Bluegrass may owe its roots to Appalachia, but it has found a new home in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

There is no hiding that Bluegrass owes its original heritage to the hill-country of Appalachia.  But for those familiar with the bluegrass scene in Colorado, its undeniable that the fast paced traditional music of the British Isles with its’ jazz and reggae influences has found a welcoming and receptive crowd in the Centennial State.

Going as far back as 1973, the young members of Colorado’s Bluegrass Music Society were eager to grow the fledgling scene’s appreciation in the state.  They arranged to meet up with the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, to help him realize his dream of hosting his own multi-day music event – right below the slopes of the Front Range.  So determined to see this dream through, Bill Monroe would book the national level acts himself, as well as personally guarantee the funding for the bands and the venue.  This would plant the seeds for concerts that eventually became known as RockyGrass.

Musician and radio personality Jerry Mills recalls the impact of the festival: “The legends loved coming to Colorado. In their suits and ties, they’d brush the dust off from the fairgrounds and put on great shows. For a lot of us younger pickers, it was a good model to follow.”

Four successful years later, Bill Monroe wrapped up his involvement with the festival, but those early events achieved the goal of bringing bluegrass music to Coloradoans. Keying off of these early concerts, Colorado also saw the rise of bluegrass in other ways.  There were Thursday night jams at Ralph’s Top Shop beginning in ’75; KGNU’s Old Grass Gnu Grass went on the air in ’78, and Denver’s legendary Swallow Hill opened up in 1979.  With these early events, a new Colorado tradition was born…

Colorado began to produce its’ own national level bluegrass bands.  Boulder quartet, Hot Rize, debuted at the festival in 1979, and later became the festival’s “host band” through the mid-‘80s, appearing 10 times before disbanding in 1990.  Another Colorado band, Left Hand String Band, began an eight-year festival run in 1983, with some members of the band later forming Leftover Salmon in 1989.

Today, modern audience goers or “festivarians” have created a new community experience progressing the scene beyond its traditional roots and encouraging fun-loving derivatives like JamGrass and MountainGrass.  On top of that, the Rocky Mountains are filled to the brim with all kinds of bluegrass festivals.

“…<Bluegrass is> Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin’. It’s Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It’s blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound.” Bill Monroe

Topping it all off, the summer’s bluegrass vibe culminates at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater with the celebration of the celebration of Grateful Dead front-man, Jerry Garcia’s 75th birthday.  This once in a lifetime event, held in what is one of the nation’s most iconic outdoor venues, pays tribute to his life, legacy and his enduring spirit.

Whet your appetite for some hula-hooping, blue skies, fast acoustic music, and craft beer?  Here’s a list of Colorado’s finest Bluegrass, Jamgrass, and Mountaingrass music festivals for 2017.

Telluride Bluegrass Festival – June 15-18, 2017 – Telluride

Missed it this year?  Not to worry, here’s what you need to know to plan for next year.  For 2018, the legendary high mountain bluegrass fest will enter it’s 45th year, which will do doubt add to its popularity, so plan ahead for some of your basic must-haves.  Here’s some ideas: (1) Bring a camel back or large water bottle.  Water is plentiful, but you don’t want to be preoccupied with tracking it down or standing in multiple lines trying to stay hydrated in Colorado’s higher elevations.   (2) Make sure your chair is low to the ground. (3)  Get a spot up front.  (4) Don’t forget the sunscreen.  (5) Bring food for snacking – you can and you should.  (6) But, don’t bring your own beer, wine or liquor – those aren’t allowed in.  (7) last, plan ahead:  make sure to write a list of all the acts you don’t want to miss because there are so many its easy to lose track.

Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Rapidgrass Music Bluegrass Festival – June 23-25, 2017 – Idaho Springs

The mountains and whitewater rapids of the Rockies was the inspiration for Rapidgrass.  The music is original mountain music influenced by CO’s active, outdoor lifestyle. Brought together through music and love for mountains, Rapidgrass defines modern, acoustic, Colorado mountain music.

LINEUP: Rapidgrass Album Release (Happy Trails), Head For The Hills, Trout Steak Revival, Matt Flinner Trio Featuring Tony Trishka and Darol Anger, Coral Creek, Gypsy Moon, Phoebe Hunt and the Gatherers, Billy Cardine and North of Way Down, BonFire Dub w/Bridget Law of Elephant Revival, Alex and Tatiana Hargreaves, Thunder & Rain, The Lonesome Days, Masontown, Caribou MTN. Collective, Kort McCumber and Moors, Meham Gulch, Gypsy Cattle Drive, Sarah Morris and Holy Smoke, Burn it Blue, Mile High Express, Rapidgrass Bluegrass Jam, Robin Davis Duet, Bob Hickam Family Band, and MANY MORE to be announced!

Rapids & Grass Beer Festival – June 30 – July 2, 2017 – Buena Vista

Rapidgrass follows up RapidGrass with a sister event; Rapids & Grass in Buena Vista.  Situated along the banks of the Arkansas River, this festival

LINEUP: Rapidgrass, Head for the Hills, Gipsy Moon, Caribou MTN Collective, Phoebe Hunt and the Gatherers, The Lonesome Days, Gypsy Cattle Drive, Bill Cardine, and Sally & George.

Rapids and Grass

Rapids and Grass

Rockygrass – July 28-30, 2017 – Lyons

Late every July the small mountain town of Lyons, Colorado becomes the center of the bluegrass universe as generations of legends and future-legends and Festivarians converge under the red rock cliffs of the St. Vrain River. Originally founded by Bill Monroe and members of the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society, today’s RockyGrass is known internationally as one of the great traditional bluegrass festivals.



High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival – July 6-9. 2017 – Westcliffe

The 2016 High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival was a great success, with over 4,130 fans dancing, celebrating and relaxing in the Colorado sun over the four days.  The performances were inspiring, the audience enthusiastic and the weather cooperated throughout.

High Mountain Hay Fever

High Mountain Hay Fever, Westcliffe

Arise Music Festival – August 4-6, 2017 – Loveland

Although not strictly a bluegrass fest, Arise is worth the mention since the multiday fest concentrates so many musical genres into one intense event – with bluegrass acts being one of the staples.  Arise brings 7 stages, yoga, camping, workshops, theme camps, art gallery installations, activism to 100+ beautiful mountain valley acres.

The Lineup is huge: Atmosphere, Tipper, Lettuce, Beats Antique, Ani DiFranco, SunSquabi, Rising Appalachia, The Expendables, Brother Ali, Break Science, Desert Dwellers, Dopapod, The Grateful Ball featuring Jeff Austin, Ronnie & Robbie McCoury, The Travelin’ McCourys and more!

Arise Music Festival

Arise Music Festival

Breckenridge Brewery Hootenanny – July 8th – Littleton

Colorado favorite, Breckenridge Brewery, brings back their looong standing tradition of bluegrass, barbecue, and good beer with their 27th annual Hootenanny – now at their huge Littleton, Colorado based brewery campus.  Situated right along the banks of the South Platte River, this year the brewer will highlight two stages featuring national and local Colorado bands.

LINEUP: Sam Bush BandPhoffman / Beck QuintetJon Stickley Trio w/ Andy Thorn, ZolophtGypsy Moon, and The Sweet Lillies.  As usual, you can also check out the Kick Off Party at Cervantes’ Masterpiece in Denver, with performances by Hootenanny All Stars, Jon Stickley Trio, Town Mountain, & More.

Breckenridge Brewery -Hootenanny

Breckenridge Brewery -Hootenanny

Vail Summer Bluegrass Series – June 28, July 5, July 12, and July 19 – Vail

Need a more regularly scheduled bluegrass fix?  How about Vail’s Summer Bluegrass Series…  Situated at 8,000+ feet above sea level in the amazing Colorado Rocky Mountains, the town of Vail will host a bluegrass bands throughout the month of July – featuring a new act each Wednesday.  Catch them either at the Arrabelle at Vail Square or at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens for a more intimate unplugged and natural setting.

LINEUP: Bluegrass Generals, Chatham County Line, Donna the Buffalo, and The Lil Smokies

Vail Summer Bluegrass Series

Vail Summer Bluegrass Series

WinterWonderGrass – TBA – Steamboat Springs

Imagine taking all the warmth of summertime bluegrass concerts – basking in the golden glow of a setting sun, thirsts quenched from craft beers, happy fast music coming from front and center, and hundreds of jumping jivers dancing the evening away.  Now, remove the summer sun’s warmth and add the alpenglow of winter’s sun and you’ve got Colorado’s legendary WinterWonderGrass.  Held mid winter in Steamboat Springs, WWG is the ultimate testimony to Colorado’s commitment to bluegrass… they’ll even celebrate it in the chill of winter’s grip.

WinterWonderGrass Bluegrass Music Fest

WinterWonderGrass Bluegrass Music Fest

YarmonyGrass – August 10-13, 2017 – Rancho del Rio

Rancho Del Rio is located on the banks of the beautiful Colorado River. Each summer festivarians make the most of their time on the river. The calm stretches of the Colorado located closest to the festival offer stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing and fishing. Several boat ramps are within close proximity to the festival, including ramps at Rancho Del Rio and State Bridge.

Lineup: Todd Snider & Great American Taxi, Head for the Hills, The Drunken Hearts, Coral Creek, The Grant Farm & Andy Thorn from Leftover Salmon and more!

Yarmony Grass 2017 poster

Yarmony Grass 2017 poster

Jerry Garcia’s 75th Birthday – August 4th – Red Rocks Amphitheater


Join the Jerry Garcia Family in celebration of Jerry’s 75th birthday with a once-in-a-lifetime tribute to his life, legacy and enduring spirit on Friday, August 4th at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO! The celebration is by Bob Weir & The Campfire Band and also features the Jerry Garcia 75th Birthday Band, an all-star band featuring original Jerry Garcia Band members Melvin Seals, Jackie LaBranch, and Gloria Jones plus Oteil Burbridge, Kamasi Washington, Tom Hamilton and Duane Trucks.

Jerry Garcia 75th Birthday

Jerry Garcia 75th Birthday

But wait, there’s more!

Don’t forget, the list above is just a sampling of the bluegrass FESTIVALS for 2017 – but don’t forget Colorado’s longer list of bluegrass, mountaingrass, and jamgrass concerts sprinkled throughout the spring, summer and fall.

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