As music fans may know all too well, the possibilities for things going wrong at some festivals are virtually endless: There are the artist rosters that can be dominated by random acts of questionable talent, the food vendors who make you nostalgic for county-fair cuisine, and those frat boys in front of you who are one drink away from retching their guts out in time to some forgotten power-punk band from the '90s.
And then there's always the possibility of pissed-off Hell's Angels stabbing someone in the middle of a perfectly good set, although that seems to happen less and less these days.
Anyway, if you prefer a more "curated" event, one where the music actually matters, you'll probably fare better at more mellow festivals like MeadowGrass and Blues Under the Bridge, which can be altogether transcendent experiences.
Take this coming weekend's MeadowGrass lineup at La Foret Conference Center. In addition to the coup of booking Blue Rodeo — see this week's cover story — organizers have packed the three-day lineup with artists who complement rather than clash with each other. (Hint: Virtually all of this year's acts have been labeled alt, indie, roots or Americana in at least one review.)
With that in mind, we asked MeadowGrass director Steve Harris — an avid music devotee who tends to book acts more on the basis of their talent than their name recognition — to select a handful of the other artists that he's personally excited about and tell us why.
Reed Foehl (Friday, 3:15 p.m.): "Reed Foehl is from Boulder, and I've been following him since the 1990s, when he founded the folk-jam band Acoustic Junction. His songwriting credits include collaborations with MeadowGrass alums Gregory Alan Isakov and Frazey Ford. Reed's fourth solo album, Lost in the West, was co-produced by Jefferson Hamer and features guest vocals from Ford and Anais Mitchell."
Roosevelt Dime (Friday, 8:30 p.m.): "Roosevelt Dime is a four-piece band based out of Brooklyn. This is their first tour in Colorado — like [the New York Americana band] Yarn in 2011, I am the first person to ever book the band for shows out here. They play a high-energy style of music they've dubbed Mardi-Grass, because it features elements of New Orleans music, R&B and bluegrass. They are also hosting a Groove workshop on Saturday in addition to the main stage closing set on Friday night."
HONEYHONEY (Saturday, 6:30 p.m.): "HONEYHONEY is an L.A. husband-wife duo — Benjamin Jaffe and Suzanne Santo (although they will be backed by drums). Their first album in 2008 was released on Kiefer Sutherland's Ironworks record label. The release date for their third full-length album III, on Rounder Records, is this week — they are shipping the new album to us and you can buy it at MeadowGrass first."
Undlin & Wolfe (Sunday, 11:25 a.m.): "Undlin & Wolfe is the duo of Siri Undlin and Dexter Wolfe. Siri graduated from Colorado College two years ago. After graduating from CC, she was granted a fellowship to continue her work with music and storytelling in Northwestern Europe. She toured on a solo project and spent time with community organizers who used story and song as a way of relating to landscape and tradition within their rapidly changing technological surroundings. She then joined Dexter Wolfe, who had been busy with his own musical projects — namely his band, Rivers, whose debut album Of Dusk was produced by S. Carey of the Bon Iver family."
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion (Sunday, 4:55 p.m.): "Sarah is the daughter of Arlo and the granddaughter of Woody. Johnny is the grand-nephew of John Steinbeck. They just kicked off going on an American Songs Tour this year that will feature traditional folk songs, stories, and their own original indie-folk work. Their last album, Wassaic Way, was co-produced by Jeff Tweedy. They will also do a kids' concert performance in the Ponderosa Lodge on Sunday before their main stage performance."
Stephen Kellogg (Sunday, 8:30 p.m.): "Boston-based singer-songwriter Stephen Kellogg began touring while attending the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in the 1990s. He formed the band Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers in 2003 before signing with Universal Records the following year. After the Sixers went on hiatus in 2012, Kellogg returned to recording and touring under his own name. He is in the midst of an ambitious recording project that will result in a four-part album, South, West, North, East, which will be recorded in four different regions of the country with different co-producers and musicians."
Harris also speaks highly of the lineup's two Telluride Bluegrass Festival winners, Front Country (Saturday, 3 p.m.) and Trout Steak Revival (Sunday, 1:30 p.m.). The same goes for The Stray Birds (Friday, 4:50 p.m.), Shook Twins (Friday, 6:40 p.m.), and The Ragbirds (Sunday, 6:30 p.m.).
"The lineup this year is as deep in talent as any we've ever had," says Harris. "It's going to be a magical weekend."
As for the deep-fried Twinkies and drunk guys, the state fair and Warped Tour are just around the corner.