Words: Nick Hutchinson | Photos: Tony Stack

RockyGrass :: 07.29 - 07.31 :: Lyons, CO

The Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Lyons, CO, is a tough location to beat when it comes to finding an appropriate setting for pulling together some of the best artists on the contemporary bluegrass scene. With festival grounds that include towering red rock bluffs, shady cottonwood trees, and a beautiful creek flowing through it, RockyGrass has aged like a vintage mandolin playing along to the cool waters of the St. Vrain.

Doc Watson : Relaxin' at RockyGrass
2005 kept with the RockyGrass tradition of musical excellence and festival relaxedness and was sold out well in advance. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful this year (last year's torrential rains were still warily on the mind of many festivarians), and the lineup of talent was terrific.

This year's event was professionally filmed and recorded and will eventually be released as a DVD/CD combo. The audience was very attentive, and the bands were gracious - many of the artists came out to sign CDs in the merchandise tent and to chat with the crowd.

During a very hot Friday that saw lots of people cooling off in the creek and loads of families enjoying the scene, the Kruger Brothers (a group discovered in Switzerland by Doc Watson but now based out of North Carolina) started out slow but picked up steam to reveal some very accomplished chops. The band stated that this was "the best lineup" they had been a part of, including Merlefest. Some of the songs they performed included traditionals such as the folky "I Know You Rider," the bluesy "Nobody's Fault but Mine," and the bluegrass standard "Orange Blossom Special." The group also played some Grateful Dead-inspired fare including "Friend of the Devil" and even teased "Ripple" and "Black Muddy River."

John Cowan brought his well-acclaimed tenor to the stage with the assistance of former Newgrass Revival compadre Pat Flynn and songsmith Darrell Scott. A kind of bluegrass version of CSN, this was a nice contrast to all the usual instrumental jamming, and they really got the crowd going.

On Friday afternoon, the Seldom Scene seemed to appeal to the older crowd by playing a bit more traditionally. The D.C. area bluegrassers mixed in nice versions of "Rollin' and Tumblin'," "He Was a Friend of Mine," and even a "Lay Down Sally."

Del McCoury Band at RockyGrass
With a new CD release under its belt (The Company We Keep) the Del McCoury Band headlined on Friday night. Minus longtime and much-appreciated bass man Mike Bub (check Del's Web site to read about Mike's departure), Del and the group did what they do best - they played sweet, acoustic bluegrass with an ear for the old, the new, and their own unique McCoury sound. The band, with Dennis Crouch playing bass, put on its usual display of top-shelf talent, dropping numbers that included "Travelin' Tear Drop Blues," "Nothin' Special," "Fathers and Sons," "Black Vincent 52," "Henry Walker" (or "the murder song" as Del calls it), "Working on a Building," and "Nashville Cats" (with Rob McCoury on lead vocal).

Del McCoury - guitar, vocals
Ronnie McCoury - mandolin, mandola, vocals
Robbie McCoury - banjo, vocals
Jason Carter - fiddle, vocals
Dennis Crouch - bass
* with Shawn Camp

Traveling Teardrop Blues, Count Me Out, Hillcrest Drive, On The Lonesome Wind, Nashville Cats, Back Up And Push, She Can't Burn Me Now, Never Grow Up Boy, Seventh Heaven, I Feel The Blues Moving In, Let An Old Racehorse Run, Nothin' Special, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, Instrumental, Henry Walker, It's Just The Night, My Love Will Not Change *, Working On A Building, The Mountain Song, The Logging Man, Gone But Not Forgotten

Fathers & Sons, Rawhide

Chatham County Line at RockyGrass
Saturday saw up-and-comers Chatham County Line, winners of last year's band competition, demonstrating some of their old-timey-inspired stuff: suits, ties, and just one microphone (just like it was "back in the day"). Those suits have gotta be hot in the summer! Other "young" bands to keep an eye on that played this year's fest include the Hickory Project, Hit and Run Bluegrass, Shawn Camp (who joined Del on Friday for a rendition of Camp's "My Love Will Not Change"), Bearfoot Bluegrass, and the Greencards. Another favorite that impressed last year and who will no doubt be back soon (now touring the West) is Broke Mountain Bluegrass.

Peter Rowan & David Grier at RockyGrass
Noam Pikelny and Friends, including David Grier, Matt Flinner, and Casey Dreissen, came out for several songs on Saturday and rocked out newgrass style. Their set included very hot covers of The Beatles' "Hide your Love Away" and Dylan's "Highway 61."

Peter Rowan put in some high quality stage time with the help of Bryn Bright, Sharon Gilchrest, and Tony Rice. In between numbers, Peter spoke of Bill Monroe and bluegrass history, and his outfit sounded fantastic and soulful as usual. They opened with "Panama Red" and later dedicated "Let the Harvest Go To Seed" to the recently-departed Vassar Clements. They also played a nice "Hobo Song" and rounded things out with a "Land of the Navajo" that featured Rowan's signature yodeling to end the set. It's always fun to hear those yodels bouncing off the red rock palisades along the river. That's when you truly know you're at RockyGrass.

Bela Fleck's Acoustic Trio featuring Bryan Sutton and Casey Driessen set a perfect Saturday afternoon tone with mellow meandering jams that roamed the stylistic gamut from gypsy jazz all the way to a "Stairway to Heaven" tease. These guys obviously forgot to read the "No Stairway!" sign. Their set featured agile versions of "Overgrown Waltz," "Fiddle Medley," "The High Road," "Growling Old Man & The Grumbling Old Woman," "Crazy Creek," "Over The Waterfall," "For Sasha," "Spanish Point," and "Sheetrock."

Ricky Skaggs at RockyGrass
Ricky Skaggs put on a nice Saturday headliner set filled with his trademark hot picking on mandolin and a variety of song selections including "Black Eyed Suzy," "How Mountain Girls Can Love," "Spread a Little Love Around," "First Corinthians 1:18" (off the group's new release Brand New Strings), "Midnight Train," and a fun "Sally Joe." In between tunes, Ricky said, "I once asked the late great Bill Monroe what he thought the key to playing good mandolin was. Bill replied, 'There's no magic to it, Son. You just gotta whip it like a mule.'" Ricky clearly learned that lesson. Another mando phenom who whips it like a mule is Texas' fourteen-year-old Sarah Jaroz, a young festival regular and very talented picker who joined Ricky on stage for a crowd-pleasing version of "Buck's Run." Keep an eye out for Sarah.

Black-Eyed Suzy, How Mountain Girls Can Love, Instrumental, Your Selfish Heart, Ridin' That Midnight Train, Why Did You Wonder, Sweetheart, You've Done Me Wrong, Instrumental, Mother's Only Sleeping, Simple Life, Spread A Little Love Around, Sis Draper, First Corinthians 1:18, Sally Joe, Buck's Run *, Dixie Home, Minor Swing, Kentucky Waltz, Pig In A Pen

Road To Spencer, Shady Grove
* with Sarah Jaroz

Bela Fleck at RockyGrass
Acoustic flatpicking and singing legend Doc Watson played talent-packed sets on Saturday and Sunday. Doc was accompanied by his grandson Richard on guitar, and Tim O'Brien joined Doc on fiddle for his Sunday afternoon set, which was a great example of different generations of artists coming together. Doc's Sunday set included Jerry Douglas, Jack Lawrence, Gene Libbea, and Bela Fleck. Tim O'Brien had this to say: "No plan, no song list, no rehearsal, just a relaxed jam. I'd been waiting about 35 years to do that." Among the great stories Doc tells, his family once skinned a much-loved cat when it died and used its hide to make a banjo. When asked how the banjo sounded, Doc replied "It sounded great." Meow.

Telephone Girl, Ready For The Times To Get Better, I Was A Stranger, Walk On, Boy, Summertime, In The Pines, Workingman Blues, I Am A Pilgrim, I'll Never See My Home Again, Cora Is Gone, Eight More Miles To Louisville, Shady Grove, My Blue-Eyed Jane, Ten Miles To Deep Gap, Leaving London, Deep River Blues, If I Should Wander Back Tonight, Greenville Trestle High, Instrumental

Matchbox Blues *, CC Rider *, Don't Monkey Around With My Widow When I'm Gone *, St. James Infirmary *, Milk Cow Blues *, I Am A Pilgrim *, Eastbound Freight Train **, Little Sadie **, Sweet Georgia Brown **, Don't Think Twice, It's Alright **, Blue Railroad Train **, Big Sandy **, Rails Leading West **

Doc Watson - guitar, vocals
Gene Libbea - bass
*Richard Watson - guitar
**Jack Lawrence - guitar
Bela Fleck - banjo
Jerry Douglas - dobro
Tim O'Brien - fiddle

RockyGrass 2005
In addition to playing with Doc Watson, Tim O'Brien also played his own set on Sunday that featured some of his new material from Fiddler's Green and Cornbread Nation. His band included John Doyle, Casey Driessen, and Dirk Powell. Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, and Dan Tyminski joined in on "When This World Comes To An End", "Look Down That Lonesome Road", and "Train On The Island."

Tim O'Brien - fiddle, mandolin, vocals
John Doyle - guitar
Dirk Powell - banjo
Casey Driessen - fiddle
* with:
Jerry Douglas - dobro
Bela Fleck - banjo
Dan Tyminski - guitar

A Few More Years Shall Roll, Blackest Crow, In Some Lonesome Graveyard, Waterbound, Morning Train, Foggy, Foggy Dew, Cornbread Nation, Let's Go To Huntin', Fiddler's Green, Instrumental, Early Morning Rain, Fair Flowers Of The Valley, I Believe In Being Ready *, Look Down That Lonesome Road *

Train On The Island *

The Drew Emmitt Band put on a great set on Sunday. The Band has an excellent new release out titled Across the Bridge. If you liked Drew in Leftover Salmon, you'll enjoy his more bluegrass-oriented, yet still very rocking, sound with this group.

Drew Emmitt - mandolin, vocals
Chris Pandolfi - banjo
Ross Martin - guitar
Greg Garrison - bass
* with
Chris Eldridge - guitar

All Night Ride, Silvanite, Gold Hill Line, This House, Get Me Outta This City, Out In The Woods, Midnight Blues, On The Other Side, Lost All My Money But A Two Dollar Bill, Troubled Times, Breaking Through, Down In The Hollow *

Sam Bush :: RockyGrass 2005
Sam Bush came out with a revamped lineup that included Scott Vestal on banjo and Keith Sewell on guitar. The band mixed tight instrumental jams with old-time nuggets including "You've Left Me Alone," John Hartford's "Steamboat Whistle Blues," "They're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone," "Cold Sailor," "Howlin' At the Moon," and a ripping version of "Going Back to Old Kentucky" (with Jerry Douglas).

Instrumental, I Wonder If You Ever Think Of Me, Bringing In The Georgia Mail, Ginseng Sullivan, Whisper My Name, You Left Me Alone, Band intro, By Stealth, Cold Sailor, Instrumental, Steamboat Whistle Blues, They're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone, Howlin' At The Moon, Apache, Instrumental

I'm Going Back To Old Kentucky *

* with Jerry Douglas

Alison Krauss & Union Station :: RockyGrass
The festival closed with an incredible set by Alison Krauss and Union Station. I'd seen the group once before, but this performance blew me away. They were truly a treat. You've gotta love a set that includes Dan Tyminski singing his now famous ode to hillbillies everywhere, "Man of Constant Sorrow," Jerry Douglas shredding on dobro, and Alison singing her hits "When You Say Nothing At All" and "Oh Atlanta." It's enough to make you change your name to Cletus.

Restless, This Sad Song, Instrumental, Goodbye Is All We Have, Wouldn't Be So Bad, Rain, Please Go Away, Every Time You Say Goodbye, Bright Sunny South, Instrumental, It Doesn't Matter Now, Forget About It, Gravity, My Poor Old Heart, Man Of Constant Sorrow, Jerry Douglas dobro tune, When You Say Nothing At All, Maybe, Oh, Atlanta

You Will Be My One True Love, Down To The River To Pray, A Living Prayer

With the weight of August hanging over us all, I can't help but think that Garcia would have loved to perform at RockyGrass. I can hear him sitting in with David Grisman, Peter Rowan, Tim O'Brien, Doc Watson, Sam Bush, Del McCoury, Alison Krauss, or any of the other great bluegrass artists who play under the cottonwoods from year to year and who draw from the same musical well that inspired his formidable acoustic playing. Although Jerry's body has moved on, his soul remains - and his influence is felt at shows and festivals across the land, and most certainly he was felt at RockyGrass. Until next year: Whip it like a mule!

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