My folk music virginity that is. Prior to this past weekend, I could’ve only named one folk musician off the top of my head – Bob Dylan. And I didn’t even really know he was truly categorized as a folk singer until I did some googling just now.
When someone mentioned folk music I stereotypically pictured an elderly gentleman, on the skinny side, wearing overalls, and sitting on his front porch, picking at a banjo for anyone who would lend an ear and a minute. It sounds ridiculous, I know. I honestly thought all folk musicians sounded the same and sang about a time and sentiment that was of little concern to my own existence and experience. But I’ll admit, I was so wrong. After this past weekend’s 26th Annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, I am folk music’s newest convert and quickly becoming its biggest advocate. From the artists to the vendors to the patrons, The Folks Festival just did everything right.
What originated as a small festival in Estes Park, drawing around 1,000 fans during its inaugural show, moved to Lyons three years later, and developed a much larger fan base over the past 26 years. I spoke with newcomers and faithful patrons alike about what they loved most about the Folks Festival and one thing rang true in every testimony – the atmosphere.
The vibe went beyond your typical messages of peace, love and positivity. The Folks Festival had that, sure, but it was also charming, sweet and most of all, nostalgic. Patrons sprung from all walks of life, their experiences spanning decades, which was well-represented in their wardrobes. Often times at other festivals, people tend to show off with the coolest camping gear or most outlandish outfits. But this festival was different in so many ways – most remarkably, the lack of technology present. There were a few cell phone charging stations housed in old-timey chuck wagons, but the only cell phone I really saw out was my own and I felt so conspicuous taking notes on it I eventually put it away and just got into the moment alongside everyone else.
I only attended Saturday but luckily showed up right as Parker Millsap was taking the stage. He’s like folk music’s newest golden boy and for good reason. He has a powerful voice that’s softened by his innocent face and honest lyrics. Millsap’s set swung from energetic to touching and no one wished him leave the stage anytime soon.
That evening, Mavis Staples took the stage. If Millsap hadn’t yet convinced me to expand my musical repertoire, Staples sure did. Her voice was like melted butter and she had such a confident presence on stage I knew I was watching a legend. Staples played for Dr. Martin Luther King and he inspired the singer to write and sing about the Civil Rights Movement in hopes of spreading the message. And here she was, all these years later on a wooden stage in Lyons, Colorado, representing and relaying a piece of significant part of our American history through her words and her voice.
Festival goers gave mixed reviews about Friday night’s performers — many claimed that Lucinda Williams’s performance seemed tired and irritated. People also agreed that Passenger played an amazing set and many had never seen him before but were looking forward to catching him again at other venues. My Bubba and The Lone Bellow were Sunday’s highly anticipated acts.
There were activities for everyone. From browsing a unique collection of one-of-a-kind clothes curated by Heir Vintage, to floating on an inflated tube in the crisp clear water, no one was bored. The camp grounds had a steady flow of people and energy throughout the festival.
All in all, The Rocky Mountain Folks Fest did just what it set out to do – supply good music, old and new and something in between. Through this amalgamation of artists who sang soft, lullabies and bass heavy, Americana ballads, The Folks Fest tried to remind us all of a simpler time, when days were passed with good friends and good music and toes buried deep into the rocky silt of the St. Vrain River, just feeling the world go by.