By Cathleen Norman
Like the return of the robin and Pasque flowers blooming beside the trail, MeadowGrass signals the end of spring and launch of summer. For ten years in a row, Rocky Mountain Highway and Steve Harris have brought a winning mix of Americana genres—strong on string bands and acoustic duos and drawing from local, regional, national and Canadian talent.
The music fest takes place May 25-27 on the pine-forest acres of Le Foret in the Black Forest north of Colorado Springs. New this year is a Friday beer tasting that surely showcases Pikes Peak Brewing and their newly debuted MeadowGrass Brew—a pleasant ale in a collectible can.
Lizzy Plotkin and her fiddle open the festival Friday afternoon. Plotkin played MeadowGrass two years ago, appearing with standouts Free the Honey band plying us with dazzling harmonies and musicianship from Western State University of Gunnison.
Local flatpickin’ bluegrass trio Mike Maddux & The Headliners play their first MeadowGrass. Maddux, a past award winner at the legendary Winfield National Flatpicking Championship, he also penned a column for Flatpicking Guitar Magazine. Mike plays in both the city and in mountain venues, and he also sustains a jazz career.
The Steel Wheels out of Virginia play almost-bluegrass with fast-paced guitar-bass-banjo-drums, joined by horns and drums and often keyboard. The band received Indie Music Awards, Americana category, for Best Song and for Best Album, They regularly take the stage at the Walnut Creek Music Festival at Winfield Kansas. The Tejon Street Corner Thieves close Friday night with their vaudevillian raunchgrass. A Pikes Peak Region staple, they also regularly play a circuit through Kansas-Missouri and tour out to Idaho-Washington-Oregon.
Saturday afternoon begins with two local singer-songwriters—sultry country songster Sandy Wells, followed by Edith of Colorado Springs’ Edith Makes a Paperchain. Texas-based Blue Water Highway Band liven things with their rhythmic indie-country vocal harmonies, accordion and drums.
Tallgrass play tunes that range from Kansas-style dirt-stomp to eloquent ditties. They perform at Front Range BBQ in west Colorado Springs a couple times a year. Grass It Up bluegrass return—the guys who popularized local bluegrass during their dozen-plus-years career in the Pikes Peak region. Their electric acoustic set with cigar-box instruments handcrafted by banjoist Jim Marsh was a memory-maker at MeadowGrass four years ago.
Funky folky Musketeer Gripweed bring along their “kindness factor.” The philosophy of peace and activism was created by bandleader “Reverend” Jason Downing, who teaches sociology at Colorado State University.
Saturday night headliner Ron Pope is a troubadour crooner raised in Marietta, Georgia. He plays all-original material around the country, alone and accompanied by a folk trio.
MeadowGrass continues its songwriting tradition with Sunday morning’s three songwriters-in-the-round, acousticians Edie Carey, Justin Roth and Sarah Sample. Indie-folk quartet Wild Rivers from Toronto roam between unplugged acoustic and all electric with drums.
Birmingham-birthed Banditos tickle the banjo, tap the drums and carry on with electric guitar, kazoo, tambourine and campy lyrics. Their specialty? Unleashed roadhouse played by six-piece honky tonk band spiced with Mary Beth Richardson’s sizzling vocals.
Nicki Bluhm caps Sunday evening with her new four-piece band. The alt-folk songstress has shared the stage with Ryan Adams and The Infamous Stringdusters, and she toured and recorded with her band The Gramblers, 2008-2014. Her “Remember Love Wins” became an anthem last year during the immigration protest.
Sunday after sundown Clem Hammond & The B3’s bring their boisterousness to the stage. The alter-ego of two strong Colorado Springs singer-songwriter-bluesmen Grant Sabin and Joe Johnson. Both play solo at Palmer Lake’s SpeedTrap acoustic cafe and also play large stages with impeccable bands.
So come on down and MeadowGrass with us. I’m going with eyes wide open since I realize I saw Nathaniel Rateliff perform in 2015 before he got huge.