The Secret is Out: Rhythms on the Rio 2023 Takes It To The Next Level
The Secret is Out: Rhythms on the Rio 2023 takes it to the next level
The 16th Rhythms on the Rio Music Festival took place in Del Norte, CO, August 4-6, 2023. Headliners included The Motet, Kitchen Dwellers, and The Infamous Stringdusters. The festival, which is a benefit for the South Fork Music Association, raised over $10,000 for local school music programs.
Rhythms on the Rio is not a new festival.
Far from it.
In fact, this was the 16th year of this beloved Colorado gathering. But you might not know this party has been going on for so long. Many people are just now hearing about it.
For 14 years, Rhythms flew just under the radar. Originally located in South Fork, Colorado, this small, grass-roots, volunteer-run festival grew out of a single concert and an idea – to provide musical education to children in the San Luis Valley by throwing a benefit concert.
For 14 years, Rhythms attracted a loyal crowd – many locals, but also a strong following from around Colorado and New Mexico. And Rhythms was known among the faithful as the best-kept secret in Colorado.
Festy GoNuts first stumbled upon Rhythms on the Rio in 2017.
We were fairly new to the game, and this small fest was happy to have us attend and cover the fun. We were instantly in love. Rhythms had it all, precisely the elements of festivals we tend to focus upon – the music, culture, and adventure. But even more impressive to us was the community and family.
We left Rhythms in 2017 not just with new friends, but with an entire new crew!
Festy GoNuts returned to South Fork in 2019, equally enthralled with this amazing festival. We sung its praises and spread the word, but on the Front Range of Colorado, Rhythms was still relatively unknown by many of our friends and festival circles.
Then, in 2022, after a several-year hiatus (remember the pandemic?!), Rhythms learned that its 14-year home in South Fork was suddenly unavailable to them. (Apparently, the area needed another RV resort.)
So, after much deliberation and searching, Rhythms on the Rio found a new home, just up the road in Del Norte, CO.
As we wrote in the 2022 Rhythms on the Rio Review, this new location just felt right.
The town of Del Norte seemed to have even more to offer than South Fork – restaurants, stores, and even a bit of charm – and the new festival grounds had something that South Fork lacked – trees! Loads and loads of glorious cottonwoods offering much-needed shade throughout the campgrounds.
Camping among the trees is always a wonderful experience, in our opinion.
We’ve long been in love with the wooded festival vibes – visions of Hornings Hideout come to mind. Places where festivarians can really let their freak flags fly – along with their actual flags – hanging tapestries, hammocks, and lights and creating a festival wonderland fit for late-night exploration. That’s our kind of fest.
The Del Norte location also offered up access to the Rio Grande of the festival’s namesake, with an amazing River Park directly across the street from the festival.
So, when Rhythms on the Rio announced the return to Del Norte for 2023, we were all in.
As it has been for 16 years, Rhythms on the Rio 2023 was punctuated by an amazing lineup of artists.
Colorado has no shortage of bluegrass and jam grass festivals, and that’s great, but what we have always loved about Rhythms is the variety.
Just take a look at the 3 headlining acts of 2023 – The Motet, Kitchen Dwellers, and The Infamous Stringdusters. These 3 couldn’t be more different. Yet they all gelled well together, anchoring what was an incredibly strong roster from top to bottom.
Fittingly, as was the case in our first visit to Rhythms in 2017, the Friday festivities were kicked off by Durango’s Elder Grown – a perfect band to set the mood for an incredible weekend of musical highlights. When Elder Grown took the stage to welcome a fairly full house for a Friday afternoon, we knew this year was going to be something special.
The large crowd early on Friday was partly due to the campgrounds at Rhythms opening on Thursday for early arrivals,. We were blown away by the numbers who jumped at the opportunity of an extra day at Rhythms on the Rio. Those that did arrive early were treated to a free concert in the Del Norte Town Park with Dane & The Soup. When Friday rolled in, many were already set up and ready to play on the river all day – fully prepped for Friday’s amazing start to the festival.
While some were still hustling to get set up Friday afternoon, by the time Nosotros took the stage, the majority of attendees were ready to roll, and Rhythms on the Rio was in full swing. And swing we did to this Latin music powerhouse, who brought the energy and enthusiasm that the Rhythms crowd is so ready to absorb and radiate right back.
Shinyribs was a highlight of the 2017 Rhythms, closing down the festivities on Sunday evening with an energy that is typically reserved for late on Saturday night. We were extremely excited to see what their set looked like on the opening day of the festival, and it was just as high-octane, just as fun, and just as smile-inducing as we recalled. Shinyribs exemplifies the Rhythms vibe – extremely talented musicians engaging with an incredible crowd to create a full musical experience shared by all.
When The Motet took the stage Friday night at Rhythms on the Rio 2023, all were in attendance. Tents were set, beers were had, rust was kicked off the dancing shoes, and we were in the midst of a festivaaalllllll!
The Motet has been at the forefront of Colorado dance parties for decades, and their Friday night set at Rhythms was one for the ages. With brand-new addition to the band, Sarah Clarke on vocals, along with the best funk rhythm section in the business, things got down and dirty!
As they did in 2022, Rhythms on the Rio provided a late-night campground tent to keep the party going long past the closing of the main stage. Friday night went into the wee hours with Dane & The Soup rocking the tent.
The late-night tent has a certain circus vibe.
Maybe it’s just the shape and color of the tent, maybe it’s the attitude of those who spend their time there.
Music can be easily heard outside the tent, where an open field is filled with glowing hoopers, friends decompressing on the grass, and the deeply mysterious and completely enchanting Willow Grove.
Willow Grove is the work of the volunteer artists who tirelessly poured their souls and creative spirits into making 2023’s Rhythms on the Rio a next-level experience. Crawling through the tunnels of branches, finding a nook in the darkness, and laughing with your friends at the marvel of it all – this is what led Festy GoNuts to fall in love with music festivals many moons ago.
Sure, music is at the center, but the weirdness, the sheer magical energy that one encounters at a music festival is what makes them other-worldly experiences.
Throughout the grounds of Rhythms on the Rio could be found art installations, creations, and interactive enjoyments that inspired wonder. It would not be truth in reporting if this writer failed to admit to the amount of time spent watching an ancient TV screen tuned to nothing but static.
Beautiful, mysterious static.
When we awoke on Saturday, it was in a wooded wonderland, surrounded by friends old and new, all with pure smiles reflecting the joy of the previous evening, ready for what we knew was going to be an epic Saturday.
Further propelling Rhythms on the Rio 2023 into the realm of epic next-level music festivals was the announcement of an official theme. While seemingly not a huge difference maker in the grand scheme of all elements of a music festival, an official theme can be a huge point of connection among all in attendance. We’re big fans. (In fact, in leu of an official theme in 2022, Festy GoNuts offered up our own theme nights)
So, when it was announced that Saturday at Rhythms on the Rio was an Underwater Disco, we, again, were all in!
Starting early in the day, elements of dolphins, whales, mermaids, and jellyfish could be seen parading the grounds. Rhythmers young and old embraced the fun, and the underwater disco vibes were strong.
There was also an antique car show and market happening in the adjacent Del Norte town Park, part of the town’s coinciding Covered Wagon Days festivities.
Del Norte is a fantastic little town. It’s got authentic Colorado mountain town vibes, but with an air of creativity that makes this seem like a place on the rise. Restaurants were open and welcome to the weekend’s influx of hippies, and businesses embraced the added crowds.
Throwing this party of several thousand people adjacent to a small community such as Del Norte is a tricky venture, but the townspeople and festival promoters seem to have done a wonderful job of working in unison, and hopefully this is a sign of a lasting relationship for years to come.
So after a swim and some local exploration, the Saturday Underwater Disco Party was ready to roll!
Morningside String Band kicked it off on Saturday, and this group from Steamboat Springs was the first surprise of the day. This ‘string band’ had a drummer and electric guitar, and when they welcomed artist-at-large Bob Hemenger to add some sax to the mix, you can see why their name may have misled some in the crowd! So we hit the ground running on Saturday!
It was a hot, sunny day, and many chose to enjoy the early sets from the comforts of chairs and blankets in the cottonwood shade that adorns the back half of the festival grounds.
Amongst the trees could be found beautiful art installations of the underwater variety, as well as a good handful of hammocks and umbrellas.
Just beyond is the vendor village, which had grown significantly since 2022. Local wares, tie-dyes, crafts, and souvenirs were on display from a group of artisans who seemed to be enjoying the festival as much as the attendees.
The food offerings at Rhythms on the Rio in 2023 were top-notch as well. From homemade sausages and gourmet fries to pizza and BBQ, there seemed to be something for everyone. That held true for the beverages as well – reasonably priced beer and wine was on hand, as well as some fantastic non-alcoholic mocktails.
The Brothers Comatose have also been to Rhythms in the past, and we were excited to see this California string band once again. Their energetic dance party was followed by Lindsay Lou, who surprisingly had Railroad Earth’s Mike Robinson as part of the ensemble. Their set saw the sun relax its intensity a bit, and the crowds filled the dance floor and packed the stage. Lindsay Lou and her band captivated all in attendance, and her enthusiasm merged with a crowd that was ready for an epic Saturday night.
The Rhythms promoters had been attempting to book Cabinet for years, and were thrilled to make it happen in 2023. Festy GoNuts is very familiar with this East Coast group, and have gotten high on Pennsylvania bluegrass many a time. But for much of the Rhythms crowd, this was unfamiliar territory.
It’s safe to say that there are plenty of new Cabinet fans in Colorado after Saturday night at Rhythms on the Rio. With Larry Keel and Jared Pool sitting in for a good portion, Cabinet brought down the house with their haunting melodies and downright dirty jams. It was the perfect segue into the main course of the evening, Kitchen Dwellers.
Kitchen Dwellers did what only they can do.
It was a party, with what seemed the entire festival in attendance, displaying their underwater disco attire and props. Dolphins and jellyfish danced in the crowd, while the spinning mermaids and golden octopuses of The Secret Circus Society worked the perimeters, leading parades through the action and adding another element of magic to the festival that helped propel Rhythms to the next level.
The Kitchen Dwellers were memorably joined by members of Cabinet for several tunes that will forever be remembered as the Kitchen Cabinet. And then Lindsay Lou and Mike Robinson contributed to an epic version of Neil Young’s “Down By The River” that definitely brought some Pink Floyd essence and dropped more than a few jaws.
All left the Kitchen Dwellers set in awe, and took that energy to the campgrounds and the late-night stage. Last year’s late-night hosts, The Bent Ears, threw the Saturday party with an energetic mix of Grateful Dead and other similarly inspired tunes – keeping the dance party alive for many hours.
Like many in attendance, once the main stage came to a close, we split our time between the late-night tent and campground wanderings. After all, the campground is one of the shining stars of the festival world, and at Rhythms on the Rio in Del Norte, it is phenomenal.
It’s easy to get lost among the trees at night at Rhythms, but that’s part of the fun. Wanderings lead to new encounters, new parties and new friends. Picks could be heard throughout, and we discovered more than a few all-night throw-downs.
All festivals must have a final day.
Rhythms on the Rio comes to a close on Sunday, but, in our experience, it is never treated like a closing day.
Many festivals gear their Sunday sets towards a chill, relaxing crowd, one that has been dancing all weekend and is ready to sit and enjoy some quiet folk and bluegrass.
Not Rhythms on the Rio.
In our experience at Rhythms, Sunday is an epic party.
Mama Magnolia kicked it off on Sunday, and despite the heat, the crowd up front was enthralled with the energy and vocals of Megan Letts and the talent of her amazing band. This is how you kick off a festival Sunday!
Arkansauce was high on our radar, and they delivered – even more so than we could have imagined. This band brings the fun and packs in the grooves, along with some fantastic picking and an infectious attitude of fun.
It seemed a tough act to follow, but TK & The Holy Know-Nothings was up to the challenge. Led by Tyler Kingman and including several members of Fruition, TK & The Holy Know-Nothings delivered a rocking set, bringing the feel of a darkened whiskey bar to the raucous crowd, all of who were still dancing and reveling as if it were Friday happy hour and not Sunday evening.
There was no fear of that energy waning at all, as The Hip Abduction was on deck. One of the biggest surprises of 2022’s Rhythms, The Hip Abduction was a welcome returning act this year. Their California vibes are matched with incredible instrumentation, flowing melodies, and an energy that makes you want to grab a stranger by the hand and dance through the crowd. And that is exactly what many people did.
It is rare for a festival to place what some may consider the biggest name on the bill in the Sunday evening slot. But, as we said, the folks at Rhythms on the Rio treat Sunday a little differently. So it was that as the sun began to set in Southern Colorado, we got ready for The Infamous Stringdusters.
There’s just nothing like the Stringdusters, and they proved it on Sunday night. Showing all why they are known as some of the best in the business, they poured it all out on stage, and the crowd returned the sentiment. It got good and dusty.
While Saturday’s theme leaned towards the ‘underwater’, Sunday seemed to embrace the ‘disco’. More than a few disco balls floated through the crowd, and, as Travis Book said, “What happens under the disco ball is up to you.”
After what seemed like an incredibly full day of unparalleled music, we were all a little shocked to discover that it was barely evening when The Infamous Stringsuters concluded their encore.
So, we all regrouped, shook off a bit of the proverbial dust, and headed to the late-night tent one last time.
Rhythms on the Rio, always a festival to make its own rules, closed down with a drum and bass DJ. Big Techs was unknown by most in attendance but ended up being the perfect way to close out the festivities.
Friends danced under the tent or laughed together sitting in the field, absorbing every last moment of this amazing weekend in Del Norte.
Eventually hitting the pillow after a long and wonderful weekend, I was left to reflect on the wonder of Rhythms on the Rio, and how far it has come.
We can only hope that this is the start of the new norm.
Year Two in Del Norte saw a music festival fully hitting its stride. The sentiment of all we encountered was one of wonder. The most oft-heard exclamation was simply, “Wow.”
As The Infamous Stringdusters finished their set and said goodbye, Chris Pandolfi said, “I’m afraid the word is going to get out and people are going to blow up this awesome party. It seems just about perfect the way it is! Long Live Rhythms on the Rio!”
Long Live Rhythms on the Rio.
We couldn’t agree more.
Rhythms on the Rio raised over $10,000 for local school music programs! | Rhythms on the Rio 2023 | Scott Seifert Photogaphy
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