Have a blast at YarmonyGrass | VailDaily.com

Have a blast at YarmonyGrass

John LaContenewsroom@vaildaily.comVAIL CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyRailroad Earth will perform two sets at YarmonyGrass, starting at 8:45 p.m. Saturday.

YarmonyGrassis returning to where it all began.The popular Colorado music festival, now in its seventh year, has returned to State Bridge for the bulk of the festival after experimenting with other venues like Copper Mountain and Rancho Del Rio. There will still be a bar and side stage at Rancho, but the main action will be held at State Bridge, where the festival got its start.And YarmonyGrass is also returning to its roots in terms of acts, booking popular Colorado newgrass band Railroad Earth as its headliner.Founder Andrew McConathy has watched Railroad Earth rise from a backyard band to their current status as a national act that plays to huge crowds.”Railroad Earth used to play parties at my parents house for the 4th of July,” saidMcConathy. “That was at Yarmony Creek Ranch, between Bond and McCoy, which is where we got the name for the festival …The idea originally was for it to be their festival.”Since that time Railroad Earth has become harder and harder to book, with radius clauses and huge opportunities at other major venues making them unable to keep playing the YarmonyGrass festival every year.Regardless, Railroad Earth master fiddler Tim Carbone has made it out almost every year, sometimes with his band and other times as a solo act. He said YarmonyGrass is always one of his favorite events of the year, and is unlike any other due to the intimate nature of the festival.”What I like about it is its location and its intimacy,” said Carbone. “There’s no festival like it … I usually wind up sitting in with people and playing music with friends. It’s a great place to hang out with like-minded music enthusiasts, fans included.”Carbone said one of his fondest memories of YarmonyGrass was playing a duet with Jason Hann, the percussionist from String Cheese Incident. The casual atmosphere at YarmonyGrass allows collaborations like that one to occur, said McConathy, creating an opportunity for fans that they aren’t likely to experience elsewhere. “The idea that sparked the whole thing was intimate musicalcollaborations,spontaneousjamming with peers in the scene, all unplanned,” said McConathy. “At the first YarmonyGrass, Drew Emmitt was playing a solo set, playing guitar, and then Bill Nershi got up there and they played ‘Tangled up in Blue.’ It was awesome.”Emmitt and Nershi went on to form the Emmitt-Nershi band two years later.Nershi said this year, after the bands have played their sets, the top pickers and singers will get together a joint set.”The musicians bring their favorite songs to the jam,” said Nershi. “Players and fans push the limits and gravitate toward the bizarre.”And McConathy said that’s exactly what they’re going for at YarmonyGrass.”That whole idea — something really unique in a small, intimate and pristineenvironment– is the whole point,” said McConathy. “This isn’t like going to the Pepsi Center.”Bands on the vergeMcConathy -himself a singer/songwriter for The Drunken Hearts, who will play YarmonyGrass this year – also got his start at YarmonyGrass.”That was my public debut in 2008, it was the first time I have ever played music on stage into a microphone, and it was incredible,” he said. “It was a motivating moment for me.”With examples like Emmitt and Nershi playing there together before going on to form a band, and McConathy making his debut there, the festival has turned into a planting ground for artists, with fans reaping the benefits.”Elephant Revival, Head for the Hills and Greensky have all played YarmonyGrass three times, and those three bands have tripled their numbers in the last few years,” said McConathy, adding that Elephant Revival will be back again this year. “There are a couple bands on the lineup that people have never heard of that are going to be huge. Sons of Fathers, out of Texas, are basically like the next Widespread Panic. And Tumbleweed Wanderers, from the Bay Area, are going to explode. Both those bands will probably be way out of our reach within a year.”In that way, said McConathy, the festival is a great “value show” for fans, who reap the benefits of McConathy’s ability to book acts far in advance, and at a lower price, before the band becomes too expensive for the small festival. He points to Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, a rock and roll band formed by Willie Nelson’s son that is currently exploding in popularity, as an example.”We booked them in October, and they went on to play Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel all within the last three months,” said McConathy. “Now they’re probably worth three times what we paid for them.”Bluegrass banjoIn addition to Railroad Earth, Elephant Revival, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Sons of Fathers, The Tumbleweed Wanderers and The Drunken Hearts, other confirmed performers include The Contribution, Honkytonk Homeslice, Poor Man’s Whiskey featuring Michael Kang performing “Dark Side of the Moonshine,” Todd Sheaffer, The Grant Farm, Dead Winter Carpenters, Fruition, as well as Nershi andmembers of String Cheese Incident.Electronica fans won’t have quite as much to look forward to this year as in years past, but McConathy said they are sure to enjoymodern-sounding Danny Barnes and his looping banjo routine.”This is not your ordinary bluegrass banjo,” he said.Of course, besides the music, the other main attraction for the festival is the outdoor atmosphere and recreational opportunities provided by the nearby Colorado River.There will be a variety options for river fun including whitewater rafting, stand-up paddleboarding, floating, kayaking, canoeing and fishing. Several boat ramps are within close proximity to the festival, including ramps at Rancho Del Rio and State Bridge. There will be an official float from Rancho to State Bridge on Sunday.Campers concerned about the proximity of the stage to their campsite are encouraged to bring all their supplies in a bag where they will hopefully be able to check it at the door at State Bridge, said McConathy.”The idea is you can pack your bag that you’re going to check, go see a set of music on the side stage at Rancho in the afternoon, get a drink at the bar, catch a buzz, then float to State Bridge where you’re going to be for the rest of the night,” said McConathy.

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