Something special happens when bluegrass brings us together in the mountains of Colorado. Nestled in the Rockies along the headwaters of the Colorado River, Rancho Del Rio is a venue fit for just that. As we came around the final bend of the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway and the venue came into view, I knew things were going be good, the Colorado way. With breathtaking scenery and an eclectic group of musical genius gathered in one place, Yarmony is a festival fit for Colorado’s phenomenal music reputation. Yarmony celebrated its fifth year this weekend catering to the outdoor spirit and adventurous festivator, reminding me once again why I call this place home.
Check in and set-up ran smoothly as this boutique bluegrass festival is certainly on the smaller side. After setting up our tent next to some seasoned festival goers, and joining what appeared a promising late night scene, we made our way over to the main stage area where kickball madness ensued. The commitment from all participants was pleasingly high and appropriately set the tone for a high energy weekend.
Soon the sound of reggae brought me over to the main stage. With people slowly drifting in, space was plentiful and dancing was good. Bonfire’s reggae trance drew me in as people began to migrate in from the campgrounds. The sound of music brought me over but the unique sound kept me there. Included in the set was a nod to Haiti as the lead singer Scotty Stoughton explained his recent visit and inspiration for “Haiti- Help is on the Way”. In line with the conscious minded Yarmony demographic, this band was a perfect choice to set the mood.
By the time The Contribution started, the crowd had begun to fill in. With the sun just setting, and the intermittent sound of the train in the background, bluegrass filled the open field and showcased the mountain ambience. Listeners enjoyed a unique compilation of band members from similar genres of music joined by strong female vocals bringing soul and gospel undertones. The Contribution was a perfect way to start picking up the energy for the evening.
Playing off this energy, Elephant Revival took the stage and nailed it. This young band performs in a unique style of folk that appeals to many different types of listeners as it incorporates an eclectic mix of styles that truly seem to complement and enhance the folk sound. The band nailed it, but the women stole the stage. With Bonnie Paine on the vocals and washboard and Bridget Law on the fiddle and vocals the ladies presented a delicate combination of grace and power through song.
Railroad Earth was next and as a newer listener I was pleasantly surprised. This band is not confined by the old-style bluegrass boundaries and seems to break any preconceived rules of this genre especially in comparison to some of the more traditional bluegrass of the weekend. The crowd was clearly feeling the energy especially during the birthday tribute “Happy Birthday to Mama Stacy”. Railroad was joined by Jeff Miller on electric guitar and Bob Hemenger on tenor saxophone for this set.
Then the night took a turn away from bluegrass as we prepared for the dynamic drum and bass trance of EOTO. As they set-up the stage, kids gathered at the rail in wide-eyed anticipation. The crowd thinned out as some of the Railroad fans journeyed back to camp in fear perhaps of the “fucking techno” as I heard one older gentleman refer to it. I on the other hand told myself I would only engage in the front row madness for the opening of the set, but found it impossible to pull myself away, ringing ears and all. The unspoken connection between Michael Travis and Jason Hann was more evident than ever. Barely making eye contact, yet not missing a cue, the two seem to read each other’s mind. At one point, Bonnie Paine and Bridget Law of Elephant Revival joined the stage to integrate some folk influence into the electronic beats. The dance party grooved to some of the more playful jams and seemed to move as one cohesive mob up and down to the gradual rising and declining layers of tempo change. The encore raged through the night until three in the morning.
The stars were amazing that evening with the Milky Way glowing and leading the path to the river. The night ended for me lying on the beach under the stars wondering how I got so lucky to be in such an amazing place. I woke up with sweat dripping off all three layers of fleeces I had managed to pile on the night previous and stripped down to a more reasonable outfit for August in Colorado. Then promptly made my way toward the best omelet and iced coffee I’ve had in a while.
By leaving the music schedule open during the day on Saturday, Team Yarmony was subtly reminding us to explore the wonders of our surroundings. You would be hard pressed to imagine a more perfect Saturday.
Fresh from an evening of amazing music, in a place that represents the epitome of Colorado’s outdoor beauty, we made our way to the river. In the middle of the open field, in front of the main stage, Tim Carbone held a fly-fishing clinic. Students of all ages came to learn techniques in hope of taking advantage of the Colorado River’s trout. Across the field, sitting on the main stage, was a small group enthralled with the genius of Mr. Scott Law. Scott generously answered a wide of variety of questions and offered instruction for those with their guitars.
With the popular floating stage long sold out and unprepared in the raft/ boat department, we graciously accepted the loan of two man raft. The river was dotted with a combination of lazy sun revelers as well as more ambitious, prepared river enthusiasts. We were of the former group but equally as excited. The afternoon of floating left us scorched from the sun and exhausted yet oddly rejuvenated. After refueling and ready for more music we made our way back up to the main stage. Shade was mandatory at this point and I enjoyed the easy listening of the Grateful Dead inspired Laughing Bones from next to the stage in a small square of shade.
People slowly started drifting in from the river and the campground as the Nershi – Law Duo with Tao Seger took the stage. They are described as “Americana Bluegrass with just the slightest twist”; and they delivered just that. This band perfectly represents the evolution of folk and bluegrass by incorporating their respective styles into traditional classics. The classic folk songs we all know the words to, but don’t know where they came from. Tao’s vocals in conjunction with Bonnie Paine blended well with the traditional Nershi- Law sound.
Head for the Hills was next on the main stage and a personal favorite of mine. A fan from my former Fort Collins days where this band originates, I admire their humbleness and grace every time they take the stage. Each time I see this band, I’m impressed with the twists and turns they take from traditional bluegrass into their own unique style completely. With their lyrically focused music, Head for the Hills evokes a wide array of memories through their storytelling yet is never shy to create a new experience completely. This evening in particular, they displayed a type of jazz grass as they were joined by keyboards, a banjo and a saxophone to compliment their incredible picking talents. Finishing with a crowd pleasing “Goin’ Down” and an encore of the Talking Heads “Life During Wartime” (This Ain’t No Party), I would have gladly listened to more picking for hours into the night.
After the quick, up-beat tempo of Head for the Hills, Railroad Earth brought a more spacey approach to jamgrass. This set showcased their new bassist, Andrew Altman, who adds a fresh upbeat energy to the band. Andrew switched seamlessly between the upright and electric bass and displayed a playful animation throughout their songs. Railroad finished off the night with an encore of “Peace on Earth”.
The evening ended with The Kyle Hollingsworth Band with DJ Logic. Funky and progressive, but incorporating much more of a bluegrass style then the previous late night set, this band seemed to engage more of the complete Yarmony demographic. Regretting the choice to not sleep much the night before, I admittedly listened to the rest of this set from my tent.
I woke up the next morning to rave reviews of the remainder of the Kyle Hollingsworth band, packed up camp and made my way to the main stage one final time. With the festival vibe winding down and folks beginning to clear out, we were treated to one final, yet very special, Yarmony act- Honkytonk Homeslice.
Honkytonk Homeslice, the Nershi- Law trio, started their acoustic set quietly behind the second stage mid-morning. By late morning a mesmerized crowd was gathered to soak in the magic harmonies of the Nershi’s and Scott Law. What was barely audible from the back was an angelic, masterfully woven, display of harmonies up close. The intimate setting suggested a familiar feeling as if we were watching some friends play on the porch. Friends playing with Honkytonk Homeslice included Dango Rose and Bonnie Paine of Elephant Revival as well as Tim Carbone and Andy Goessling from Railroad.
You could see the mutual adoration for the crowd as the band played. Evoking feelings from the weekend, it brought us together one last time before the reality beyond Rancho Del Rio would inevitably send us in our respective ways. They finished with “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” effectively capping off another memorable weekend of amazing music in a venue close to perfection. And with that, we left with Sweet Baby’s Arms echoing in my head all the way down the mountain.