Strings Music Festival, 2008 Different Tempo Series schedule
Sunday, June 29
Richie Havens, folk
Thursday, July 3
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, classic rock
Friday, July 11
Brent Rowan and Friends, country
Friday, July 18
Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, Celtic folk
Friday, July 25
Ruthie Foster Band, blues, folk and R&B
Friday, Aug. 1
Jesse Cook, flamenco
Friday, Aug. 8
Nnenna Freelon, Harolyn Blackwell and Mike Garson, jazz standards
Tuesday, Aug. 12
The Subdudes, rock
Friday, Aug. 15
Asleep at the Wheel, Western swing
Tuesday, Aug. 19
The Avett Brothers, roots rock
Friday, Aug. 22
Golden Dragon Acrobats, Chinese acrobatics
Call the Strings Music Festival box office at 879-5006, ext. 105, or go to www.stringsmusicf... for ticket information.
When the Strings in the Mountains summer music festival moved in 1992 from a 125-seat venue to the 500-seat Strings Tent, nonclassical programming director Betse Grassby started thinking about how to fill those extra chairs.
"We had to expand our audience," Grassby said, sitting in front of a listing of the 13-concert 2008 Different Tempo Series, which features artists spanning folk, jazz, blues, rock and dance.
Aside from satisfying a fundamental desire to provide diverse musical opportunities, the Different Tempo Series fills a very basic need for a summer music festival: It makes money.
A growing trend
"You're finding more and more festivals are adding in a nonclassical series to broaden their audience," Grassby said. She's describing a trend that has been relatively slow to take hold, but has seen festivals traditionally concerned with art music and education expanding their scope to include world, folk, jazz, blues and rock acts.
For Strings, it's nothing new. The festival has offered nonclassical performances for 16 years. This summer's roster, which features tried-and-true acts such as Richie Havens as well as rising stars such as The Avett Brothers, is no exception.
Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival, said nonclassical programming has been working its way into classical festivals in the West. His festival hosts performances this summer by jazz singer Patti Austen and former Nickel Creek member Chris Thile.
"Even though our mission is essentially very classical, we don't draw really sharp or bright dividing lines," Fletcher said. Thile will perform with bassist Edgar Meyer, a classical/bluegrass crossover musician. That kind of genre mixing is popular with some classical musicians, Fletcher said, and can lead to a more diverse festival audience.
"We do see really different faces, and that's also a great thing. It's great to bring them into our venue," he said.
The Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, N.C., started its EMFfringe series after going through a few financially rocky seasons, in an effort to broaden and deepen its audience. The series focuses on offering crossover concerts as well as performers in bluegrass, R&B, country and soul styles. Past concerts have featured Americana songwriter Josh Ritter, bluegrass mandolin player Bela Fleck, jazz pianist Chick Corea, gospel powerhouse Mavis Staples and surf rockers Los Straitjackets.
"Through the EMFfringe series, people who have not previously connected with Eastern Music Festival now know about our programs, events and performances - both classical and nonclassical," said EMF Executive Director Stephanie Cordick. "Our goal is to present genres of music that are nonclassical but complement and tie into our classical series."
Who gets to play
Grassby starts scouting artists for Different Tempo in the fall before each season, keeping in mind groups she has been eyeing for a while and acts she might want to bring back from the previous summer.
"I'll watch artists sometimes three or four years just to get them," she said. Some acts take longer to show up on the radar, such as gospel and R&B singer Ruthie Foster, who Grassby said has come up strong in recent months.
"I've got to say, it's got a life of its own. What you lay out in the fall and what the finished product is may be completely different," Grassby said. Tour schedules and being able to line up with other regional promoters to cut fees and costs of the act come into play as the Different Tempo season comes together.
Certain groups fit better with certain dates. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was a natural choice leading up to July Fourth, Grassby said, and the festival strives to offer performances in folk, jazz, blues, R&B and Americana. Grassby also checks with past promoters and booking agents to make sure potential Different Tempo acts are up to Steamboat snuff.
"Our audience expects a good show. (The artists) are sophisticated performers, and that's one of the things that's very important. : The Avett Brothers might not be sophisticated exactly, but they do an incredible show," she said. The festival also tries to grab acts on their way up, while they're still affordable and available to come through Northwest Colorado for a show.
"To hear any of these artists starting off as they rise, I think there's an excitement to that," she said. Still, those artists have to fit into Strings' criteria, Grassby said.
"You mix genres, you mix level of notoriety, but all of them have to be incredibly high-quality acts with a level of professionalism."