Words by: Brian Heisler | Images by: Tobin Voggesser
YarmonyGrass :: 08.15.08 – 08.17.08 :: Copper Mountain Ski Resort :: Frisco, CO
In its third year, YarmonyGrass moved to a new and bigger location at Copper Mountain, after the State Bridge Lodge in Bond, CO, burned down a year ago. However, Copper Mountain has become a renowned Colorado host for festivals. With a larger venue and even larger lineup, anticipation was high for the event. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate. Friday morning a major storm rolled into the mountains, dumping rain, hail, and even snow, with temperatures dropping below 40-degrees - in August. The weather prevented many from traveling on Friday, but seemed to have no effect on the spirits of those who did make it out for the weekend.
Friday, August 15
Friday focused on Colorado's own up-and-coming bluegrass faithful. Nederland's Elephant Revival got things going and Fort Collins-based Head For The Hills warmed-up the cold crowd before the sun went down. Michael Kang and Scott Law made their first appearances of the festival with Strings For Industry, closing the main stage. The most compelling part of Friday was found in the late night Revival Tent. Two of the scene's next big bluegrass bands tore open the tent, beginning with Michigan's Greensky Bluegrass. Chicago's Cornmeal followed to create the biggest buzz of the day, turning heads and moving up the food chain, just as they have been across the nation.
Saturday, August 16
Saturday was the day of Cheese. Nearly every act had a member of String Cheese Incident in it and everyone was well aware of this fact. A rare Keith Moseley and Friends set opened the day, somewhat reminiscent of Phil Lesh as the great bassist led the way. Cheese's Kyle Hollingsworth followed with his usual exuberance, but still playing to a small crowd as the festivalgoers were still arriving given the continued poor weather. It wasn't until the Emmitt-Nershi Band hit the stage that the crowd really seemed full. The combination of String Cheese Incident songs and Leftover Salmon songs was a perfect fit to grace the Colorado Rocky Mountains. With Billy Nershi singing the bluegrass of "Barstool" and "Good Times Around the Bend," it seemed like old times. Even famous SCI fan Lester took part in the festivities, dancing carelessly through the rain in his tie-dye long underwear.
Railroad Earth really owned the stage both Saturday and Sunday, playing all the appropriate songs. The Saturday set began with "Storms," a fitting tune for the weekend's weather. "Elko" continued the set with Scott Law on electric guitar, who turned out to be the hardest working artist at YarmonyGrass. "Mighty River" seemed to sum up the feeling of the day, but at the same time it showed the crowd's resilience to beat the weather and let smiling faces and happy feet reign in the mud of Copper Mountain. "Peace On Earth" and "Colorado" perfectly fit the theme as well, and a cover of Marvin Gaye's hit "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," which included Scott Law and the lovely backup singers, showed just how the rain and cold weather could not affect the joyful audience.
|Allie Kral with RRE :: YarmonyGrass 2008|
Keller Williams and the artists formerly known as the WMDs closed the main stage. Keller's all star band has proven to be quite a bit different from his solo routine. In the past, Keller rarely allowed himself to close a festival, but the band was every bit primed to do just that. The only group that really didn't play bluegrass, Keller's band rocked YarmonyGrass, which many hoped would be a perfect setup for the much anticipated late night set that would reunite String Cheese Incident.
The trance of EOTO made the giant tent bounce as hoopers on stage entertained. The completion of EOTO's set brought out the Rebel Alliance Jam. The big Cheese reunion everyone had hoped for never happened, but all the members of Cheese except for Moseley added to the jam at some point. A party filled with covers saw Keller take the lead on Bob Marley's "Trenchtown Rock." "Franklin's Tower" and "Lay Down Sally" moved the crowd to the heaviest dancing of the night. "Hey Pockey Way" highlighted the late night with an electric solo from Nershi and closed the night. The late nights were early and shorter than usual, but that just left more energy for the daytime.
Sunday, August 17
The most tenured musician of the festival, Peter Rowan, began Sunday's music with an outstanding morphing cast of friends that included several members of Railroad Earth and Hot Buttered Rum. RRE's mandolin player John Skehan added a sweet, delicate touch, the perfect compliment to Rowan's music. "Thanks for coming up to the mountains with us, just as summer's reaching its peak!" Rowan joked. The classic "Panama Red" could not be passed up, which Rowan seemed to improvise into a segue of Elizabeth Cotten's "Freight Train." Rowan received the first encore of the weekend, excluding the late night sets. "The guy who put this [festival] together is named Andrew. He requested this song," Rowan explained before playing the encore of "Ruby Ridge." Hands down, Peter Rowan was the best true bluegrass storyteller of the weekend.
|Peter Rowan :: YarmonyGrass 2008|
Hot Buttered Rum was one of the most alive sets of YarmonyGrass. With a dedication to the friend it was written for, "Hugs, Not Handshakes" got the crowd hugging one another. "Golden Days" followed and The Beatles' "I've Got a Feeling" continued with a swap in instruments as Aaron Redner switched from violin to mandolin and Zachary Matthews switched from mandolin to drums. Billy Nershi and Scott Law made their way into the set, as did Allie Kral of Cornmeal for "Cumberland Blues" to close the set.
An electric Honkytonk Homeslice set brought about Nershi and Law again, with the band wearing matching purple and black shirts. The electric set was far more fitting for the excited Yarmony crowd than the usual Honkytonk makeup would have been. Then, it was back to Railroad Earth, this time with a special horns lineup that included Danny Sears on trumpet (Panjea), Dominic Lalli on alto saxophone (The Motet) and Bob Hemminger on tenor saxophone. The horn section really added power and dimension to the already-strong grass sound of Railroad Earth. Opener "Long Way to Go" was a great motivator for the crowd that had danced through the cold and rain all weekend. The new "Hard Livin'" has become a crowd favorite and kept the mood festive. A special request from new parents and grandparents was granted in "Came Up Smilin'." The guests continued with Allie Kral, Scott Law and the backup vocals of Sheryl Renee, Coco Brown and Shelly Lindsey. Railroad Earth closed YarmonyGrass with another favorite in "Dandelion Wine."
With its first run at Copper Mountain, no inclement weather could prevent the dancing. With cozy condos only steps from the stage, for most, there were no hiccups at all. Festivalgoers traveled "high in the Rocky Mountains," and there they found every bit of new age bluegrass and unbridled beauty they expected.
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