Festival Diary: The Drunken Hearts On YarmonyGrass 2015
We enlisted the members of The Drunken Hearts to document the 10th annual Yarmonygrass Festival which took place high in the Colorado Rockies August 13 – 16. Take it away fellas:
This story really begins back in 2006, several years before the formation of The Drunken Hearts, when our frontman and fearless leader, Andrew McConathy, threw the first YarmonyGrass Festival. Situated on a beautiful ranch high in the Rocky Mountains, on the headwaters of the Colorado River, Yarmony has grown into a special festival in a state filled with amazing music. Bringing talent and concert-goers from across the country, we couldn’t be more proud to host such a festival as our own. So, with that, we dive in to the 10th annual YarmonyGrass experience!
We arrived a few hours after the gates opened on Thursday to see our friends Whiskey Tango heating up the first night. The air was crisp and the Denver locals brought one of the tightest shows we had ever seen them play, they killed it. It was the perfect fusion of grassy rock to kick off the weekend. Then came the Denver funk powerhouse, Super Magick (formerly Filthy Children), who brought the booty funk to our more Americana/Bluegrass themed festival, and the festivarians loved every minute of it. Truly a high energy night to start things off right.
Friday morning started off with the infamous ‘Bluegrass n’ Bloodies’ set at noon with Wichita Run & Friends. This set was super fun, as our pedal steel player, Cody Russell and drummer Alex Johnson sat in for the whole set, while Chris Thompson of Coral Creek, and Pat Fiddle (resident Colorado fiddle player) joined in as well.
After some bloody marys, we wandered the festival grounds as more and more people flowed in through the gates. Some of us floated on the river, while some went back to hang at our cabin, which was actually a good call, as the most insane rain began to fall. For a solid hour, Yarmony was completely drenched by a Colorado rain of epic proportions. Nevertheless, it did not manage to crush the vibe of the festival whatsoever. After the rain subsided we headed back to the main stage for Peter Rowan. The man is an absolute master, and one of the most genuine guys around. His voice sailed over the dripping festival just as the sun came out over the mountains – it was perfect.
Following Peter was Honkytonk Homeslice featuring Bill and Jillian Nershi, Scott Law, Keith Moseley and Jason Hann. No YarmonyGrass would be complete without the inimitable presence of Bill Nershi. Andrew had Billy on the first Yarmony and credits him as being a major reason it has succeeded over all these years. Homeslice is always a fun show, and this was no exception. The festival-goers were starting to get down hard now that things had dried off a bit more, and the night was just getting started.
Local favorites Head for the Hills took the stage next, and they absolutely crushed it. They put on a fantastic show, and the energy was super high for their set. It was also a very special show, as it was the final show and heartfelt send-off for their mandolinist, and founding member, Mike Chappell. After Head for the Hills, our electric guitar player Rob Eaton Jr., and bassist Jon McCarten, threw down with Town Cavalry at the Saloon Stage and brought a proper rock show to the festival, further accelerating the night. Lastly, on the main stage, Coral Creek brought down the house with a late night set to finish off a rowdy Friday.
Saturday began with yoga workshops (which none of us were able to attend), and another Bluegrass n’ Bloodies set with Liver Down the River. We decided to go for a float on the Colorado River for the better half of the early afternoon, and after much labor-intensive organization, we got a huge crew on the river for a proper float. This stretch of the Colorado is quite mellow, with a smooth current, so it makes for a perfect place to put in a raft, kayak, tube, or air mattress in some cases.
Caribou Mountain Collective took the main stage at 3:30 p.m. and brought the real bluegrass out for the afternoon. These gentlemen are old friends and it’s always great to see them killing it up there. We then headed to our cabin for a quick acoustic rehearsal on the porch as the sun sank lower, running through some bits of our set for the show later that evening. We finished up and ran over to catch more good friends, The Congress, as they were midway through their rowdy rock ‘n’ roll set. They brought out the crowd and Jonathan Meadows’ vocals soared over their driving sound. This is definitely a band worth looking up and checking out. They are truly something special.
Then it came time for Mr. Bill Nershi to take the reigns once again for three sets in a row, each with a different band. First up was the Rebel Alliance Jam featuring Bill, Keith Moseley, Dan Lebowitz and Dave Brogan. This is always a fun project of varying musicians and they definitely brought it. Pure fun and experimentation at its best. The second set with Nershi was the famed Travelin’ McCourys. Their set was a magical high for the weekend. Seeing such pure and beautiful bluegrass happening before our eyes was a treat, not to mention the light rain that sparkled off the lights during their set. Finally (sort of), came the famous Bill Nershi Joint Set. This set is in essence, at each Yarmony, a totally unrehearsed throwdown with the best at the fest. This set featured Bill, Keith, Ronnie McCoury, Peter Rowan, and our own Cody Russell on pedal steel (Cody smiled the whole set). It was definitely something special.
To close the main stage Saturday night, it was finally our turn. All day we were itching to play our set, and the time had come. We took the stage around midnight and the air was wet with the passing rain, and the stars were coming out. In the spirit of Yarmony sit-ins abound, so our good friend Colonel Andy Thorn of Leftover Salmon joined us for the opening tunes and then left us for a few as just The Drunken Hearts. Then we were graced by the legend himself Peter Rowan for a version of his own tune “Pulling the Devil By The Tail.” Being on stage with him, hearing his voice float around that tune, and seeing him gesture while he sang the chorus line — it was, as Andrew said on stage, something that doesn’t happen everyday.
We played a few more tunes ourselves and finished the set with a guitarmageddon version of “Whipping Post” with our very good friend Kevin Watson on vocals, as well as Bill Nershi (back again) and Scott Law shredding guitar with our own Rob Eaton Jr. in true Allman’s fashion. For the encore we played a special song, “Sound Good.” It was the first song Andrew McConathy and Kevin Watson wrote together, and we dedicated the set and that special song to the memory of our great friend, and original drummer, Ted Welles. This was the first Yarmony without him and his presence was felt everywhere throughout the festival.
After our set we were buzzing and there was nothing left to do but pick around a fire in the campgrounds and that’s exactly what happened.
Sunday was a lazy one for us. Our own rhythm section joined Kevin Watson & Friends at the final Bluegrass n’ Bloodies for another hilarious and wonderful noon set. There is something special about playing music that “early” in the morning on such little sleep, with a bloody mary in hand, just calling tunes and having fun. It’s the best feeling and Yarmony encompasses that energy, featuring the most joyous things: music, good friends and an incredibly beautiful location.
Following the bloody mary set, The Kitchen Dwellers brought down the house with their brand of bluegrass straight out of Montana. Those boys can play and we love seeing them around. Andy Thorn & Robin Davis crushed their duo set before the YarmonyGrass SuperPick brought the weekend to a close.
We look forward to many more years on the River, each year better than the next, and hope to see y’all out there. Until next time — we’ll see you on the road!
The Drunken Hearts – Andrew, Jon, Rob, Cody, & Alex