YarmonyGrass 2018: Only a River... - Festy GoNuts!

YarmonyGrass 2018: Only a River…

by Aug 20, 2018Reviews

YarmonyGrass Music Festival

There’s a secret we sometimes try to keep at Festy GoNuts, about some of the magical festivals we are lucky enough to attend. Many people outside of our musical sphere have an idea of what a typical music festival is supposed to look like.

It’s not supposed to look like Yarmonygrass.

Yarmonygrass Music Festival 2018

A music festival should be packed with thousands of people,  arriving in droves.  There should be immense lines for security, full-body searches, and over-priced beer.  Sweating on concrete all day in shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, standing on tippy-toes hoping for a glimpse of the big-screen that will ensure that your favorite artist is, in fact on stage. 

The hot summer sun should attack you throughout the day as you rush from stage to stage, desperately trying not to miss a moment of the tightly packed schedule that has your favorite acts in overlapping time slots half a mile away from one another.

Oh, I know, if you follow Festy GoNuts you most likely don’t attend the events that lean heavily towards what is described above.  You may stay away from those music festivals with 90,000 people and Kendrik Lamar and Lil’ Sumpin’ as the headliners.  You may think that your music festivals are boutique because your coworkers haven’t heard of Greensky Bluegrass and you get to camp in the woods. 

But what about your tarp runs?  What about your music schedules that still force the difficult decisions between your favorite acts?  What about paying extra for late night shows that you know you just can’t miss?

Sure, our niche of bluegrass/jamgrass/whatever-you-want-to-call-it affords us a reprise from the mainstream, the crowds of normies and the Bonna-paloozas that the rest of the world is forced to endure. 

But I have one question for you:

Do your festivals have a floating stage?! 

Does your favorite festival let you relax in a tube in the Colorado River with several hundred of your closest friends?  Does it drop you, your friends, and the floating stage in the middle a perfect eddy that circles for hours while Tim Carbone happily serenades you?  Does your festival have PIRATE UNICORNS??

The answer to that question, my friends, is simply YAAAAARRRRRRRRR!

Yarmonygrass Music Festival 2018

Yarmonygrass started on Yarmony Creek Ranch in 2006 with Railroad Earth on the first lineup.  That should definitely have been a sign of a bright future!  The festival then had a brief stint at nearby State Bridge, and a layover at Copper Mountain before landing at its home for the last decade at Rancho del Rio. 

(Read the history of Yarmonygrass straight from founder Andrew McConathy here)

Arriving at Yarmonygrass on Thursday afternoon is one of the most pleasant experiences you can have at a music festival, and that’s without even recounting the gorgeous drive that got you there, regardless of your starting point. 

Friendly staff greets you at the gates of Rancho del Rio, and then you are good to go.  Find your friends without much ado – you can’t miss them.  And guess what?  There is plenty of space for you to camp as close to them as you want to be.  Turn around – there are more of your friends directly behind you. 

Thus was the case when we sailed into Yarmonygrass for the 13th incarnation of this special Colorado music festival. 

Yarmonygrass Music Festival 2018

After graciously being given more than ample time to drop off all of our belongings, we eventually had to move our car into the parking lot, a mere 50 feet away!  Forget shuttles to the car – the car is barely a shuttle-length away. 

Setting up camp takes more time than usual, as we are interrupted every 5 minutes or so by hugs from new and old friends who have just arrived.  Yarmony is for sure a reunion.  Colorado friends and extended family gather here each year to celebrate the music, the river, and each other. 

The music of Yarmonygrass takes place on and off of the stages all weekend long.  The main Chief Yarmony Stage backs to the river and sits at the bottom of a small hill, atop which you can find the Yarmony Saloon Stage.  This is erected on a deck covered by a large tent.  From here the views of the valley and the train across the river are spectacular.  If you are lucky (as many were on Sunday) you may just catch a glimpse of a bear slowly sauntering the length of the railroad tracks.

Yarmonygrass Music Festival 2018

The third stage, as alluded to earlier, is actually the “world-famous” Yarmony Floating Stage.  The put-in is just behind the Chief Yarmony stage, where a large eddy keeps you from heading downriver until you are ready.  The stage at times is tethered to the shore, but the fun starts when it dips into the eddy, with dozens of fans in tubes tagging along as it circles up and down the river.  Artists like Timber!, Liver Down the River, Buffalo Commons, Rum Creek, and The Drunken Hearts kept us cooled off and enjoying every moment as we all floated about, enjoying life to the fullest. 

Eventually, the floating stage ventures out of the eddy and into the current, and all that manage to grab hold for the ride are taken along!  The bands don’t miss a beat, and the music carries through the valley as the stage and the floating fans all work their way down river towards the far end of Rancho del Rio, where an island serves as the stopping point and the continuation of the party. 

Want to do it again?  It’s a mere 5-minute walk back to the top!  Stop at your tent, grab a beer, and you’re ready to go!

For those in need of a bit more time on the river, there is an outfitter on site with rafts and duckies available for more of an adventure.  Put-in at Pumphouse and enjoy a full day on the Colorado River, with a stop at Radium Hot Springs on the way down.  Or leave from Rancho and float all the way to State Bridge for a shorter, but no less beautiful and fun adventure. 

You know, typical music festival stuff!

Yarmonygrass Music Festival 2018

Whichever adventure you choose at Yarmonygrass (and it is very much a choose-your-own-adventure kind of festy!), there is plenty of time to get back and ready for the incredible lineup of music. 

The lineups of Yarmonygrass are always spectacular on paper, but it’s what happens unscripted that really makes the Yarmony stages shine.  When super-secret guests (not a secret at all) like Tim Carbone are on the bill, you know there will be sparks flying. 

The unexpected collaborations started right out the gates this year when Colorado’s own Sweet Lillies showed up to sit in with fellow natives Tenth Mountain Division on Thursday evening, along with Kevin Watson on his brand-new lap steel.  The Sweet Lillies were not even on the Yarmony lineup, so those that arrived for the Thursday festivities were definitely pleasantly surprised.

Yarmonygrass Music Festival 2018

Liver Down the River, who by name alone must always be at this Colorado river fest, rocked the Yarmony Saloon stage well into the late evening, taking us to our first campground party of the weekend. 

Rancho del Rio is littered with several permanent shelters, and under many can be found a pick of some sorts.  Thursday night kicked things off with one of the biggest, featuring just about all of the musicians that had been on the stage at some point earlier that day.  Yarmony breaks down the boundaries between fans and artists in a way that makes this festival truly special.  We all share in the same campground, and we all share in the same river. 

And as Friday forced its way into our lives via the sunrise that signals to many that it’s time for bed, the river came-a-calling.  Timber! and Tim Carbone kicked off our day of floating music, and the reality of just how magical this festival is began to sink in.   Buffalo Commons, Rumpke Mountain Boys, Trout Steak Revival, Mama Magnolia and Coral Creek all delivered beautiful sets under a gorgeous Colorado sky. 

Another day of friends, floating and dancing was capped by one of the surprise sets of the weekend, Al Dean and the Temple Balls. 

Those unfamiliar with the cult Colorado stoner ski movie Scrapple may not have heard of Temple Balls, but when Al Dean and the Temple Balls turned out to be The Drunken Hearts, we all rocked the Yarmony Saloon until the early morn!

Yarmonygrass Music Festival 2018

By Saturday we knew the routine:  Float with your friends while enjoying amazing music in the mystic Colorado River, today with Buffalo Commons and Rum Creek.  Saturday also gave us a couple of special Ragged Union sets with Burle Galloway.  Gasoline Lollipops got the main stage fired up for the day, and Hot Buttered Rum and Cascade Crescendo left us all dancing and grinning!

But just when you think it can’t get no better…

Saturday definitely saw a slight surge in the crowd, as some fans undoubtedly arrived this day for the evening’s big nameBilly Strings.  Billy’s performances are already legendary, and his Yarmonygrass set was no exception. Each time I see him and his stellar band I feel like I am experiencing history in the making.  We are truly blessed to witness his star rising.  But to those who arrived solely for Billy and left just after, I have this to say… you missed the boat!  Literally.

Yarmonygrass Music Festival 2018

The Billy Strings’ set was followed The Drunken Hearts, who set themselves up for a difficult task in closing the main stage after Billy.  They were certainly up to the challenge. 

The Drunken Hearts threw down as high-energy a set of music as you will legally encounter at any festival with “Grass” in its name!  Joined by Tim Carbone and Billy Strings himself, the Hearts delivered on all cylinders.  Guitarist Kory Montgomery stood toe-to-toe with lightening-speed picker Billy, and the crowd was treated to something truly special. 

While Uptown Toodeloo continued the music in the Yarmony Saloon, many of us stopped to catch our breath and appreciate the talent we were surrounded by all festival long. 

We are truly blessed to have music festivals such as Yarmonygrass where we can witness gifted musicians graciously and selflessly sharing their art with all who care to watch and listen

Many of us were lucky enough to watch and listen to Billy Strings and friends share their art until dawn!

Yarmonygrass Music Festival 2018

Sunday saw a much thinner crowd at Rancho del Rio.  Many packed up and headed back to their lives, which is a convenience of a festival so close to civilization.  For those of us who chose to stay and ride this wave to the end, we were rewarded with another amazing day of the river and music.   

After Bloodies with Timber, The Drunken Hearts fittingly played the final floating stage performance.  Their acoustic sing-a-long stood as a perfect bookend to their rocking stage set of just a half-day prior. 

We all left the river for the last time, dried off and headed to the Saloon for The Good Time Travelers, who were the last act before the Yarmony All-Stars truly brought things to a close. 

Pete Kartsounes and Michael Kirkpatrick were joined by Tim Carbone for an intimate and fun farewell to Yarmony.  Those of us who remained were treated to a wonderful set that was highlighted by a Bob Weir cover.  As Pete and Michael sang “Only A River,” a collective tear rose in the eyes of the crowd and we understood just how true the words really were…

“Only a river gonna make things right

Only a river gonna make things right

Only a river gonna make things right”

Yup.  Typical music festival!

Yarmonygrass Music Festival 2018
Yarmonygrass Music Festival 2018- Scott Seifert Photography

Here’s just a peek at Yarmonygrass – for the complete Gallery go here!

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About The Author


Jason has been in love with the festy lifestyle ever since his first festival experience, The Great Went in August of 1997. Whew. That was a while ago. Jason loves the way festivals free us from the constraints of the outside world, and let us be our true "fest" selves!

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