Review: 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival

The 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival ended a week ago and part of my head, heart and soul are still at the glorious Planet Bluegrass site along  the St. Vrain River. My toes are still feeling the water of this river run over them, my ears are still hearing the sounds of Elephant Revival, SHEL, Lake Street Dive, Dave Rawlings Machine and so many other incredible acts and my heart is still skipping beats when I think about how breathtaking my first trip to Colorado was and how just about every moment of the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival was damn near perfect.

festival crowd collage
Various shots of the Planet Bluegrass grounds at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
Photos by Aimsel Ponti

This is a festival that cares about the environment (incredible recycling efforts) cares about people’s bellies (incredible food vendors…omg the dumplings!) and cares SO MUCH about an incredible line up.

Here’s that beautiful river that festival folks were hanging out in all weekend long.

River good
The lovely, mellow, chilly and absolutely perfect St. Vrain River.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

This is what me and about 5,000 other music lovers  took in over the course of three magical days:

Schedule
The pocket schedule perked on the knees of yours truly in my happy spot.

For the first few hours on Friday I flitted about checking out everything, stood in the river a few times and paid a visit to the General Store (merch tent) where I promptly bought an official festival t-shirt and a super cool Rhiannon Giddens one.

The first order of business for me started Friday afternoon with Mary Gauthier in the Wildwood Pavilion. It’s a barn-like structure on the festival grounds that was a beehive of music all weekend long. I’ve seen Gauthier a few times through the years and she’s one heck of a compelling songwriter, to say the very least. She played the tender, hopeful, compassionate and frankly important song “Mercy Now” and led us in a sing-along of a freshly-written satirical take on “Na Na Na Na Na…Hey Hey Goodbye,” during which she name-dropped the likes of Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer and several other former yahoos of the Trump administration. It was awesome.

Mary Gauthier
Mary Gauthier in the Wildwood Pavilion during the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Gauthier also brought sixteen-year old Bella Betts from the songwriting school (this happens in the week before festival kick-off) on stage along with several other students and teachers to sing the song Betts wrote called “We Are All The Same.” Gauthier urged people to record it and thankfully several did because this song blew us all away. For real. Tears streamed down my face.

Watch this:

After wiping away of tears and joy from Mary Gauthier  & company, I made my way to a grassy spot I had staked out earlier and settled in for The Weepies. They’re  the duo of married couple Deb Talan and Steve Tannen and they’re a pair of indie-folk firecrackers. And even though I’m still schooling myself on their tunes, their set was tremendous and it included “Not Your Year,” so near and dear to my heart.

Thirty minutes after The Weepies ended, Rhiannon Giddens and her band were on stage. I was bummed to have missed her show in Maine a few weeks before the festival but was SO HAPPY to finally be seeing her.  Her band Caroline Chocolate Drops is excellent and so is her solo work, especially the new album “Freedom Highway.”

Rhiannon ONE
Rhiannon Giddens at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The song “At the Purchaser’s Option” was inspired by a print advertisement in the 1800s for a 22 year old slave woman that Giddens saw in a book. The woman also had with her a nine-month-old baby who was “at the purchaser’s option.”

Rhiannon TWO
Rhiannon Giddens at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Giddens channeled her sadness in thinking about what that woman’s life must have been like into a powerful, searing song. Her voice is a mountain of glory.  Giddens plays banjo and violin (and I suspect a number of other instruments) and her set was jaw-dropping at the festival. “You take my body, you can take my bones, you can take my blood but not my soul.”  I won’t be missing her next time she comes to Maine.

Closing out the first night was a guy that I’ve been a from-a-distance fan of for a few years but am WAY INTO; Gregory Alan Isakov.

Gregory Alan Isakov
Gregory Alan Isakov at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I mean honestly, what’s better than his song “Liars?” In fact, that entire live album he recorded with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra is excruciatingly magnificent.  Isakov and his band ended the first day of the festival in brilliant fashion.  After his set,  I made my way back home to my temporary home, climbed the ladder up to my sleeping loft and fell into a deep slumber, in a state of disbelief that there were still two more days ahead.

Saturday morning kicked off with a set by someone new to me: Korby Lenker. He’s a singer-songwriter out of Nashville and he charmed the pants off of me with his tune “My Little Life.” Lenker was the winner of the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest Songwriters Showcase 2016, earning him a spot on the main stage at this year’s festival. Hey Korby, come to Maine. Let’s hang.

The happy voyage of new music discovery continued with the very next act; Australia’s The Mae Trio. They’re sisters Maggie Rigby, Elsie Rigby along with  Anita Hillman and they’ve been out on the road in support of their latest release, “Take Care Take Cover.” Facebook tells me that  “They perform an insightful collection of original songs arranged for ukulele, banjo, guitar, fiddle, cello, bass and superb three part vocal harmony. ” I can tell you all that’s true! Check them out when you get a minute.

I had to retreat to my  loft for a brief recharge but heard great things about Ben Sollee & Kentucky Native and  Mandolin Orange. But I made it back in time for a fun set from the legendary Loudon Wainwright III. He’s got a hilarious song about prescription medications and really got the crowd going.

The second to last band to play on Saturday was one that completely dazzled me and I became a HUGE and INSTANT fan of. Elephant Revival!!! They’re based in Nederland, CO and are a six piece “experimental/folk/Americana” act. All I know is that I could listen to Bonnie Paine sing tax returns and it would be awesome. She also plays washboard, djembe, musical-saw and the stomp-box. Holy bananas. The other singer is Daniel Rodriguez who also plays guitar, banjo and bass. Where has this band been all my life?

Their set was effing awesome, their originals are to die for and then they put me into absolute orbit with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar.” Holy smokes. There’s even a clip of it someone shot at the festival. 

Elephant Revival
The Elephant Revival at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

The Revivalists out of New Orleans closed out the festival on Saturday night and they were yet another band I didn’t know anything about who were absolutely fantastic.  I did however find myself singing along to the last song, “Wish I Knew You” which I realized I had heard a bunch on the radio. Great song. Great band.  Singer David Shaw is the perfect frontman. I’m gonna HAVE TO see this band again.

I awoke on Sunday morning both ecstatic and kind of sad because on the one hand, the lineup was for the day was almost too good to be true, but on the other hand, it was the last day.

I got there at by ten, grabbed a tasty breakfast burrito from the food area and enjoyed sets by Egyptian singer-songwriter (and superhero, look this guy up) Ramy Essam and then Mollie O’Brien & Rich Moore.

Then at 1:30 the primary reason I came to Colorado took the stage. I’ve been ALL ABOUT SHEL for a little over a year ever since they came to Portland (ME) in July of 2016. When I came up with a list of my favorite songs of 2016, one of their songs was at the top. The last time I saw them was in a Tennessee cave. This festival was the sixth time I’ve seen them play live and each time I am pretty much at a loss for words because they’re THAT GOOD. SHEL is an acronym for the four sisters in the band; Sarah (violin, guitar), Hannah (keys, piano, accordion, vocals), Eva (vocals, mandolin, guitar) and Liza (drums, beatbox, percussion, vocals). Click on the cave link above for a ton more background on the band. The only thing that frustrates me about SHEL is that they make me feel like a lousy writer because I always struggle to find just the right string of words to express how over-the-moon talented they are. They’ve been at it since they were kids and make it look easy. They’re the kind of band that belong on a stage. At present they have two full-length albums, a holiday EP and a few other odds and ends out there. Expect a covers EP soonish. In the meantime, feed your ears with what’s out there because SHEL is a really special band.  And follow them on Facebook, etc. And join their mailing list at shelmusic.com because you don’t want to miss them if they come anywhere near you. Dig?

SHEL
Upper left= Eva, upper right = Liza, lower middle = Sarah, lower right = Hannah
SHEL photos by Aimsel Ponti

Listening to them – especially live – is an experience that is many things at once; uplifting, riveting, emotional, immensely satisfying and most certainly one that sends shafts of light zooming through every corner of my heart. Their performance at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival was all this and more. With songs like “When the Dragon Came Down,” “Stained” and “Is the Doctor in Today,” not to mention their homage to Led Zeppelin with “The Battle of Evermore” they nailed it and as I looked around I could see the crowd was very much into it. I’ve noticed this every time I’ve seen them.  Judging by the length of the line of fans in the merch area afterwards, it’s safe to say they made a lasting impression. In fact, after their set it I realized I didn’t have a proper photo and so I properly fangirled and a helpful stranger was kind enough to snap a few pics, including this one: (yeah, I look nerdy as hell {per usual}but the band all look fab and smiley).

SHEL with ALP.JPG

And the festival could have ended right then and there and I would have walked away feeling tremendous gratitude.

But it wasn’t over. Not by a long shot. In fact, the very next act was The Wailin’ Jennys.

The Wailin' Jennys
Heather Masse, Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody. AKA The Wailin’ Jennys
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

To know the Jennys is to love the Jennys. Close harmonies for days. P.S. Heather Masse is FROM MAINE. If you aren’t hip to the Jennys, get hip. Trust me! A fellow festival goer shot this clip of them playing Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and it’s brutally great.

Again, the festival could have ended and I would been entirely fulfilled. But nope, it wasn’t over yet. Not only was it not over, the next act was one of my favorites of the past couple of years. Three words: LAKE STREET DIVE!!!!!

Lake Street Dive
Lake Street Dive photos by Aimsel Ponti

I think this was my third time seeing them and I’ll keep coming back because Mike Calabrese, Rachael Price, Bridget Kearney and Mike “McDuck” Olson are absolutely electrifying. They’ve cornered the market on a throwback sound that’s also, somehow, 100% modern. “Side Pony” is their latest record. Jump into Lake Street Dive pronto! One last thing, Dear Lake Street Dive, please record that “Jameson” song. I love it so much. Thanks. Love, Aim.

All good things must come to an end, even the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. But boy did it end on an indelible note. I had seen Gillian Welch several years ago so already knew how great she was, but this was the first time seeing Dave Rawlings Machine. The lineup, and I *think* I’ve got this right, is Rawlings, Gillian Welch, Willie Watson, Paul Kowert and Brittany Haas.

Rawlings Machine group
Dave Rawlings Machine
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I almost lost it several times during their set. I didn’t really recognize the songs but it didn’t matter AT ALL. Take this one for example. I sat there dying inside.

 

It was just after ten when Dave Rawlings Machine closed out the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival on the best note possible: Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”

Final thoughts:

Thank you to Brian Eyster from Planet Bluegrass to responding when this writer gal from Maine reached out with an “So I’m thinkin’ ’bout comin’ to Colorado” email.

Thank you to my friend Lal for welcoming me with chilled Prosecco and a place to lay my head at night.  Up for a guest in 2018?

Thank you to all of the festival staff and volunteers who worked tirelessly.

And perhaps most of all,  THANK YOU to all of the musicians who poured your hearts and souls into your performances. I’ll never forget it.

To my fellow music fans, if you’ve never been to the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival,  let it be known that the 2018 dates are August 19 – 19. Keep your eye HERE for details.  Oh and if you’re a camper, that’s a HUGE dealio at this festival.

I left a little bit of my heart in that river, on that grass and on the side of the stage in Lyons, Colorado. That’s the highest praise I know how to give this festival. Thinking about it now,  my heart swells, my eyes get misty and I know I’ll often think back to those three days.

I’ll leave you with this very special montage. Thanks, Shamus Alley, for having the mad video editing skills that maybe someday I’ll learn.

Ponti out.

2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival PREVIEW

ROCKY MOUNTAIN PSYCHED!!!!!!

On August 17 I’ll be taking the 3:15 a.m. bus to Boston’s Logan Airport where I’ll be getting on a plane (United…gasp!) that will fly just under 2000 miles before touching down in Denver, Colorado. At which point, I’ll be getting off that plane and hopping on a shuttle bus to Lyons. I’ll spend four nights there staying with my friend Lal and we’ll be attending the annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.

AND I’M GONNA LOSE MY MIND THE ENTIRE TIME BECAUSE THE LINEUP IS INCREDIBLE. More on that in a minute.

Here’s the thing; I’ve NEVER been to Colorado. As in for real never. Colorado has always felt more like a dream than an actual place. It’s always seemed so far away almost as if it’s in another solar system. For all I know it could be.

I’m not a downhill skier so I haven’t had those kinds of Colorado visions. My entire life, Colorado has always made me think of two specific things: THIS  SONG and THIS TV SHOW. 

But with the recent launch of this blog and my insatiable thirst for live music and adventure, I decided – after seeing the lineup of the RMFF- that it was FINALLY time to make my way to the Centennial state.

Earlier this year I went to Tennessee for the first time in my life and you  read about that very special trip HERE and HERE.

So why am I excited about the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival? There are many reasons and it all starts with SHEL.

Left to right: Liza, Hannah, Eva and Sara Holbrook of SHELPhoto by Joe Dudeck
Left to right: Liza, Hannah, Eva and Sarah Holbrook of SHEL Photo by Joe Dudeck

In fact, it was one year ago yesterday that I first saw SHEL live after writing about them for the Portland Press Herald/MaineToday.com. They were so great I went and saw them again at the Ossipee Valley Music Festival in Hiram, Maine the very next day. Check out this insanely amazing cover of the Led Zeppelin song “The Battle of Evermore” which SHEL recorded on their 2012 debut album. Fun fact: They’ll be performing at the RMFF on Sunday, Aug. 20 which also happens to be Robert Plant’s birthday.

SHEL is from Fort Collins, Colorado and are based there as well as Nashville, TN.

They’re one of those bands that are tricky to categorize but I’ll take a stab at it.

SHEL are purveyors of indie-folk-pop-rock magic and their songs will make you smile, weep, float up into the clouds and down into the depths of the ocean. The band is Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza (hence SHEL) and they’ve all been playing music since they were kids. They’re so good at what they do that seeing them live is a stunning, electrifying, uplifting and I dare say transformational experience. Trust me!

Also, check out this live clip of one of my favorite SHEL songs.

I reached out to keys and accordion player Hannah Holbrook to get the latest on the band and to measure their excitement level on playing Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.

“This summer, we’re extremely excited to be touring in our home state, Colorado! We’ve been spending every spare moment in Nashville, TN recording for film and TV projects and working on our next album. New music and videos coming soon,” said Hannah. And this is all of course SPECTACULAR news to this fan. As for the festival, indeed it is something very special for SHEL to be part of. “We’re really looking forward to playing in Lyons. We’ve been hearing about the legendary Rocky Mountain Folks Festival our whole lives but this is the first year we’re actually in town for it and we’re honored to be a part of it.”

As for the rest of the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival; some of the acts I know and love and some I’ve haven’t had a chance to get to know yet but that will be part of the weekend’s magic; the discovery process.

To see the entire lineup CLICK HERE

Here are a few of the other acts that I’m SUPER excited to see in a few weeks.

Gregory Alan Isakov<em>Photo by Rebecca Cardiad</em>
Gregory Alan Isakov Photo by Rebecca Cardiad

Gregory Alan Isakov

I’m still getting to know this singer-songwriter and to know him at all is to love him a ton. I’m working my way through his catalog and with each new song I hear my jaw drops a little more and I become more and more smitten with his songwriting. I saw GAI at the 2014 Boston Calling Festival and can’t wait to see him again because man alive, the live album he released last year, “Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony” is divine.

I mean seriously, listen to this.

 

Rhiannon Giddens

I’ve been a casual fan of her old-time string band Carolina Chocolate Drops since they released their 2010 debut record “Genuine Negro Jig” and am annoyed with myself because I have yet to see them live.

Giddens released her first solo album, “Tomorrow is My Turn” in 2015 and she followed it up with “Freedom Highway” this past February and this is the album that I’ve been ALL ABOUT for the past month or so. It’s not that I don’t like the other one, I just haven’t listened to it yet because I’m lame. But I will. “Freedom Highway” is mostly original songs with the title track being a protest song that dates back to 1965 and was penned by Roebuck “Pops” Staples of the legendary Staple Singers.

Giddens’ take on it is sensational. Take a listen to the song and Giddens’ gorgeous, glorious voice:

 

“Freedom Highway” is an album that’s joyous, mournful, rootsy, hopeful, historical and about 376 other things and I can’t wait to hear Giddens and her band play some its songs live.

Lake Street DivePhoto courtesy of the artist
Lake Street Dive Photo by Danny Clinch

Lake Street Dive

Dear Mike, Rachael, Bridget and the other Mike,

I think you’re all REALLY swell.

Love,

Aim

Seriously though, if you’ve never seen Lake Street Dive live, stop what you’re doing right now and go buy tickets to the festival because my oh my, they’re one of the most spectacular ( I use this word too much but it’s always true) live bands out there.

The last time I saw them was in February and the show was dynamite.

If you’ve never heard of Lake Street Dive, take a listen to this:

The Wailin’ Jennys

The Wailin' Jennys
Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse of The Wailin’ Jennys Photo courtesy of the artist

They’re the folk trio of Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse.

Harmonies for days…

The Wailin’ Jennys are certifiably FANTASTIC live.  Just listen to this:

The Weepies

The Weepies
Steve Tannen and Deb Talan of The Weepies Photo courtesy of the artist

The Weepies is the married duo of Steve Tannen and Deb Talan. They’ve released five albums since 2003 and they both have solo work out as well. I have barely scratched the surface with The Weepies but I’ll say this much, this song KILLS ME. (Aimsel code for I love it!!)

This video clip is audio only which is just as well because I suggest you close your eyes and just let this play.

 

And so there you have it, these are some of the acts I’m excited to see and to be super deluxe clear, this is only about 1/3 of the acts who will be performing on August 18 to 20 in Lyons.

To quote Mr. Denver “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…” OK so they’re not QUITE packed but I did buy my airport bus ticket today when I was at the station dropping my sister off. I’ll be bringing my camera and some notebooks to document this thing as best I can so look for that post soon after I get back.

As of today (7/30) there are still tickets left for the 2017 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival and you can get them here.

If you come to the festival, drop me a line and let me know so we can say hi. I’ll be the gal from Maine with the 1,000 watt smile.

Ponti out.