Tico Time Bluegrass Festival 2024 REVIEW: A Magical Festival Weekend Experience - Festy GoNuts!

Tico Time Bluegrass Festival 2024 REVIEW: A Magical Festival Weekend Experience

by Jun 4, 2024Featured, Music, Reviews

The 4th Annual Tico Time Bluegrass Festival took place in Aztec, NM at Tico Time River Resort RV Park from May 17th-19. The festival was sold out with its biggest attendance yet of around 3,000 festival goers. Besides having a centrally located general store, there were numerous food and clothing vendors as well as car camping and tent camping in The Magical Forest.

The Three-Day festival had many bluegrass acts and some rock fusion acts including Sticks N’ Thorns, Tenth Mountain Division, Liver Down the River, Larry Keel’s Electric Larry Land, Lil’ Smokies with the headliners Kitchen Dwellers, Railroad Earth, and Elephant Revival.

Tico Time Bluegrass Festival:  First Taste of Summer, Amazing Music and The Animas River

written by Phillip J. Ziols


I got to Tico Time Thursday evening around 8:30 and the box office had just closed. As I pulled up to the dark box office there was a man with long dreadlocks. He told me to pull around into the staff lot to see if we could get it sorted out. I took the wrong right, as my eyes were strained after driving seven hours straight having been up at 5 am that morning to work, and was immediately stopped by a man with short hair and sunglasses on. “Hey, hey, where are you going?”

“He told me to pull into the staff parking.”
“Well…this isn’t the staff parking, You missed the turn.”
“Okay, well, I’m here with Festy GoNuts to write a story about the festival. I have a media pass waiting.”
“Well, the box office is closed,” he paused. “I’m trying to help you out.  Let’s see what we can do.”

He directed me to the actual staff parking lot and I got out of my car. From there, he asked me a few questions and led me into the back room of the box office, where I happened to know the man sitting behind a computer as none other than Patty from Liver Down The River.

I was able to get my wristband and the man who had helped me before offered me a ride to the foreign campground. After I haphazardly loaded up his golf cart, he explained to me the luck of my situation.

“My name is PB. I’m the head of operations here, the firefighter if you will—if something goes wrong, someone gets badly hurt, or the cops come, I’m the one who fixes the problem.”

I introduced myself more fully and gave him a book of my poetry for all his help. We chatted on the dark ride passing glittering multi-colored lights on the pathways and going over the narrow iron bridge above the Animas River.

“You really are lucky.  You should count your lucky stars, everything worked out just as it was supposed to for you.”

I smiled deeply and thanked him heavily as he delivered me to the Magical Forest where I was going to camp for the weekend. I couldn’t help but think how everything was aligned for me at Tico Time already and the festival hadn’t even officially started.

I got my wristband, got my campsite, set up my tent…and I was ready for the festival to begin. That evening before I went to sleep, I watched the half-moon as a bright crescent over the Animas River and listened to the birds while nearby a fire burned and people were laughing and chatting excitedly.  I thought, I am lucky to be here and super excited.


Tico Time Bluegrass Festival 2024 | Philip J Ziols


Feeling Fine on a Festival Friday

After some much-needed rest after the long day, I awoke to the Animas River and different birds singing their happy early Spring songs. The weather was cool, but I knew it would climb up to a nice 85 –  a good break from the chilly spring we’d been experiencing in the Front Range of Colorado.

I awoke early with a bit of the typical festival angst over the things I’d forgotten to bring and decided to drive into nearby Aztec, NM to hit a Safeway and pick up some more items. There was construction on the road, but the drive was smooth and straight. I spent about an hour in the Safeway as I was texting a friend from my camp to make sure we had everything we needed and pacing around the unfamiliar store to find last-minute items.

I almost stopped at the Aztec museum, apparently the town had a vast history of Native tribes and was situated right under a Native reservation. I knew I was in New Mexico because the local radio station was playing Tribal Ritual Fridays.

As I re-entered the Tico Time Resort, I was listening to drumming and chants and was easily able to navigate my way to GA parking. There were multiple shuttles available, a big 10-seater van, a couple pick-up trucks with long tows on back, and a few golf carts that were at-large. I ended up grabbing my stuff and being the last person let on the back of a pickup truck.

On the pickup truck, I met two Festy GoNuts regulars, Smith and his son River, who knew the founders very well and had spent the first Tico Time Fest hanging out and partying with them. More good fortune and good signs were upon me that morning.


Tico Time Bluegrass Festival 2024 | Philip J Ziols


The Kitchen Dwellers were headlining Friday, but in the meantime, there was a great collection of bands very familiar to me from the Front Range.

One of the best parts about Tico Time was that it was so far away from Boulder where I lived, yet so many friends and musicians made the trek for the festival. Everywhere I went, I ran into another person I knew from the Bluegrass scene and it was too easy to strike up a friendly conversation and still end up at your destination—whether it was a pick in the car camping, a set at that main stage, or one at the Pavilion stage.

Early in the day, I met up with Stacie and Jenn, a couple Telluride friends, in the RV section; and we headed into the festival. We went by the Loki Gear tent where my friends Mike and Stasia were operating the stand. I purchased a conical kudu hat from Mike, who I knew from other festivals, that helped keep the shade out of my eyes for the rest of the fest. It was the only one they had and throughout the festival I proceeded to get compliments and questions about where I got it, only to inform people, “It was the only one!”

After helping my friend Rachelle who arrived at a ripe 3:30 pm further set up camp, we caught the end of Tierro Band featuring Bridget Law, and man, she was something on the fiddle. As I stood barefoot in the sand, in my brand new festival shirt, purchased weeks earlier for the summer activities, I looked around the main grounds, taking in the smiling faces and dancing bodies. Her fiddle played magically and I thought I sure was lucky to be here covering this festival that I’d never been to. Sticks N’ Thorns, the band I was really looking forward to, came up next.   

In between sets, and one of the positives of the Tico Time Resort being so intimate, there was plenty of time to wander back to the campground and stock up on refreshments, food, or do a wardrobe change. Sunblock was a constant necessity in the festival, and this reporter made the mistake of not getting the back of his legs on the first day only to wear red sunburn streaks for the remainder of the weekend.

When I got back to camp, it was windy.  Lynn, my neighbor from Pagosa Springs, explained to me that the wind was picking up and it would be smart to secure my gear. “I put some rocks down already,” I said. “Bigger rocks, more weight,” she exclaimed, “to conquer the wind!” She was right and I did as much. Eventually, I would actually stake everything down, but for the time being, I had to catch the set and the rocks were only going to allow my easy up to move a few feet anyway.

Sticks N’ Thorns consisted of Jon Stickley (Jon Stickley Trio) and Andy Thorn (Leftover Salmon) who had known each other since grade school. Their story was super sweet to hear, as I too have an AIC (Artist-in-Crime) friend who I’ve been collaborating with since we were 12. They jammed so well together, both instrumentals and original songs, you could feel their connection dating back to the hills of North Carolina where they used to play in a band together and geek out on bluegrass and blues. They did a great Red Hot Chili Peppers cover from Blood Sugar Sex Magick, that had the whole crowd singing along as we were “twisting and turning” our “feelings [were] burning…”


Tico Time Bluegrass Festival 2024 | Sean Delaney


Andy Thorn was to be at-large the whole festival, and he didn’t let up. He and Stickley joined Larry Keel’s Electric Larry Land to add to their electric jam dusk set. They played us into the darkness as the crowd started to feel the bliss that was Tico Time.

The Kitchen Dwellers were next and had an amazing light show to supplement their bluegrass jamming. Max Davies‘s banjo resounded through the blinking and flashing lights with power and perfect delivery better than I’d ever heard. I’d seen them plenty of times, but not on a quasi-beach in New Mexico at Tico Time. They had Seth Yokel of High Country Hustle filling in for Shawn Swain as mandolin player and invited Jon Stickley and Larry Keel on stage halfway through the set, only to have Andy Thorn and Jake Simpson join them later.

Seven-players wide on stage evenly spaced apart was quite the rumble of bluegrass sound for the second half of their set. At one point there were at least 8, maybe 9 people on stage. It was a great jamming set to take us through the first night of Tico Time Bluegrass Fest. As fire erupted on the back LED screen and we danced in the evening, we were sent home, out of the main stage area grinning with a long rendition of “White Freightliner Blues”.

Tico Time Bluegrass - Aztec, NM - Friday May 17 2024 - FestiAddict-37

Tico Time Bluegrass Festival 2024 | Marissa Miracle – Festi Addict


I thought I was done for the night but I was egged on by a friend to check out Tenth Mountain Division at the Pavillion for a late-night set. At first, I was swaying and tired a bit from a whole day in the sun, sunburn on the back of my legs and all the collective energy that is Tico Time.  But then the drummer Tyler Gwyn, frontman Andrew Cooney, and the rest of the band kicked it into full swing and started doing some deep jams catching the ether of the weary but excited crowd.  For about thirty minutes straight,  we were all in a vortex of rock’n’roll and Grateful Dead level haze. I’m fortunate to have gone to that late night show, as they just announced this week that they will stop touring after about four more shows. Just goes to show you—never miss the late night.

Tico Time Bluegrass - Aztec, NM - Friday May 17 2024 - FestiAddict-75

Tico Time Bluegrass Festival 2024 | Marissa Miracle – Festi Addict


Sunshine on Saturday Morning at Tico Time

On Saturday, after a powerful start-up on Friday, the sun was shining and the birds were chirping enthusiastically on the Animas River. I’d crossed the iron bridge so many times on Friday that watching the waters flow so strongly that morning, I couldn’t believe I’d been on top of such a powerful beast. The people seemed happy from the night before and many people were adorned in their swim gear ready to jump into any of the nearby bodies of water.

Right before I headed back into the venue, a man floated up to my camp on a unicorn float who operated the late-night crepe stand. Mickey, of Crepeful Heads, told me they slanged crepes at many festivals locally, but at Tico Time, they exclusively served at the Pavilion during after-hours.


Tico Time Bluegrass Festival 2024 | Marissa Miracle – Festi Addict


The first band we saw on Saturday was the Foggy Memory Boys, and they captured the cloudy feeling amongst the crowd and brought it back to sanity. Everyone was a bit hazy and sunburnt from the first day, but with their strings and music, they set the tone to be ready for a full Saturday of music.

Pick ‘N Howl came on next. By then we were ready to cool off in the lake in the venue. We got our rafts and brought them into the pool to cool off and listen to the music for a few hours floating on the lake in the venue, while kids fought and raced on rafts around us and went off the slide.

I thought it would be completely peaceful until a young girl asked me to race on a raft, which turned into 8 races—I won the first 2, and she won the last 6. Needless to say, after that I was tired and needed some fuel to get ready for the next act.

We went to the pierogi stand and got the shredded chicken pierogies that Matt, who I had met earlier, had suggested were the best. They were so good and fulfilling that I ended up going back again on Sunday.

Liver Down the River, a Durango-based band partially credited with founding the festival, led us through the midday haze onto our feet with a jamgrass set for the ages. Acrobatic dancers were twirling the whole set and Tom Buswell played his guitar fastly and adept like the Animas flowing just behind the stage.

Next came The Lil’ Smokies who did an awesome cover of “Paint it Black.” As I was dancing, I was shouting into the crowd, “My grass is black!” Later on, a preview of what the epic night had to hold, they brought on none other than Lindsay Lou to serenade us with her sultry bluesy vocals.

My favorite set of the whole festival was Railroad Earth. As a band that’s been around for a long while, I’m ashamed to admit, that I’ve never seen them live. As we walked up to their set that night, my friend Rachelle, a music aficionado, couldn’t help but laugh at me. “You’ve never seen Railroad Earth? My mom’s seen them.”

After a long day of sun, music, and dancing, I almost went down for a full nap and missed Railroad Earth. I did get a few minutes in until my friend, seemingly waking from the dead, roused me and her up and we ran in just as the music began.

The biggest surprise of the fest came to us when instead of Todd Shaeffer, the longtime guitarist and lead singer who had recently announced he was going to forego the tour, Lindsay Lou came on stage. She sang with so much soul that I got chills as the night began to cool down. We got up to the front and I was blown away song-by-song by Tim Carbone’s amazing fiddle playing. It was like a fairy tale, the old wise man became young again while playing his music and his melodies stung us back and forth with epic perfectly timed long swells across the bow.

After playing most of their hits, including an awesome jamming rendition of “Mighty River” where keyboardist Matt Slocumb led the fills with his amazing dexterity, Lindsay Lou put down her guitar, put her hands up, and closed out the set with an awesome rendition of, “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.”

Later that night, I tried to venture to find some picks in the car parking lot, but most of them were dying out as people were a bit fried from two straight days in the sun and dancing to great music.


Tico Time Bluegrass Festival 2024 | Stephen Ross


Kicking Off Sunday Funday at Tico Time

I awoke on Sunday, and yet again, couldn’t believe it was already Sunday. I’d seen so much great music, met plenty of great folks, and couldn’t wait to tackle the last day of Tico Time. The first band I saw was Tonewood, and they set the tone, no pun intended, by playing perfect bluegrass and jamming along to their regular repertoire.

The Pavillion set of Derek Dames Ohl and Friends was next, which featured Eric, Dobro Dylan and CJ from Magoo, and Jack Laub of Bottlerocket Hurricane. It contained many Outlawish covers including Waymore’s Blues, the Waylon tune I’d been trying to will in existence the whole festival, and a swinging, double-mandolin rendition of Tyler Childers’ “I Swear to God.”

After that mid-afternoon, it was time to take a cool-off bath in the Animas River. It felt like I was in the cool cradle of nature’s bounty as I drank a beer and cooled off submerging myself for as long as I could muster to avoid the sun.

We were ready for High Country Hustle, the last daytime set of the fest. We’d made it this far and had to dance on, especially as the banjo player and Charlie Henry led an upbeat combined solo to keep us alive and thriving barefoot in the sand while the sun slowly faded.

By the time I got into Elephant Revival they were midway through the powerful cover of “Schism” by Tool; a cover, I guess they’ve played before, but came as a complete shock to hear at a bluegrass festival on closing night. Bonnie Paine led the eclectic, gypsy set with powerful drumming and spoken word rap-esque lyrics as the crescent moon shone brightly overhead.

There was a ring around the moon that evening, and it couldn’t have been a better send-off for a wonderful wispy beachy weekend of great music, friends and laughs.


Tico Time Bluegrass Festival 2024 | Phil Ziols


As I was leaving the next day, haggard and a bit worn, I had to go one last time into the Animas River, to thank my lucky stars, Festy GoNuts, and all of the skillful people who had brought together such a magical weekend.

I thanked the Magical Forest as Chad the driver of the pickup truck gruffly led the blind back to where they had all parked. He explained that this bluegrass festival had certainly grown, and I thought what a pleasure it was to see a burgeoning bluegrass fest at Tico Time Resort.

I imagine in the years to come Tico Time Bluegrass Festival will be put on the map as a sought-after destination and festival for people from all over the country. I was blessed to be on the ground floor, and I couldn’t wait to see what the future held for that magical place.

~Phillip J. Ziols

Phillip J. Ziols is an American poet, originally from Chicago, now residing in Boulder, CO.  Along with releasing several books of collective poetry, in 2023 Phil ran for Mayor of Boulder. 

Tico Time Bluegrass - Aztec, NM - Friday May 17 2024 - FestiAddict-15

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