The usually tiny town of Lyons, Colorado, backs up against the red peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park, about a 90-minute drive north and west of Denver. But for one weekend in August, the small town is the folk music capital of the United States. A lineup featuring Grammy Award winners Norah Jones and the Indigo Girls, along with more traditional folk stars Greg Brown and Utah Phillips, insured that the "Rocky Mountain Folks Festival" was one of the year's most eagerly awaited music events.
This year, the three-day event known as "Folks Fest" showcased a "who's who" of roots music, including Richard Thompson and Greg Brown. Those more traditional folk artists performed alongside former Black Crowe David Robinson and Gov't Mule and Allman Brothers guitar slinger Warren Haynes. If you're familiar with Haynes through his work with rock bands, you're probably wondering how his electric guitar fit in at a folk show. The answer is: It didn't.
Unbeknownst to many fans, Warren Haynes grew up listening to traditional folk music, and thinks of himself as a singer-songwriter. At Folks Fest, he took to the stage armed with an acoustic guitar, and previewed his upcoming solo album.
"I guess it kind of catches some people by surprise, but this whole acoustic side of me has been there all my life," he said. "I started writing poetry when I was a kid, before I ever picked up guitar. So, when I started playing guitar, it instantly just turned to lyric writing. Even though I have a lot of different musical influences, from a lyrical standpoint, it's always kind of gone back to folk music. From Dylan up, or sideways. I loved James Taylor growing up, Joni Mitchell, all that kind of stuff."
"Folks Fest" begins with a four-day "Song School" prior to the weekend of live music. A typical day for students includes a three-hour-long creative songwriting workshop in the morning, followed by afternoon classes in guitar playing, harmony singing or business skills. Instructors this year included Grammy Award-winning songwriter Darrell Scott, jazz singer-turned-folk artist Vance Gilbert, and sisters Nerissa and Katryna Nields. In the past, The Nields have performed at the festival with a full band. This year, they took the stage as a duo.
"It's a little bit scary to be on the big stage as just two people, but we're excited about it. We're also here for Song School. Nerissa was here all week teaching songwriting, and I came in the middle of the week and did a day of songwriting and harmony workshops with her," said Katryna.
"The artists are just top notch," said Nerissa when asked what makes 'Folks Fest' special. "I feel like I have more fun at this festival listening, than I do at almost any other festival," she said.
"It's just an incredible lineup; Dar Williams, Greg Brown, Norah Jones," added Katryna. "We're happy to get a free pass to watch the music, let alone the incredible honor of getting to play on the stage."
The singers said they were looking forward to hearing Patty Griffin. "We got to see her this winter at an indoor festival in Michigan. She just blew us away. I'm a huge fan," said Katryna.
Patty Griffin's performance of songs from her Grammy-nominated CD 1000 Kisses earned the Texan a standing ovation from a Colorado crowd that seemed to contain many long-time fans.
Nashville's Todd Snider was an unknown to many before his Folks Fest performance, but the storyteller from Nashville quickly won over the crowd, gaining many new fans, so many, in fact, that his stock of CDs at the festival store quickly sold out. Especially popular was his new live recording Near Truths and Motel Rooms.