Bluegrass Delta Force
Steamboat Springs YarmonyGrass is 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, including Copper Mountain and Rancho Del Rio. There still will be a bar and side stage at Rancho, but the main action will be held at State Bridge, where the festival got its start.
State Bridge is on the Colorado River, six miles south of the Routt County border on Colorado Highway 131.
YarmonyGrass also is 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 its current status as a national act that plays to huge crowds.
“Railroad Earth used to play parties at my parents’ house for the Fourth of July,” McConathy said. “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 to book, with radius clauses and opportunities with other major venues making it impossible for the band to continue playing YarmonyGrass every year.
Regardless, Railroad Earth master fiddler Tim Carbone has made it to nearly every festival, sometimes with his band and other times as a solo act. He said YarmonyGrass always is one of his favorite events of the year and is unlike any other because of 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 to occur, McConathy said, creating an opportunity for fans that they aren’t likely to experience elsewhere.
“The idea that sparked the whole thing was intimate musical collaborations, spontaneous jamming with peers in the scene, all unplanned,” McConathy said. “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.
This year, Nershi said, the top pickers and singers will get together for a joint set after the bands have played their sets.
“The musicians bring their favorite songs to the jam,” Nershi said. “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 pristine environment — is the whole point,” McConathy said. “This isn’t like going to the Pepsi Center.”