The Planet Bluegrass Ranch
Lyons, Colorado, is situated rather close to Rocky Mountain National Park, and it's impossible to overlook the impressive landscape that spreads out from the Planet Bluegrass ranch in every direction.
Red cliffs, buttes, and mountains reach toward the sky from every angle, and provide a perfect climate for sitting outside all day, listening to music. Just when it gets to be too hot outside, a rain shower will sweep through; but if you can't wait for the rain to cool off, just hop into the St. Vrain river. The St. Vrain runs through Lyons, along the borders of the Meadow Park Campground, and down past the stage and field at Planet Bluegrass.
Plenty of people hang out in the river all day long, tubing down it, or just wading through, building small towers with rocks from the riverbed.
Day One: Sonya Kitchell, Amos Lee, Mindy Smith, Jeff Tweedy
Her between-song banter was relaxed and charming, and the crowd, many of whom haven't heard her before, was pleased and vocally compliant when Sonya requested a sing-along to her tune, "Let Me Go."
Next up was acoustic soul crooner Amos Lee a favorite of the ladies. Lee's voice is smooth like honey, and his songs drip with soul. He may still be coming to terms with his position as folk-rock heartthrob, and he looks a little uncomfortable onstage. Nonetheless, most people I asked at the end of the night named him as their favorite of the day.
Mindy Smith followed Lee, proving to be a delightful surprise. Her sweet voice at once recollects Patty Griffin and Patsy Cline, and her songs are full of honest conviction about peace and understanding.
Jeff Tweedy finished off the day with a solo set after dark.
Tweedy played for an hour and a half. Included in his performance were selections from both of the groundbreaking bands he helped to form (Uncle Tupelo and Wilco), and the crowd couldn't have been more smitten with his performance.
Day Two: Zoe Lewis, Elvis Perkins, Guy Clark, The Waifs, Kris Kristofferson
This capped off a long day of music that included mostly newcomers. Among them were singer/songwriter Zoe Lewis (originally from England), and New Englander Elvis Perkins.
It's quite a feat for a relatively unknown artist to hit the stage and get the audience singing excitedly along with you right off the bat, but Zoe Lewis did this with very little effort on her opener, "Gringo." This was followed by other such sing and shout-alongs about very English things like tea and pie.
Another outstanding newcomer was New England-based Elvis Perkins. His songs ranged from Beatlesque folk-rock numbers to the raucus romp of a New Orleans second line.
Day Three: Andrew Bird, Blue Rodeo, Martin Sexton, Ani Difranco
Andrew Bird didn't take long to impress the audience. With abandon, his head would shake, and his hand would pluck the strings of his fiddle like it were a ukulele. He'd add guitar, whistle, play the vibes, and then return to the fiddle for more melodies.
Another incredible set came from powerhouse soul-folk-rock guitarist Martin Sexton. Sexton's guitar mastery is more than impressive, and he easily moved the crowd to their feet to dance.
Fresh off the release of her latest album, Reprieve, Ani Difranco ended the festival with an unforgettable performance. She opened with a number from a decade ago, "God's Country." The rest of her set mostly included newer numbers, although she did sing older tunes like "Everest," "Studying Stones," and crowd favorite "Fuel."
By the time her set was over, it was hard to believe that a weekend of folk music revelry, river frolicking, and community building had come to a close; but there's always next year.