RockyGrass turns 40

Dave Kirby | Boulder Weekly

For a lot of us, turning the odometer over at one of those zero years can be a soul-scraping experience. But at the 40-year mark, RockyGrass is blowing out its candles with a serene and confident grin.

In the middle of a Colorado summer marked by sirens and tragedy and special news reports, events like RockyGrass, the annual bluegrass festival in Lyons started four decades ago by bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe and members of the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society, represent a cultural and community stanchion, a reminder that the Colorado lifestyle, and its passionate affair with outdoor music, continues to sustain us.

We asked Planet Bluegrass spokesman Brian Eyster if all the events of the last couple of months have affected the festival.

“It’s definitely been a weird year for Colorado,” Eyster says, “but no, it really hasn’t affected us. As far as fire danger and stuff goes, we haven’t been subject to any additional measures. We’ve never allowed campfires for the folks who come to festival to camp anyway, so really nothing’s changed there.”

The festival itself is one of the most enduringly successful events on the Front Range, as it continues to draw top bluegrass talent from around the U.S. and Canada, while retaining a significantly closer relationship to the pure acoustic roots and aesthetics of the bluegrass genre. Its younger brother, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, has extended well beyond the genre to include rock and pop acts on its marquee to varying degrees over its history, and probably not coincidentally draws a more diverse fanbase.

But RockyGrass remains intimate with its roots, a luxury it can afford in part due to its limited size at the Planet Bluegrass ranch just outside of Lyons.

And selling the event out is not an issue.

“We sold our last ticket this year, I think, on Feb. 27,” Eyster says, “which is the earliest in our history.”

One of the event’s longtime partners, New Belgium, is helping celebrate the festival’s milestone year with a special brew dubbed Summer Bliss.

“They brewed up about 200 kegs of this really nice lager just for us this year. We went through about 100 kegs for Telluride, and we’ll be serving it at the Folks Festival in August,” Eyster says. “If we have any left, we’ll share it with the good folks at Yonder Mountain String Band’s Kinfolk Celebration in late August.”

Little things like this lend a personality to festivals, and sometimes it’s the little things that matter the most. RockyGrass owes its success, in large part, to being little. Don’t expect it to grow to another venue.

“I don’t anticipate that the festival will ever grow past where it is today,” Eyster says. “I mean, if it were ever to move to another location, it might as well be called something else.”