Rhythms on the Rio 2022 Review: New location, same amazing vibes!
Rhythms on the Rio 2022 Review: New location, same amazing vibes!
Rhythms on the Rio Music Festival took place in Del Norte, CO, August 5-7
Rhythms on the Rio has always been one of our favorites. We attended in 2017 and 2019, and had every intention of returning in 2020 before, well you know.
In 2017, Rhythms immediately won us over with its intimate size, riverfront location, amazing lineup, and all the incredible people in attendance.
We left 2017 and 2019 with a slew of new friends, including some artists we were lucky enough to interview while at the festival. (Read our Pixie and the Partygrass Boys and Jon Stickley Trio interviews)
So, after a 2-year hiatus, when we learned of the return of Rhythms on the Rio, we were all-in!
Rhythms on the Rio: New Location in Del Norte, CO
Since we last gathered last in South Fork for Rhythms on the Rio, a lot has changed. The biggest change was that, after many years in South Fork, the leased festival grounds were no longer available. So, after much searching, the South Fork Music Association, who put on Rhythms on the Rio, found a new suitable venue down the road in the town of Del Norte, CO.
Del Norte offered a terrific change of scenery for the festival, with more positives than we could have guessed.
For starters, Del Norte is a lovely little town in the San Louis Valley, on the Rio Grande River from which the festival takes its name. For Colorado Front-rangers (like ourselves) we still get to enjoy a gorgeous drive, only about 4-5 hours from Boulder/Denver.
Del Norte has several restaurants, a brewery, and access to all the amazing outdoor activities in the area.
But we didn’t drive all this way just to hang in Del Norte!
Upon arrival at ROTR, we were awestruck by the number of trees available for camping. We found a terrific spot tucked back among the cottonwoods, with plenty of space for our group. In fact, almost all of the campground is really a wooded wonderland, and it was kept shady and cool the entire weekend.
As for the stage area, it actually looked very similar to Rhythms in South Fork. A large enough but still intimate space is covered in woodchips for comfortable dancing and no mud pits after a passing storm!
But again, the best feature has to be the tree-lined grove towards the back of the festival grounds, under which hammocks swing, kids play and food and drink are enjoyed, all within earshot of the music on the main stage.
And let’s talk about the river.
While the river was not directly accessible from the campground and stage area as it was in South Fork, there is, instead, a brand new beautiful river park directly across the street.
We strolled over every day (literally directly across the street from the festival entrance) and found great spots to take a dip, have a picnic, and watch (or join) the tubers floating from one end to the other.
Nothing rejuvenates like a dip in a fresh river, and the Rio Grande had us rinsed off and ready to go every day of Rhythms on the Rio!
Rhythms on the Rio: Thursday Kick-Off & King Cabbage Brass Band
A former ROTR tradition had been for early arrivers to lineup on Thursday night and sleep in their cars to be the first into the festival grounds. That option was not available at the new location, but it wasn’t needed.
Back in South Fork, there were only a few coveted ‘premium’ camping spots. In Del Norte, there are literally hundreds, so being first in line wasn’t as big a deal. But, more importantly, ROTR opened the campground on Thursday for an extra day of camping.
The best part – a free concert in the park, put on by the Town of Del Norte, directly across the street, with King Cabbage Brass Band!
Yeah, a concert in the park with an amazingly fun brass band. More fun than sleeping in your car. Fact.
And then King Cabbage Brass Band stuck around for the entire festival, popping up throughout the campground, leading parades, and generally adding an entirely new element of fun to Rhythms!
Rhythms on the Rio – The Music
So let’s get to it.
After a fun but chill Thursday evening, we were ready to roll on Friday.
Rhythms hit the ground running with a terrific set by Branjae that was fun, funky and soulful. The Jauntee followed and the afternoon crowd filled in to enjoy the lively jams while we got our dancing shoes laced up.
Living legend George Porter Jr. and Runnin’ Pardners brought us through sunset, and we were all right back in our happy place and ready for an amazing weekend.
Railroad Earth closed out Friday evening on the main stage, and played one of the best festival sets we’ve seen from one of our favorite festival bands! Railroad gave nods to the “Rio” in Mississippi Halfstep Uptown Toodeloo (“Across the Rio Grand-eo, Across the lazy river”) and Mighty River>Colorado. They also busted out “Railroad Earth,” a rare fan favorite.
It was a special set, and had the festival in a perma-grin that would last through Monday!
Saturday at Rhythms on the Rio was simply one for the ages.
There’s typically a set or two at most festivals that I mark as a time for rest, a meal, whatever. We simply couldn’t find one of those on Saturday at Rhythms. (or Friday and Sunday, for that matter!) Luckily, the grounds were small enough to allow for quick trips back to camp between sets without missing much.
From start to finish, Saturday, August 6 at Rhythms on the Rio was one of the best days of music I’ve experienced.
Durango’s Smelter Mountain Boys got us going, with an impressive set that included great originals and covers. Then Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs stirred up the dance floor with some Montana stompgrass, and we were off to the races! Ben Weiss from Pixie and the Partygrass Boys joined Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs before Pixie and the Partygrass Boys threw down the kind of high-energy set that can only come from Utah’s finest purveyors of Chickens and Whiskey. (If you want to know what a good time at a music festival looks like, look no further than the Saturday crowd at Rhythms, collectively joining their voices to join in the Partygrass chorus of “Go Vaginas! Go! Go! Vaginas!”)
We barely had time to catch our breath before we realized what was up next – a trio of bands comprised of some of the most talented and acclaimed bluegrass musicians on the planet.
The Travelin’ McCourys are simply pros. They know how to work a crowd, they don’t miss a note, and they are fun as hell. They finished their set leaving the crowd uplifted and full.
We then experienced a brief storm that helped cool things down and refreshed our souls for the evening to come.
Then Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway took the stage.
A magical rainbow appeared to all as Molly Tuttle and the band began to play, and then they started singing “She comes in colours everywhere, She combs her hair…” We all experienced in astonishment the best placed song in festival set history as Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway performed the Rolling Stones’ classic “She’s A Rainbow.”
Tuttle and company threw down an amazing performance and finished with an unplugged encore (due to a problem with the sound) that had the audience in awed silence and made the show all that more special.
And we weren’t finished yet!
The Bluegrass Generals are a side project of The Infamous Stringdusters’ Andy Hall and Chris Pandolfi. For Rhythms on the Rio, Generals Hall and Pandolfi recruited Ronnie McCoury and Alan Bartram (The Travelin’ McCourys) along with Bill Nershi (The String Cheese Incident.)
For a band that only came together in person that afternoon, and literally got their practice time and setlist together during the Molly Tuttle set, you would have thought they’d played together for decades. Professionals. (Count the awards amassed by this group. I dare you.)
General Pandolfi led the charge, General Molly Tuttle chipped in, and the Bluegrass Generals emerged victorious (although it was touch and go for a moment or two, with General Nershi eventually coming out on top in the Battle of the Bubble Machine.)
What a day on the main stage at Rhythms on the Rio! And we weren’t done yet…
Sunday at Rhythms on the Rio Music Festival is a bit of a known secret.
Historically, Sunday at Rhythms is for up-and-coming artists (Tyler Childers played in 2017 – later that year he sold out Red Rocks), and introducing the crowd to something potentially new, but always high energy and feel-good fun!
While some festivals might hit you with the Sunday sit-down sets, Rhythms makes sure you leave some gas in the tank for one more throwdown.
We started with a set by The River Arkansas that really blew us away. It was our first live experience with this Front Range five-piece, but won’t be our last. Then Southern Colorado’s High Country Hustle put the boogie in the bluegrass and we were once again into another full day of festy fun.
Cole Chaney was one of the lineup announcements that had us really excited. We’ve been listening to this amazing songwriter from Kentucky for quite some time, and his backing band, Wolfpen Branch impressed us when we caught them at Charleston Bluegrass Festival this past spring. The sun was full during their moving and gritty set, but there was ample shade under the cottonwoods, and the overriding feeling was that we all caught a star on the rise.
Since the Rhythms lineup was announced, I’ve been listening to The Hip Abduction, which I was previously unfamiliar with. Their albums are fun and catchy, and I was curiously looking forward to their Sunday set. I wasn’t prepared for the incredible dance party that would ensue!
The Hip Abduction threw down a Sunday set that was exactly what we all needed, reminiscent of the energy brought years ago on a Rhythms Sunday by Shinyribs. The crowd danced together, formed conga lines, got goofy and weird, and left with a new band to follow!
The festival was closed by The Texas Gentlemen. This timeless-sounding funk, soul, country, r&b, southern rock, gospel band was the perfect closeout to Rhythms on the Rio.
Rhythms has never been defined by a genre. Sunday at Rhythms was a perfect example of that – a music festival lineup with literally something for everyone.
What about Bob?!
One of the under-the-radar late lineup additions was Bob Hemenger – Artist at Large.
Bob is a Colorado musician that brought the funk and soul to many a set at Rhythms as the resident sax player. He joined just about everyone on stage and turned the energy level up 12 notches every time he did.
And while no band bit on this author’s prods to play Duran Duran’s “Rio” so that Bob could wail the epic sax solo, he was still playing like he was on the hull of a sailboat all weekend long.
The Rhythms on the Rio Late-night Tent and The Bent Ears
One of the best surprises of Rhythms on the Rio was the Late-night tent. Tucked away in the comfort of the cottonwoods, adorned with interactive art installations (who got lost in the bramble maze?!), the Late-night area welcomed all with the message “Here’s to the nights that turn into mornings and the friends that turn into family.” Amen.
After the main-stage came to a close, many meandered over to the late-night area. Aside from the charm and comfort of the space, the other fantastic surprise of the weekend was The Bent Ears.
We had no idea what to expect from this local Del Norte band. A lack of expectations doesn’t mean you can’t still be completely blown away – and we were! The Bent Ears kept the energy going and the party raging through the evening into the morning on Friday and Saturday.
When the main stage came to a close on Sunday, we were all surprised to hear that, once again, the party was to continue at the late-night stage. For Sunday’s closer, we were treated to the musical stylings of Knipple.
Knipple hosted an experience under the late-night tent that all in attendance are sure to remember (or not. The tequila and Jameson were flowing). They were joined by members of The Bent Ears and King Cabbage Brass Band. It was the perfect end to the perfect weekend, as friends – new and old – danced and refused to put a bow on the weekend.
As we left the Late-night tent, headed to keep the party going at the camp of some brand-new friends, we passed the other side of the sign that greeted us on the way in, reading, “There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen.”
There is. It’s now in Del Norte, Colorado.
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