RockyGrass Music Festival 2021 Review: The Stuff of Legends
RockyGrass Music Festival 2021 Review: The Stuff of Legends
The 49th Annual RockyGrass Festival was held July 23 – 25, 2021, in Lyons, Colorado, at Planet Bluegrass Ranch.
Photos in this article by Dylan Langille – On The DL Photography and Festy GoNuts
RockyGrass Music Festival, hosted by Planet Bluegrass and held on the beautiful Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Lyons, Colorado, is legendary amongst music fans.
The 3-day event is known for bringing in the biggest names in the business. From the current hit-makers to the icons and founders who paved their way, the Main Stage of Planet Bluegrass is made sacred by the talent that has graced it over the years.
One of the legends to have graced the Planet Bluegrass stage is Tony Rice, who played RockyGrass the very first time it was held in Lyons, and made many more appearances in the years to follow.
Sadly, Tony Rice left us in December of 2020. With the musical world still mourning for the legendary musician, it seemed fitting that RockyGrass would give him the send-off he deserves. That musical recognition will now go down in history as one of the greatest performances on the sacred musical grounds of Planet Bluegrass.
The Tony Rice Tribute band took the stage Friday evening at RockyGrass with Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Bryan Sutton, Chris Eldridge and Mark Schatz. They were shortly joined by David Grisman, and the group on stage paid homage to their late friend in a way only these fellow legends could.
These are the moments that make RockyGrass so spectacular.
Sure, there are other festivals out there with big of-the-moment names, huge Nationally touring acts, and 5 stages competing with one another ‘till the sun comes up.
That’s not RockyGrass.
RockyGrass is where a group of passionate music lovers can revel in a shared experience they will never forget – one like the Tony Rice Tribute that had every member of the crowd in collective awe.
And let’s talk about that crowd…
If you want to see smiling, happy Festivarians, look no further than this eclectic group. Young and old, side by side, dancing, singing, floating, and festivating – the RockyGrass crowd is unlike any other in the festival world, as they are – for the most part – all here for these incredibly special shared moments.
Moments like the Infamous Stringdusters set that followed the Rice Tribute on Friday night. It was a dusting like no other.
The RockyGrass crowd is also unique in how the lines are blurred between the fans and the artists. When legends like Del McCoury take the stage, a glance amongst the cheering crowd will easily reveal plenty of folks who are legendary in their own right.
With the venue’s proximity to the musical breeding grounds of Denver, Boulder, Nederland, and Lyons itself, it’s not uncommon to see plenty of amazing artists wandering the grounds – some who aren’t even on the RockyGrass roster that year.
Speaking of artists…
There is another side of RockyGrass that you may have heard of, one that contributes to the overall vibe of a festival rooted in the utmost respect for bluegrass music.
That is RockyGrass Academy.
RockyGrass Academy offers an opportunity for musicians to spend a week leading up to RockyGrass Festival in musical instruction and practice. Academy attendees spend their days learning from and picking with artists that will be performing at the upcoming festival.
This year the bands in residence for RockyGrass academy included Della Mae, Mile Twelve, and Special Consensus. Instrument workshops, jam coaching, band scrambles, barbecues, and campground jams along the St. Vrain River are just some of the highlights of RockyGrass Academy.
At the end of the Academy, one of the results is that there is a slew of up-and-coming pickers and songwriters camping throughout the festival that are now that much better and more confident in their playing. Which leads to even more pickin’ throughout the amazing campgrounds.
RockyGrass Instrument Contest 2nd Place Fiddle Winner Jackson Earles (Boulder, CO)
The Planet Bluegrass Campgrounds are truly amazing. With the St. Vrain River always nearby, there is a family-picnic vibe going on all day, with a campground jam happening all night. And partly due to the previous week’s Academy, those jams are tight!
It’s not only the RockyGrass Academy that supports this culture of musical stewardship – RockyGrass is also known for its band competitions each year.
Each band (up to 12 bands each year) gets to perform 3 songs around a single-mic in front of the RockyGrass crowd in the Wildflower Pavilion. The top 3 bands then play the Main Stage, with a winner chosen by the judges. The RockyGrass Band Competition Winner gets the incredible honor of performing in next year’s festival on the Main Stage.
The competition is always fierce, and many of the RockyGrass Band Competition Winners have gone on to grace the Main Stages of not just RockyGrass, but festivals around the world.
This year’s First Place winner was The Wildmans out of Floyd, VA. The Red Mountain Boys (Colorado Springs) took Second, and Denver’s The Wrecklunds grabbed the Third Place Prize.
RockyGrass also lets individuals compete for their specific instruments, hosting instrument competitions for guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and dobro (Dobro contest was not held in 2021).
RockyGrass Band Competition 2nd Place Winner Red Mountain Boys (Colorado Springs, CO)
With the combination of RockyGrass Academy and the RockyGrass Band and Instrument Competitions, Planet Bluegrass is fostering an environment that is securing the future of bluegrass and traditional music. A common sight among the crowd are children of all ages busking on the lawn, practicing their chops so they may someday be headlining the festival!
And speaking of headliners…
After another amazing day filled with legendary performers, including Tony Trischka, Michael Daves & Bruce Molsky and Sierra Hull & Justin Moses, The Lil Smokies took to the Main Stage, showing off their new lineup, which currently includes Denver’s Jean Luc Davis on bass and banjo phenomenon Kyle Tuttle.
The legendary performances continued, with a special set of music from Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, followed by a Saturday Night closer that only the Sam Bush Band could deliver!
Sundays at RockyGrass seem to be about the St. Vrain River. The beauty of the festival is that you can easily listen to the music while cooling off with your feet in the water. Or grab a tube for a bit more adventure!
After some beautiful Sunday tunes by The Old Gospel Ship, the Sunday crowd got to see the Band Competition Finals followed by Twisted Pine. RockyGrass veterans Peter Rowan and Jerry Douglas were followed by the amazing Della Mae, before the legend of all legends took the stage – Del McCoury.
The Del McCoury Band delivered a classic set of some of their best tunes, and the entire RockyGrass crowd showered their appreciation on the 82-year-old icon with an amazing ovation.
RockyGrass has a way of creating moments that will live on beyond the confines of the weekend.
Just as with the Tony Rice Tribute on Friday, the festival closer on Sunday had been looming large. Béla Fleck: My Bluegrass Heart, featuring Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Mark Schatz and Bryan Sutton was sure to leave us all with a feeling that only RockyGrass can create, and it certainly lived up to the anticipation.
For My Bluegrass Heart, Béla Fleck has taken bluegrass instrumentation and stretched its limits in a way only Béla can. The result was a performance unlike any other at RockyGrass Festival. The best way to describe it is, simply, legendary.
And that seems to be how RockyGrass always leaves us feeling – like we’ve seen something legendary.
A legendary festival with legendary artists, but also a festival that is simultaneously creating and fostering the future musical legends we will no doubt be writing about in years to come.
No, RockyGrass is not a music festival. It’s a legend.
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