“No Service” Dave Bruzza, frontman for Greensky Bluegrass, proclaimed jubilantly over the intimate Saturday night crowd at Yarmony Grass Festival in early August. Those two words pretty much summed up the feel of this festival--disconnected from day to day, but in the best way possible. Yarmony Grass Festival is held over a mile high in the Colorado Rockies and for the quality punter at this gem of a musical gathering “off the grid” was an invited reprieve rather than an inconvenience. Bruzza’s proclamation was reinforced by approving cheers in all directions upon his opening lines to Greensky’s set.
Sometimes the beauty of an event lies in its simplicity and Yarmony Grass embraces that notion by letting nature and music take charge. There were only a few rows of tents that comprised the entire campground. A leisurely stroll of ten minutes or less could land you smack in the middle of a group of your newest, old friends or dead center at the main stage.
This friendly and intimate atmosphere perfectly complimented the ‘untouched’ territory of the mountain--during lapses in set times nature would oblige festival goers in her grandest leisure activities like white water rafting (with an on site outfitter also within a short walk, or do as Yarmony pirates do and float an inflatable couch), hiking, and guided tours of this year’s site at Rancho del Rio near State Bridge. To anyone who has never been up near State Bridge the views are spectacular-no words can do the beauty of the terrain conceivable justice with national forests on all sides and rivers roaring through the valleys it’s a place you just have to see to understand.
On Saturday we arrived and set up camp just in time to catch some quality time with the Colorado River a long ways upstream from our native Austin. After basking in the serenity and beauty of the scene for a bit it was prime time to bask in the community with a game of kickball that included players of all ages--then at last the bluegrass.
Saturday afternoon’s music was kicked off with grassy old fashioned acoustic guitar picking by Billy Nershi and Scott Law. Scott Law gave a sweet shout out to Santa Cruz Guitars before Nershi picked out the first twangy chords of the day. Stripped down to raw vocals and sweet strings the duo’s chords reverberated through the crowd and into the clouds.
Festival founder, Andrew McConathy & The Drunken Hearts were up next on the main stage. As the sets changed the flow of people moved organically through the three choices of food vendors and the side stage which housed an array of local talent all weekend long. McConathy and his band kept the good vibes and the good tunes going with their purist approach to rootsy bluegrass and topped it off with an organic collaboration with Tim Carbone on fiddle and Scott Law on guitar just for good measure.
The Grant Farm with Keith Moseley carried on with a funky, gritty rythm from Moseley’s bass as Tyler Grant sang it “loud from the mountaintop” combining rock guitar riffs with benevolent jam-grass. Greensky Bluegrass took the stage next up performing a few tunes off their new album due out in October--simultaneously celebrating a wedding anniversary and the album’s anticipated release. Greensky gave a standout performance with poignant and clear lyrics over seasoned, grassy musicianship. They succeeded in perpetuating Yarmony Grass‘ intended celebration of artistry in live improvised on stage jams.
The late night bombshell of the evening brought out the Yarmony party pirates for a set by The Trancident making their stage debut under the moniker. They dropped heavy, Hann and Travis EOTO style bass beats over pre-crafted and live jam-tronica. This dynamic grouping of musical talent is a fraction of the legendary String Cheese Incident coupling the group’s percussive night owls aka EOTO with Kyle Hollingsworth’s firey keys and Michael Kang’s unsurpassed melodic talent and improvisational genius on strings. Jason Hann emceed the spectacle with distortion on his vocals that he could loop from behind his illuminated, color changing drum kit which was set behind an arsenal of musical tech gadgets. The name makes more sense than a splice of SCI--The Trancident transcends genres and they transcend expectation. The Trancident is like being thrust into the stratosphere of what technology and talented musicians can really do when there’s more to electronic music than a turn table. It helps that at Yarmony Grass the setting is already several thousand feet up in the sky and with The Trancident on stage it felt like you could actually kiss the stars if you wanted to.
McConathy took to the stage again after getting set up for the capstone event--Yarmony Joint Set where he commented on The Trancident “Wow, I remember the first time I was shot out of a cannon.” During that brief interlude almost all members of The String Cheese Incident hung around for a sound check turned cruel tease as fans lingered wondering, “What if?” Though The String Cheese Incident never played together the collaborations that followed kept Yarmony’s pirates satisfied well into the wee hours of the morning.
Those that didn’t tire even as the sun came up were still gathered around a large campfire in the center of the tents picking banjos and guitars and crooning melodies to early risers. As the Colorado sun welcomed Sunday the tents came down but the jubilance and purity of this intimate event kept spirits high in anticipation of next year. Yarr!