Saturday, July 15, 2006

High Mountain Hay Fever, Westcliffe, Colorado

From Zen Curmudgeon: Dan's at Greyfox (a fest on my "someday" list), doing his best for real time blogging. I've been in the uplands of southern Colorado, in Westcliffe, a town so far upslope they export sunlight and import oxygen. It's also the home of the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival.

Hay Fever is a charming festival hosted by traditional bluegrass stalwarts, Dry Branch Fire Squad. (Pete Wernick would have no problem with this fest's name or lineup.) Located at the end on Main Street and overooking a gorgeous valley in the Wet Mountains, the main stage performers mount a stage built inside a huge yellow striped tent capable of accomodating hundreds of folding- and camp- chair seated enthusiasts. Across the street, in the town's bowling alley, the "workshop stage" hosts more intimate sessions with room for only a few dozen spectators. Fire Squad's Ron Thomason books some of the best in old time and trad-grass acts.

This 4 day event's highlight day, Saturday, came during a welcome reprieve in Colorado's recent half-decade of drought. Last year, extreme dry weather and wildfires cast a smoky pall of woodsmoke over most of southern Colorado. In fact, I traveled past the ground station set up to supply helicopter tankers used in fighting the encroaching fires.

This year's weather was a relief to ranchers and fire crews with nearly constant rainfall for the weekend. This did complicate the task of the Old Blue sound crew, who performed admirably despite the challenges of amplifying acoustic music in a tent under constant assault of downpours and constant audience chatter.

The day's lineup ranged from the quirky (Leroy Troy) to traditional (Hart Brothers, Cedar Hill) to the old-timey clogothonics of Heidi Clare and Atagallop (Heidi's new CD, I Declare, is absolutely worth the price).

and the retro-entertainment of Karl Shiflett and the Big Country Show.

Headlining this year was the Seldom Seen ,

whose lead singer and front man, Dudley Connell, appeared earlier in the day accompanying Sally Love.

There's a definite appeal to this festival. The bands are of the old school, playing technically difficult music with ease born of skill and long practice. The audience is sincerely appreciative, a factor that seems to draw the best performances from every band on the up close and personal main stage. Set in one of the most scenic and yet un-touristed parts of Colorado, High Mountain Hay Fever deserves a spot on every bluegrass fan's calendar.

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