Lyons’ bluegrass festivals offer music-lovers a chance to camp, enjoy the outdoors, while being a sign of a community’s strength to rebuild.
Planet Bluegrass has held festivals for over a quarter century and is responsible for three of Colorado’s largest: Telluride Bluegrass, RockyGrass and the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. The last two are held on their ranch 25 minutes north of Boulder, in the small town of Lyons. The first RockyGrass festival was held in Lyons in 1992 on rented property. When the first two years of RockyGrass were successful, town officials made changes to their zoning laws, allowing the organization to purchase the ranch in 1994 to hold their events and music festivals. A section of the St. Vrain River runs through the ranch, adding to the already picturesque backdrop of the festival, where attendees camp out and enjoy the outdoors, tubing on the river, and music.
But the river isn’t always as serene as it appears; it has also brought colossal destruction upon the town. On the evening of September 11th, 2013, rain began to fall and did not stop until Lyons was under water. Displacing thousands of residents, destroying over 200 homes and taking one life, the St. Vrain River swept through the town, cutting residents off from the world for three days. Planet Bluegrass’ ranch was no exception to the damage.
After the flood, when neighbors’ houses were destroyed, and Planet Bluegrass’ central office floated downstream, it was the strength of the community to unite and rebuild that helped Lyons on the path to recovery, recalls Director of Communications for Planet Bluegrass and longtime Lyons resident Brian Eyster. Residents are still displaced, after homes that had stood for generations were swept away. Due to rising property rates in Lyons, it is difficult for displaced families to rebuild. Planet Bluegrass has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to help their neighbors move back home. The organization purchased commercial property and is working alongside the Town of Lyons to build three duplexes. As Eyster says, “These are our friends and neighbors, they work the festivals, whether volunteering or parking, they help us hold these events.”
Only one week after the flood, Craig Ferguson, a co-owner, who was living on the ranch at the time, decided to rebuild the ranch in time for RockyGrass the following year. Eyster recalls, “We restored the office building one-by-one, removing feet of mud from each building, rebuilding foundations and walls. We held ‘office meetings’ next to huge piles of dirt, lots and lots of huge piles of debris, trees, rocks and dirt.”
Support from festival goers and musicians was mighty, “Yonder Mountain String Band donated all the proceeds from one of their New Year’s shows to help with our rebuilding. By summertime, we became a symbol of Lyons’ resilience.”
In recent years, the organizers have focused on making their events as environmentally-friendly as possible.
The help from the community is what enabled Planet Bluegrass to make such drastic changes in sustainability in the last 20 years. Eyster describes the collaboration between the Lyons Middle-Senior High School Band programs one of their proudest. Students and parents of the band staff waste stations on festival grounds, instructing attendees “what is compost, what is recycling, etc. In return, we compensate all the volunteers by making a large “donation” to the band program every year. In the ensuing decade, we’ve added other large steps: eliminating single-use water bottles, requiring our vendors to use only compostable utensils and plates, requiring our food and beverage suppliers to purchase electric refrigerator trucks.”
The organization also rewards festevarians that practice no trace camping and ask them to prepare their home before leaving for the festival (turning down thermostats etc.) Most recently the organization has purchased reusable bamboo-based dishware for vendors to hand out food at the Lyons-based festivals. When Planet Bluegrass launched the reusable plate program, The Stone Cup, a local coffee shop/café, offered their commercial dishwashing station to wash the thousands of plates each night.
If you’re looking for good music and an even better time, the annual RockyGrass festival is the place to be. The festivals held on the ranch have a capacity of 900-plus camping concert-goers. If large festivals are not your style, head out for one of the Wildfire Pavilion concerts, held throughout the fall and spring, which are smaller-scale. The festivals at the ranch are not only for enjoying music but also for community experiences in a breathtaking environment.