Rockygrass is a purple festival in a swing state

Twangy raditionalists and skronky progressives find common ground in Lyons, Colorado

By JOHN LEHNDORFF
Backstage at the Rockygrass Festival in Lyons, Co. on July 28, a young fans asks for an autograph from a member of Monroeville. (Photo by Lisa Lehndorff)

12:25 p.m. July 28, Lyons, Co. – At 40 years old, Rockygrass is a purple festival.
I’d guesstimate that at about one-third of the sold-out crowd sitting on the field in Lyons is hardcore traditional bluegrass fans. Another third or more are clearly on the jamgrass edge of the bluegrass realm.
Another 15 percent are crossover – they like some twangy Monroe-philic standards along with the edgier stuff. The progressives track younger – I won’t speculate. The trads can be older.
The other percentage are either kids in the creek that runs along the festival’s edge or just drinking beer in the sun. Other festivals such as Telluride are more proogressive/Americana. Many festivals in Kentucky are hardcore – no electric basses allowed.

Friday’s lineup was heavier on the edgier stuff with astonishing thrash grass from Duluth’s Trampled By Turtles, Punch Brothers’ chamber-jazz-grass energy and Newgrass father Sam Bush’s bluegrass rock-tinted music.
Today’s leans right toward the classics with Monnroeville, which just performed, bluegrass mandolin legend Jesse McReynolds sitting in with Rocky Top writer Bobby Osborne, and the venerable Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.
Balance in the universe will be bre-established tonight when progressive banjo deity Bela Fleck performs a rare pure bluegrass set.

The tragedy in Aurora was not far from folks’ thoughts and Sam Bush expressed everyone’s thoughts for the lost and the injured before performing a touching version of the ’60s anti-hate anthem “One Tin Soldier” which was preceeded by “Billy Bob” Marley’s “One Love.”

Right now the rare woman-led bluegrass band, Red Molly, is delivering a beautiful rendition of the hymn-like “Long Journey Home.”

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Portions of the sold-out Festival will air live on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, kgnu.org) 9 a.m.-1 p.m Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday‘s acts include Red Molly, Bobby Osborne, The Infamous Stringdusters, Dr. Ralph Stanley, and the only strictly bluegrass performance appearance this year by Béla Fleck (with Alan Bartram, Jason Carter, Ronnie McCoury and & Danny Paisley).

Sunday‘s lineup features Jesse McReynolds, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper featuring Dale Ann Bradley, Emmitt-Nershi Band, Peter Rowan & The Travelin’ McCourys, Seldom Scene, and Tim O’Brien.

More details at kgnu.org.

Comments and questions: jlehndorff@aurorasentinel.com.

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