller’s crew of “custom agents” were on the lookout for glass and outside alcohol as they inspected backpacks, wagons, strollers, and coolers. The process usually took less than a minute and Dawn described the technique as, “friendly TSA agents.” When she found a glass container with guacamole or jelly, she produced plastic zip bags that the owner could transfer the contents to. Most people were fine with the inspection process, although one person who brought in gluten-free beer complained that the beer stand didn’t have any she could drink.
Rebecca Louzan Hayden, “libations supervisor,” brought in a new brewery, Avery, replacing New Belgium, which had the beer monopoly for many years. It appeared as if the lines were a bit shorter during the festival, but as of press time, the data for beer sold in previous years, as compared to this year were not known.
The three-day festival, usually held the last weekend of July, coincides with the arrival of the summer monsoon season, but fortunately the brief rain was limited to only 15 to 20 minutes the first two days of RockyGrass, and the last day was cool but dry.
Wendy Miller’s “sanitation crew” was responsible for the bathhouses and toilets for most of the campgrounds as well as the backstage area.
As usual, Lyons High School LHS) students, along with some parents, alumni, and others, manned the numerous compost/recycle/landfill stations. They also sprinted the reusable plates and bowls (as well as reusable utensils - new this year) to the dish washing machine to ensure a clean and steady supply for the food vendors. LHS Music/Band Director Dr. Karen Gregg, supervised the “sustainable festival crew,” which numbered about 50 volunteers in orange shirts. She praised Planet Bluegrass for their financial contributions to the LHS music program each year in exchange for the kids' labor.
There are a number of full-time Planet staff who plan the program many months out for the artists as well as logistics for the festival. Telluride takes place in June, and is the largest of the three main festivals put on by Planet Bluegrass, and is sometimes a dress rehearsal for RockyGrass and Folks Festival (held in August).
Some of Planet's staff are hired on just for the festivals. Rhett Snyder from Boulder, is a familiar face (and haircut) to the musicians around the stage. He is the “back line stage” manager and general “gofer.” He noted that when the artists and bands travel by van or bus, they usually bring their own equipment, but those who travel by plane expect to be provided with specific microphones, amps and just about anything else needed for a concert. That’s one of Rhett’s duties as one of the paid staffers who just works the festivals.
The hardworking volunteers get another perk; quality food and catching an act from backstage or the “mosh pit” area reserved for performers, guests, photographers, and the press. Chesla Catering has been preparing tasty meals for people backstage at all the Planet festivals for many years, as well as other events in Colorado. The menu is varied and the options include gluten-free, vegan, or non-dairy. Local attorney Roger Flynn, another familiar face at his post, was the “ticket-taker” for the 300 meals served each day for dinner.
Decorations and artwork are often transported between Telluride and Lyons for the festivals. Khaeli Sue Pinello from Lyons is the artist behind the butterflies, guitars, and herons that hang on fences, trees, and decorate the “green room” tent walls. Claudia Kean and Jacob Leeuwenburgh supervised a crew of volunteers who laid out the rope lighting throughout the grounds, including the pathway to the new campground at the Farm. Claudia described her job as being “in charge of ‘phooph’ (decorative artwork).” New to the festival this year were lighted lampshades in the trees.
As noted, some of the artists are local, and some got broader recognition after performing at RockyGrass years ago (and many have multiple appearances at the festival). The “most local” of the bands was the Lyons Bluegrass Collective, consisting of KC Groves, Natalie Padilla, Sarah Cole, Dylan McCarthy, and Eric Yates. They opened Sunday morning’s Gospel performance. They added several other local musicians, and called up some of the backstage people involved with sound and lighting (“roadies”) for a round of applause.
Former locals, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, just back from an international tour, played right after the Bluegrass Collective. In the years since Tristan Scroggins jammed at the Tuesday night Oskar Blues Pick, he has won a number of awards including last year’s International Bluegrass Music Award’s Momentum Winner.
Planet Bluegrass will host the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival August 17 through the 19. Tickets are still available for this event at www.bluegrass.com, or at The Stone Cup here in Lyons.