By John Lehndorff
(7/29/16: 2 p.m. Lyons CO) – First there was Hot Rize. They took Colorado bluegrass values to a national audience. It was very good, and Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band, each bending Bill Monroe’s mashup of styles their own harmonic twist. The Infamous Stringdusters and Greensky Bluegrass, two hot quasi-bluegrass outfits, have strong Colorado connections.
I may have seen the next great iteration of this state’s acoustic band evolution to open the Rockygrass Festival in Lyons. Colorado’s Rapidgrass Quintet which won last year’s band competition here blasted out a great set of intricate music that had some Gypsy sounds, some straight head bluegrass with some intense acoustic jamming. The band hasn’t figured out exactly what kind of band it is but it has all the tools including a polished fiddler who “has the juice,” as one fan told me. Right now they are mainly Colorado but back in the day, so we’re those other unknown Colorado bands.
Master guitarist David Grier flatpicked his way through a couple of great guest solos with Rapidgrass. Later in the day today another Hot Rize guitarist Bryan Sutton offered his own blistering guitar solos – so precise it was scary.
KGNU.org is streaming Rockygrass live this weekend.
By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(9:15 P.m.7/29/16 Lyons CO) – While the Steep Canyon Rangers are onstage I’m backstage thinking about the last, rare set by Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Edgar Meyer. I’ve seen these guys play for 30 plus years delivering their virtuoso instrumental music that bears only a passing relationship to the stuff Bill Monroe played. Each is considered among the top two or three players of their respective instruments and almost never perform as a trio.
Edgar is a classical bassist and composer in a performance class by himself because he plays the bass as if it were a violin. Jerry Douglas, part of Alison Krauss’ band and leader of the Earls of Leicester, which recreates Flatt and Scruggs. He has totally redefined how the resophonic guitar//Dobro sounds. Mandolin innovatorSam Bush invented newgrass music. Together they uncooked a fiery virtuoso set that got standing ovations throughout. I was hearing old friends. A lot of folks, I could tell, were being introduced to this particular brand of music magic. Beyond bluegrass, the composition encompassed world music, chamber, folk, jazz and, frankly, a lot of rock and roll pounded out on some very expensive instruments. This is what makes Rockygrass cool, especially when banjoist Bela Fleck and mandolinist joined them for a bluegrass lightspeed encore, herby restoring tuneful balance in the festival universe.
By John Lehndorff
(1:49 p.m. July 30, 2016: Lyons CO/ 88 degrees, cloudy, chance of twang) – The gates of Rockygrass swung open at Planet Bluegrass for the second day of the 44th annual gathering. The first one I attended was at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds and Hot Rize was there. Today’s array started with instrumental finalists and the Slocum Ramblers, above, a surprising semi-traditional bluegrass band from Canada. They thought nobody would take them seriously if they were the Toronto Ramblers. Very talented, followed by Nick Forster (of Hot Rize/E-town fame) in a different duo with songwriter/instrumentalist Danny Barnes.
Next up: One of my banjo heroes: bebop bluegrass great Tony Trischka followed by fiddler Mark O’Connor.
KGNU is streaming the festival at kgnu.org.
(3:07 p.m. 7/30/16 Lyons CO / Sunny with a chance of more sun) – I missed the yoga session at 8 a.m. The fans on the field at the Rockygrass Festival pretty much knew when they wheeled the drum riser onto the stage that Tony Trischka and his band (above) probably weren’t going to stick to songs by Bill Monroe. From his first vinyl in the 1970s Trischka took a jazz approach to playing the banjo while still being a devotee to hard-driving tradition and his set with drummer, his son, was a captivating conversation across multiple genres by gifted players.
By JOHN LLEHNDORFF
(2:05 p.m 7/31/16 Lyons CO/ overcast with a chance a brilliance) – Saturday’s sets at the 44th annual Rockygrass Festival featured the return of many of the leading lights of this progressive bluegrass tradition fostered at Rockygrass over the past two decades.
I first talked to Mark O’Connor backstage at Telluride when he was 17 and saw him become the fiddler of the new acoustic stars. He, Sam Bush, Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas formed a band in Colorado. They couldn’t call it “Telluride” so they called it Strength in Numbers which produced one brilliant album of original instrumental music before going on to other configurations.
Last night, Mark O’Connor came back to Rockygrass with his family band and wowed the crowed on fiddle, of course, but also the mandolin and guitar which he showcased in the David Grisman Quintet and Strength. Still such a powerful player. Fleck followed in a duo with Abagail Washurn, the first family of American banjo, concluding with a rare appearance by young Juno Fleck as a clogdancer.
Sam Bush and his band delivered a typically tight set including a barn-burning finish playing a steel slide mandolin.
For the day’s finale every picker at Planet Bluegrass came out for one last solo with several generations together including the old guys – Bush, Fleck, O’Connor and Darol Anger – and the youngsters in a strong showing.