The 30th Annual Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival Review
The 30th Annual Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival promised a first-class lineup of music on a stage nestled in the shadows of the scenic Teton Range. Without disappointment, this incredible festival proved to be an upscale festival with a down-to-earth vibe.
Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival embraces the three aspects we find most important when choosing a music festival: the highest quality of music, culture, and adventure. We were initially drawn to this festival because of its ideal location in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The epic lineup definitely influenced our decision to choose a music festival over 500 miles from our home in Colorado. But what really made this festival unique was the festival culture that had developed over the thirty years of its existence. When it all came together, the Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival ended up being more than just a festival – it was an experience you want to have again year after year.
We heard over and over again that this year – the 30th year – was quite possibly the absolute best lineup that Targhee Bluegrass Festival has ever seen. I’d have to agree that they rolled out all of the stops to make this milestone year one for the books. All three days were stacked with the highest caliber of musical acts, and they all shared one single-stage. A single-stage festival means nobody overlaps, so you don’t have to choose one performance over another. It also increases the chance of artists sitting in with each other, which was something audience members were regularly treated to during this festival. Imagine the possibilities when Danny Barnes and Darol Anger are floating around all weekend long. Add in a few doses of Sierra Hull, and shake it up with Brittany Haas – and you’ve got one heck of a bluegrass festival.
Friday Festivities kicked off with Mandolin Orange, a powerhouse folk duo that had the crowd buzzing. The musical acts continued to get more impressive throughout the day, as Sierra Hull and Darrell Scott took turns filling the stage with their powerful lyrics. As the sun set, The Travelin’ McCourys kicked the energy level up a notch. Their blend of modern and classic bluegrass stylings was the perfect way to heat up the stage and audience before The Infamous Stringdusters came out to close out the day and leave us all feeling a little dusted.
Molly Tuttle Band opened up the stage on Saturday morning, getting us ready for a full day of high-class music. Mr. Sun (featuring Danny Barnes) was the afternoon show stopper (IMO – read below). Saturday afternoon also featured the classic bluegrass stylings of Growling Old Men, Tim O’Brien Band and Peter Rowan Dharma Blues (featuring Jack Casady). As day turned into evening, the Del McCoury Band took the stage and stole our hearts. A true grandfather of bluegrass, Del McCoury entertains the audience with his stories as much as with his music. If the Del McCoury Band reminded us why we fell in love with bluegrass in the first place, the Sam Bush Band reminded us that today’s bluegrass certainly isn’t our parent’s bluegrass! Sam and his band rocked out the Saturday night stage with a ton of energy and talent. And for those of lucky enough to get tickets, The Travelin’ McCourys treated us to an extra special and extra intimate late-night set that put the icing on our Saturday Targhee Cake.
If you thought Sunday was going to be a sleepy day, think again. Willie Watson (former Old Crowe Medicine Show member) started off our Sunday Services, then the schedule went a little rogue. Greensky Bluegrass and Railroad Earth both were dealing with travel delays, so the festival decided to pull together some variety acts to keep the music going. This ended up working in our favor since we were struggling to get our energy levels up to par after this heck of a weekend. The break meant we made it back to the stage in time to catch Rhiannon Giddens – a highlight of the weekend (see below). It also meant that the music continued later, extending our Sunday festivities. Both Greensky Bluegrass and Railroad Earth did eventually make it to the Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival. The audience got extra special sets from both bands – the perfect end to a high-class music festival.
To be honest, every performance that I saw stood out for me in one way or another. It was difficult to narrow down the highlights, but there were definitely some powerful moments that I can’t stop thinking about.
This set goes down at the most unexpected, surprising performance of the weekend. When Rhiannon began to sing, the crowd seemed stunned and silenced. Her vocals were so powerful, her lyrics were so moving, her presence was so commanding. She moved seamlessly from playing the banjo to playing the fiddle – as well as from singing deep soul to singing opera. Her band was no less talented, fully supporting her song styles of varying energy and passion. They brought us to tears, gave us all goosebumps and left us with a lot to ponder.
Learn More: Rhiannon Gidden’s Website
Mr. Sun featuring Danny Barnes
Mr. Sun is comprised of Darol Anger (fiddle), Joe K. Walsh (mandolin), Grant Gordy (guitar) and Aidan O’Donnell (their Scottish Secret Weapon on bass). If you haven’t heard of any of these guys, you need to fix that fast. I have a long history of love for Darol Anger, who used to be referred to as the 5th unofficial member of Yonder Mountain String Band. Man, those were the years. Darol is still my fiddle hero, and he has now put a few other musical heroes in the spotlight. When this genius group of musicians comes together – and invites Danny Barnes to hop aboard- it’s hard to say where the train is headed. I was just happy I was there for the ride.
Learn More: Mr. Sun’s Webpage
These GSBG boys are always a festival highlight, but something about this festival performance truly stood out. Greensky Bluegrass was rolling in from Pennsylvania – not exactly a short skip to Western Wyoming. Their trip had its fair share of tribulations, which led to lots of delays for the band members, their support staff, and their gear. Setlists and stage setups were continually changing as they endured the extended travel day. That being said, they pushed on with the positive mantra that “the show must go on”. And that it did – just a little later than expected. All the better – the crowd was properly warmed up later in the day, and we were all relieved to see that Greensky had made it to Alta, WY. They came out with a passionate rendition of “American Band”, inspired by how excited they were to have actually made it to Grand Targhee after a day of travel angst. For the entirety of the set, the band seemed to put their heart and soul into making sure the audience got exactly what they had been waiting for – a killer Sunday Greensky Bluegrass show.
You’ve been warned before, and the advice still rings true – Never Miss a Sunday Show.
Learn More: Greensky Bluegrass’ Website
Upon rolling into Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival grounds, it doesn’t escape you that the festival attendees are certainly not rookies. The hill is divided into sections, and each section is assigned height restrictions. There are tarps, then low-back chairs, then high-back chairs and finally shade canopies – all covering the hill in an organized fashion. People in the “know” have arrived early to get the good spots, but there’s plenty of space for everyone to stretch out and breathe in that fresh mountain air. Plus, unlike some other festivals, there is a large section in the front set aside for everyone that wants to dance and get close to the stage.
Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival offers something for everyone –
-whether you are looking for a true camping experience or you want to class it up a bit. In case you haven’t picked up on this already, the festival is located at the Grand Targhee Resort. That means that attendees can actually choose to stay in one of the several indoor lodging options, or you can sit down at a restaurant and have someone cook and serve your meal! Isn’t that fancy? The great part is that, honestly, it’s not really that fancy. It’s pretty low-key, so you can feel comfortable heading from the festival grounds to your steak dinner. (Seriously, the one restaurant offers a Sunday evening Prime-Rib dinner – perhaps the perfect way to end your 3-day festival in the mountains.)
This festival is 30 years in the making. There are families that have been taking their kids here for decades, and those kids are now taking their kids. It’s a musical tradition that has been passed on through generations. Unrelated families are forged over the years through a shared love of music and the beautiful outdoors. It’s a truly special experience that we feel blessed to have finally experienced this year – and it certainly won’t be our last.
Creating a Family Through Music
The Targhee Music Camp creates a festival family in and of itself. The music camp consists of children and adults alike coming together for an incredible education provided by many musicians who are playing at the festival. It begins 4 days before the festival, but the friendships and bonds formed roll right into the weekend. You’ll hear the students and instructors picking late into the night throughout the lodges and campsites – a very special added touch to this classy festival.
Since we arrived early to the festival, we were treated to a special hillside show that included sets from the Music Camp instructors on Thursday night. That’s when we realized that we were going to get a lot of awesome sit-ins from top-notch musicians all week long. Thank you, Targhee!
We arrived at Grand Targhee Resort on Wednesday evening – two full days before the 30th Annual Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival was to begin. We were in the midst of a 2-week road trip that spanned over 1500 miles, and we wanted to allow time to enjoy this awe-inspiring region of the United States. What we didn’t realize is that we didn’t have to go far to find incredible activities and breathtaking landscapes.
Start with a chairlift ride to the top, taking in an aerial view of the festival grounds. Once you hit the top, there are spectacular views of the Tetons and beyond. And there’s more than one way down (or up!). The Grand Targhee Resort boasts over 60 miles of multi-use trails. Bring your mountain bikes (seriously, everyone does) and take a spin down the mountain. Hike down through trails lined with wildflowers – or sign up for one of the daily guided tours. Play through the trails and meadows on their 18-hole Disc Golf Course. Grand Targhee Resort even offers guided horseback rides as a unique way to explore the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. There seriously is something for everyone – and it’s just a step outside of your tent (or door).
If you are looking for more to do before and after the festivities, you couldn’t be situated in a better location. Grand Targhee Resort is located on the Western slopes of the Tetons and in the heart of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Plan a trip to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park, or just explore the rivers and lakes throughout Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming. You’ll find an endless list of activities in the area – rafting, fishing, hiking, camping, mountain biking and so much more!
When we packed up our tents on Monday morning, the mountains and rivers were calling. Our hearts and souls were filled to the brim, and we wanted to let it soak all in before heading out of Wyoming.
Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival gave us so much – from top-class music to the top of the mountains. Grand Targhee Resort wasn’t just a destination, it was part of the journey.
As the festival emcee announced, “Getting to Targhee is never easy, but being here is”. And we hope to make the trek back next year.