GleasonFest 2021: A Magical Colorado Wedding
GleasonFest 2021 Review: A Magical Colorado Wedding
GleasonFest took place at Rancho del Rio in Bond, CO, August 5 – 8. The inaugural festival was a wedding celebration for Jon Gleason and Kristen Arensdorf.
There is definitely something magical about the Colorado River.
From its beginnings in La Poudre Pass Lake in the Rocky Mountains, the mighty Colorado travels 1,450 miles, through 7 States and 2 Countries, ending in Mexico’s Gulf of California.
Along the way, the 5th longest river in the US carves out some of the most majestic landscapes in the Nation.
Of course, the most famous of these is the Grand Canyon, but that does not make any of the other points on the mighty Colorado any less special.
One of these magical river locales is known as Rancho del Rio, in Bond, Colorado.
Rancho del Rio is a unique fishbowl sitting on the Colorado River, along the Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway, offering camping and lodging a pebbles toss away from the great river, along with access to all of the activities the Colorado provides.
Yes, there is something magical about Rancho del Rio, as any visitors to the river Eden will attest.
It is no wonder, then, that when seeking a wedding venue to celebrate their love with their friends and family, Jon Gleason and Kristen Arensdorf (now Gleason) chose their favorite camping location – Rancho del Rio.
When invitations to join in this special bond were sent, we couldn’t be more delighted.
Of course, seeing one of my and my wife Kelly’s oldest friends in Colorado, Jon Gleason, marry one of our newest and now dearest friends, Kristen, is cause enough for celebration. To mark a 4-day stay at Rancho del Rio on our calendar was more than icing on the cake. It was like it was ALL icing. (Kelly will tell you that it would be better if it was all cake, but that’s just crazy.)
It seems that almost every August we make our annual trek to Rancho del Rio. For years, we’ve raged one of our favorite music festivals, Yarmony, held each August at Rancho. Yarmony has always had a special place in our hearts, but unfortunately, it was canceled in 2020 and for the unforeseeable future.
In August 2020, needing a release from our quaran-pods and longing to lay under the stars watching the Perseid meteor shower, we headed up to Rancho with a small group of friends. We wanted to celebrate the Colorado River, Rancho, life and friends. We called it “Yarm-Anyway.”
Just a few days later, Jon was at the same location, under those same stars, popping out of a banana suit and popping the question to Kristen, who clearly said “Hell, yes!”
So, a reason to return to Rancho in August – not just any reason, but a freaking fantastic reason – was something to be very excited about.
She said “Yes”! Image from Kristen Gleason’s Facebook page.
We spent the week leading up to GleasonFest with some necessary preparations.
One of our pandemic acquisitions, our 1952 camper “Dirty Frank,” needed some upgrades. We’d completed a ton of work on the inside and addressed many of the structural and mechanical issues you might expect in a 70-year-old canned ham, but we had yet to upgrade the outward appearance of our little money pit.
To put it bluntly, Dirty Frank still looked like a piece of shit on the outside.
Twenty-five + cans of Rustoleum and a lot of bud, sweat and tears later, and “Dirty Frank” was starting to look like, well, just “Frank.” (It’ll always be Dirty, however!)
We were ready for GleasonFest 2021!
We arrived at Rancho del Rio on Thursday in the late afternoon. We spent some time setting up camp at our spot at the end of the campground, directly next to a river access point. Actually, it was the river access point for many of our visits to Rancho – the put-in location for the famed Yarmony Floating Stage, the legendary eddy, and the start of the iconic Rancho-to-Rancho float.
Our camp spot was also located directly adjacent to what was to be the wedding ceremony location. We could only think how lucky we (and the Gleasons) were that Dirty Frank received his makeover!
Thursday Night at GleasonFest had an intimate crowd with close friends and family members.
Jon and Kristen arranged a Texas Hold’em poker tournament as entertainment. It served as a perfect way to connect with some of the guests who had traveled for this special event.
One of the out-of-town guests was Jon’s cousin, Tony, who traveled from New Jersey in a rented camper with his wife, 3 kids, and a dog. Tony ended up taking First Place in the tournament and the pot of $80. This writer managed a respectable 4th place, made more tolerable with the bride-to-be snagging the 3rd position!
Thursday night was also a onesie party. If you know Jon and Kristen, you know they love their onesies, so we all joined in and got comfy in our best animal PJs and other funky attire.
After the poker tournament, a campground party ensued. The raging was kept to some level of responsibility because many of us had a big day in the morning. Not too responsible, mind you, but not too crazy either.
Considering the late-night party, there was a surprising amount of us up and at ’em Friday morning, meeting at the Colorado River Outfitters at Rancho at 9 AM. Or, should we say 9ish, with a strong emphasis on the ish? We won’t call out anyone here by name, but let’s just say we were all waiting on one of the most important people of the weekend, and it wasn’t the Bride! (Babe! Babe! Babe!)
Eventually, we were all rounded up and filed into a few vans to make the bumpy journey upriver to the put-in site known as Pumphouse. We sat patiently through our safety talk with zero snarky comments or sarcastic retorts and got ready to hit the Colorado River.
I was in a raft with my wife and Festy partner, Kelly, along with Squid (Best Man), Frodo (Best Frodo), and Rosie. Our raft guide, Neil, ended up being the perfect fit for our witty team.
Personally, I’ve done this stretch of the Colorado many times, and know that it’s a pretty gentle float with a handful of Class 2 rapids thrown in to keep you on your toes. So, unlike my previous trips here where I’ve been captaining a 2-person duckie (inflatable kayak), this was an opportunity to sit back and relax for the float.
It was a gorgeous day on the mighty Colorado. We saw a few Bald Eagles and even spotted the groom pick up a paddle, although he may have been rowing in the wrong direction.
It being early afternoon on a Friday, we were able to stop at the lovely Radium Hot Springs – normally packed on a weekend, but empty of anyone else when we arrived.
We all enjoyed a nice dip in the natural springs that cascade directly into the river. It’s one of nature’s finest creations and another magical locale on the amazing Colorado River.
After our brief stop here, we journeyed on to the ‘town’ of Radium, where there is another boat ramp. Here we were met by the majority of the day’s adventure seekers who only opted for the half-day trip.
We enjoyed some sandwiches, watermelon, and a ton of cookies, and then the half-day slackers got geared up, and we all hit the river once again.
We were joined by a new pair for the lower half of the journey, and the fresh paddling arms were definitely appreciated.
The seas were angry that day, my friends. It was as if Poseidon himself arose with his trident to bless the holy matrimony that was to occur on the ‘morrow.
But seriously, the wind had picked up considerably, and we faced it head-on for the rest of our journey. Our guide worked his butt off to get us through, and we all joined together to operate like a well-oiled paddling machine.
We occasionally got close enough to the other rafts to engage in some water-gun warfare and general taunting. The groom was moving around the raft in different locations, presumably to rotate which of the other paddlers would be picking up his slack.
We passed a few others from the wedding group on the river shortly after our lunch stop. They had chosen to go at it on their own in a pontoon boat captained by Skittles, and a few other unfortunate souls on stand-up paddleboards. They were mostly moving upstream at the time we passed, fighting an ever-increasing wind that seemed to be winning.
Luckily, this wayward group of castaways eventually made it back to camp – many, many hours later. Some were even gratefully rescued by folks passing by, but they had to pay back their debt by paddling their boat for the rest of the trip!
Best-Man David “Squid” Konter recalls, “The winds raged on the river as paddle boarders were stranded. Among the wind and the smoke and the chaos, you could feel that something special was brewing.”
Our group arrived back at Rancho del Rio in great spirits after a fantastic day on the river, albeit a bit tired and hungry. No worries though, as Friday night at GleasonFest was catered by McDevitt Taco Supply.
We all gorged on delicious Super Heady Tacos, and then settled into the night’s entertainment.
Stock Image. Bradford McDevitt did not actually sling tacos at Gleasonfest.
GleasonFest will remain etched into the calendar for obvious reasons, but aside from matrimony, another milestone was marked this day. The entertainment for the evening – Mountain Rose – played at their very first festival!
Mountain Rose has a few McDevitt Taco Supply alums in the ranks, but they were definitely hired for this festival on their own merits.
The 6-piece “Cosmic Rock Funk Ensemble” put together a show for the ages at GleasonFest. They went through some crowd-pleasing classics, like Dean Summerwind’s “Out By The Lake,” and some original tunes, like “Dear Prudence.”
One particularly huge fan of Dean Summerwind, Bradford McDevitt, exclaimed, “I survived the river and heard my favorite song played live! A magical weekend with amazing people!”
Of GleasonFest, Mountain Rose guitarist and vocalist Thomas Holum says, “I mean, if you told me 3 years ago that we’d be playing Gleasonfest 2021, I would have lost my sh*t. We’ve made it. It’s all downhill from here.”
Mountain Rose rocked, they jammed, they funked the hell out of Rancho del Rio. The entirety of the wedding guests was on their feet dancing the night away, and GleasonFest was immediately elevated into the ranks of memorable Colorado music festivals.
The party kept going well into the wee hours on Friday, but a touch of restraint was shown by some, as we all had a wedding to attend the next day! Of course, a few rounds of LED Extreme Bocce never hurt anyone. Several games were played, but all seemed to end in a 6-4 tie.
Saturday was another beautiful day at Rancho del Rio.
“Love was in the air,” Squid remembers of that special day. “It was all around us. As well as a thick, thick layer of smoke.“
While the air quality wasn’t the best due to fires in and out of state, the hazy overcast served to keep the sun at bay just enough to make the day comfortable. Most guests spent the day lounging around, hanging with new and old friends, and jumping into the river whenever a cool-down was needed – often traversing the famed “Rancho-to-Rancho” float.
By this time, most of the guests who didn’t already know one another had met and bonded – one of the major bonuses of a multi-day festival wedding.
It’s not just Jon and Kristen who are joining together – it is also their friends and families. GleasonFest guests formed bonds and relationships that will endure forever – serving to bolster the couple when needed, and growing the kinship that their love has created.
By the time we joined together for the ceremony, we all did so as friends and family.
Jon and Kristen were wed under an arbor facing the Colorado River, with views of Rancho del Rio and the river valley in all directions. Of course, there were also views of Dirty Frank, but, as we said, he looked great!
To make the occasion even more special, Jon’s mom, Erina Cowan, served as Officiant and Master of Ceremonies. Jon walked the aisle accompanied by his father, John (with an “H”), and his son, Jacob. His best man was David “Squid” Konter (also with an “H”).
Kristen’s nieces – Avery and Adalie – served as the adorable flower girls. Kristen’s Maids-of-honor were Stephanie Schaffer and Natalie Eckburg. When the big moment arrived, Kristen was escorted down the aisle by her brother, Justen Arensdorf.
We all had zero doubts that this couple was going to look fabulous on their wedding day.
The Bride was stunning in her flowing white gown and ruby-red slippers ready to take her to Oz, looking as beautiful as ever. The Groom was decked to the nines in a fine-looking suit of purple paisley with purple-suede shoes to match.
As beautiful as the day was, no great wedding can go on without at least one hiccup. As Erina was presiding over the beautiful ceremony, which opened with a collective “Om,” Kristen exclaimed that she forgot her vows back at the cabin. No worries – we all had a laugh and Erina smoothly improvised a bit as the vows were retrieved– the show went on!
The ceremony was perfect. Personal, deep at times, and light at times. It included everyone in attendance, and there was not a dry eye at Rancho del Rio that afternoon.
Once the final “I do do’s” were said and the Jon and Kristen were wed, the Gleasons triumphantly walked the aisle together to the cheers and elation of all in attendance.
We regrouped briefly at camp for some celebratory mezcal, and then reconvened at the reception pavilion to continue the celebration.
After a meal and a smoke (and another smoke) we had the traditional Maid-of-Honor and Best Man speeches.
Maid-of-Honor, Natalie, was sweet and loving in her praise of both Kristen and Jon, giving them many heartfelt wishes for a long love-filled life together.
Natalie says of her best-friend’s wedding, “I am so grateful to have had a part in Gleasonfest! So many different worlds, joined into one helluva weekend, full of so much love! What a reset, refresh, revive my soul! I will never forget some of the greatest memories of my life!”
Best Man, Squid, opined about the speech he could have given, reminiscing about his adventures with Jon, from going back in time to write a history report together, to helping a genius janitor at Harvard face his demons. But, being the true friend he is, Squid instead delivered a speech about what an asshole Jon Gleason is.
What a caring, generous, loving asshole he is.
Dinner and speeches were followed by the Bride and Groom’s First Dance – “Everlong” by Foo Fighters, performed beautifully by Thom Holum and Derek Miles of Mountain Rose.
Jon and his mom, Erina, then had a lovely dance to “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, while Kristen danced with two of her uncles and her oldest cousin to “Butterfly Kisses” by Bob Carlisle.
DJ Benekkaa (AKA Andy Beneker) then took over the party.
Squid reports of the party that followed the ceremony, “Legendary speeches were given. Legendary BBQ was served, and then the midwest’s finest DJ, Andy Beneker set the mood with a DJ set that will be talked about for years to come.”
The dance floor was bouncing for the duration of the night. The drinks and joints were flowing, and the smiles were endless. We all danced for hours under the jellyfish chandeliers (handmade by the bride and groom).
“Weirdest and best wedding I’ve ever been to.
I was the DJ for the evening and those animals would not stop dancing!”
~ DJ Andy Beneker (BENEKKAA)
There’s just something about a wedding dance party.
Friends, new and old, gathered in celebration. That’s not something unusual or unfamiliar – but at a wedding, we are all celebrating love. There’s nothing like it.
“Memories were made. Friendships created. Love cemented,” says Best Man Squid.
When true love comes together and culminates in an absolutely perfect day, it’s hard to beat that feeling.
The emotions were felt amongst every one of the guests, and new friends who had only met 36 hours ago were dancing arm-in-arm, smiling ear-to-ear, in celebration of love.
Jon and Kristen’s love.
When the DJ music came to a close, the party ensued in the campground.
Ties were loosened (if they weren’t already), speeches were burnt, and onesies were once again donned. Friends sat around campfires telling stories of the newlyweds, recalling meetings and favorite adventures, and kindling the fire of their love until the sun rose.
“For some of us, the night ended early. For others, the night played through right into breakfast,” admits Squid.
Sunday morning, all in attendance (who were awake) were treated to one last special meal – brunch prepared by the Groom himself.
Bacon, eggs and mimosas were the perfect way to end the special gathering. Hugs were exchanged, as well as contact information amongst the newly acquainted, and we said our goodbyes.
An end to any festival is bittersweet.
Packing up camp after raging for several days can be a tough chore, and saying goodbye to those you’ve become so close with over the past few days can be difficult.
At GleasonFest, however, the ‘goodbyes’ were laced with the feeling that they wouldn’t be for very long.
Most importantly, unlike the closing of most festivals, GleasonFest did not really end.
It actually just began.
We’re getting ready for Strings and Sol 2021, December 9-13th in Puerto Morelos, Mexico. There’s something special about this festival.
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