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Fresh Faces Featured At 2013 Rocky Mountain Folks Fest

The 23rd Annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons wrapped up Sunday night with Folks Fest veteran John Prine’s weathered voice filling Planet Bluegrass under a bright, moonlit sky.

While Prine — and other more popular artists like Loreena McKennitt, who closed Friday night; or Patty Griffin, and the John Butler Trio who performed on Saturday — might draw the most ticket buyers, one of the joys of the music festival experience is being introduced to new artists. These talented but lesser known performers might become favorites.

This year’s Folks Fest introduced plenty.

Far from being a traditional “Folk Festival”, the fest organizers at Planet Bluegrass are willing to stretch the boundaries by including artists that don’t play typical folkie fare in early-day sets.

On Friday afternoon, in between more traditional singer-songwriters Ellis and Mary Gautier, indie-pop newcomers Lucius took the stage and charmed the crowd with their infectious songs and sweet harmonies. They previewed material from their upcoming debut album “Wildewoman”, due out October 15th. Check out this NPR Tiny Desk Concert from January for a sample of their sound.

Saturday’s lineup was one of Folks Fest’s most adventurous. Texas band Seryn took the stage just after noon with a swirling sound that soared beyond standard song structures. With various band members switching between dozens of instruments, they created rich sonic textures capped with vocal harmonies for a sound that’s unique. Paste magazine called their debut album one of 2011’s best, and the band was included on NPR’s “All Songs Considered” 2012 list of bands that should be bigger.

Later that afternoon, Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance made his Folks Fest debut. Backed only with a drummer, Vance started with a bit of effect-laden acoustic guitar experimentation before settling into a freewheeling set that ranged from covers of U2 (Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For) and Jimi Hendrix (Foxy Lady), to original songs that showed off his soulful roots.

Credit Robert Leja
Shane Koyczan putting poetry to music

Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long followed Vance with the Festival’s biggest stretch. Koyczan is a former National Poetry Slam winner who backs his spoken poems with softly beautiful backing music featuring cello, bass, guitar and piano. Koyczan took the audience on an emotional ride from heartache and despair to hope and humor and back again.

It was a powerful performance that was raw and personal, and spoke directly to the soul. Koyczan’s “To This Day” video has gotten more than 10 million views on YouTube—if you haven’t seen it, you can see it here:


Sunday got started with an early set from Chic Gamine, a Canadian group of 4 women and a male drummer. Their 4-part harmonies and witty songs brought a 60’s-style sound that immediately won over the Festival’s early-risers. Part Motown, part acapella, but all fun, Chic Gamine made a lot of friends on their first Colorado visit.


Soul Singer Charles Bradley’s life has been documented in the film Soul of America – he’s also told his story to David Dye on the World Café. Seeing him live with his band, the Extraordinaires, was a revelation to most of the Sunday afternoon audience. His flashy set was old-style soul, filled with glittering sequins, knee drops, and microphone twirls that attest to Bradley’s past as a James Brown impersonator.

But his message of love and hope was authentic, and rather than perform an encore, Bradley ventured out into the crowd to hug some of the adoring fans.

As Director of Community Engagement for KUNC & The Colorado Sound, I look for ways to bring the programs and personalities you hear on the radio “out of the box” to engage and interact in live settings.