ROCKYGRASS 2003: BLUEGRASS ROCKS!

This year's RockyGrass lineup featured Seldom Scene, Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, David "Dawg" Grisman, Tim O'Brien, Mike Marshall, Darol Anger, Chris Thile, Laurie Lewis, Drew Emmitt, John Cowan and Bryan Sutton, among many talented others.

Friday (day one) was a scorchingly hot and dry summmer day in the foothills, but 3,500 hardy festivarians poured into the Planet Bluegrass Ranch compound primed for some sizzlin' music. With the weather being so warm, St. Vrain Creek was central to the experience. People of all ages cooled their heels (and all other body parts) in the burbling water under the sandstone cliffs. Some just sat in the water near the tall cottonwoods. Some built rock sculptures. Others floated by on inner-tubes and rafts. And naturally the artists set the perfect musical backdrop for these pastoral good times by playing some of the best bluegrass out there.

Early acts included Boulder's own Hit and Run, fresh off winning this year's band contest at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and Alaska's Bearfoot Bluegrass Band, last year's T-ride band winner. Both young bands are up-and-comers for sure.

Bluegrass Etc., a power trio of bluegrass pickers if ever there was one, also layed down some hot stuff on Friday afternoon. These guys get into it. After watching for a while, and being mesmerized by their flying fingerwork on guitar, banjo and even the bass, all I could think was, "Yep, this is jam music at its most primal."

First day highlights: Seldom Scene rocked hard, peaking with a fun bluegrass version of the old standard "I Know You Rider." Then Rice and Rowan peformed with husband-and-wife mandolin and bass team Bill and Bryn Bright. Delving into tunes such as "Land of the Navajo," "Panama Red," and "The Walls of Time," these top-tier players got everyone primed for the kind of high quality playing that defines the festival. Next the Del McCoury Band with David Grisman took the stage to close Friday evening's procedings in high style. Del and Dawg put out a mix of traditional bluegrass, manifested by tunes like "Back to Ol' Kentucky," and edged over to high-flyin' jamgrass with the help of Grisman, Marshall, Anger, mandolinist Tom Rozum of the Laurie Lewis Trio, and mandolin craftsman Steve Gilchrist of Australia.

Grisman was back on Saturday with his famous quintet, taking brilliant and varied acoustic forays through many different genres - having Enrique Coria on guitar helps. The group was also joined by Marshal and Anger to create an "old friends" feeling at the cozy fest. The evening soared as Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder lit things up country style with high intensity playing and good song selection, including "Black Eyed Susan" and one of my favorites, "How Mountain Girls Can Love." It's always fun to watch people "dance" to bluegrass and this year's fest was no exception. It was like a bluegrass-inspired rave to the right of the stage, with the crowd eating up the ligthning-quick mando playing and bopping to the acoustic grooves.

Following an afternoon rain storm, Sunday came on pleasantly. The Tim O'Brien Band offered up a soulful set that mixed material from the group's latest release Traveler with the group's usual bluegrass, Celtic and newgrass influences. Dirk Powell rocked on his funky black acoustic bass as well as on accordion. T.O. crooned as well as ever and played spritely mandolin, while Irishman John Doyle was intense in his guitar playing. The band also includes fiddler Casey Dreisen and famed Nashville percussionist Kenny Malone. The TOB Set included "I've Endured," "Raleigh & Spencer," "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burnin'," "A Miner's Life Is Like A Sailor", and lots more.

Old and In the Gray capped off the weekend with a hot set that sounded as good to my ears as some of the classic Old and In The Way material, minus the much-loved Garcia and Kahn of course. The group, which retains Rowan, Grisman and Clements, has added Bryn Bright on bass and Herb Pederson on banjo. OAITG opened with a tight "Pig in a Pen," and salted their set with chestnuts such as "The Wicked Path of Sin," closing with an extended "Midnight Moolight" which put the cherry on top of a very sweet festival.

Other good times at RG2003: hula-hooping by the creek; checking out the latest in acoustic instruments from Martin, Gibson and other manufacturers; dancing behind the soundboard; clinics with various artists; and good old fashioned beer drinking and kicking back.

Bluegrass rocks!

Words by: Nick Hutchinson
Images by: Tony Stack
JamBase | Colorado
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http://www.planetbluegrass.com

[Published on: 8/5/03]

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