Festivals are busy affairs and it’s often tough to choose which bands you want to prioritize seeing. Nothing is worse than missing a legendary set or the big breakthrough from an up-and-coming act. To help you choose wisely, we offer this list of the top must-see bands at Colorado’s upcoming festivals.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
Planet Bluegrass is about to get a blast of Southern soul. This hard-hitting eight-piece Alabama crew continues to evolve with subsequent albums after making a big, fast impression with its authentic vintage revivalism. Front and center is emotive lead singer Paul Janeway, a versatile vocal powerhouse, who can howl like a fiery preacher and croon like a tender-hearted lover as his horn-fueled backing band shifts tempos between down-and-dirty funk and slow-burning R&B. The band’s latest album, “Young Sick Camellia,” is even more expansive, incorporating futuristic soundscapes and modern beats with help from producer Jack Splash. As Janeway puts it, “The record really flexes the muscle of this band. Musically, it’s a kaleidoscope of flavors and it covers a lot of ground.”
Appearing at: Folks Festival
Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band
The name Broke Mountain might not be familiar, but for avid string-band fans the faces certainly will be. The short-lived but beloved bluegrass crew from the early 2000s featured Andy Thorn of Leftover Salmon, Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass and Travis Book of the Infamous Stringdusters long before they moved on to bigger successes in their current bands. Rounded out by guitar wizard Jon Stickley and mandolinist Robin Davis, the group will come together this summer for a rare reunion show, triumphantly taking the main stage at Telluride’s Town Park—the place where members used to cut their teeth picking in the campground.
Appearing at: Telluride Bluegrass Festival
The box canyon isn’t just for bluegrass. Power chords and guitar-heavy jams also reverberate in Telluride every summer at the Ride Festival, which has become a southwestern Colorado staple since it debuted in 2012. This year, Widespread Panic and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit top the bill, but you should be sure to make time to see Denver-based garage-blues trio the Yawpers.
Propelled by the throaty vocals and angst-fueled lyrics of front man Nate Cook, the band—named after the “barabric yawp” in Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself”—blends fist-pumping distortion with heady depth. The band’s 2017 effort “Boy in a Well” was a critically hailed concept album about a tragedy set in World War II-era France that mingled scuzzy Delta blues and jangly proto-punk. On the new release “Human Question,” the band’s third album for alt-country label Bloodshot Records, the group takes its raw sound in new roots-based directions. There’s gospel fire in “Carry Me,” while “Dancing on My Knees” stomps along with hypnotic hill-country riffs.
Appearing at: Ride Festival
Good vibes abound in the sounds of Rising Appalachia—the longstanding world-folk band built around the ethereal harmonies of sisters Leah and Chloe Smith. With steady touring around the globe, the North Carolina outfit’s acoustic style has earned a loyal fan following that flocks to the group’s uplifting live shows. On May 3, the band will release “Leylines,” a new studio album produced by roots stalwart Joe Henry that also features an appearance by Ani DiFranco. True to title, the lead single “Harmonize” features the Smith sisters gracefully combining their voices, enveloped in airy strings, to champion mindfulness as an enlightening path to self-empowerment.
Appearing at: Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Festival and Arise Festival
Neyla Pekarek is best known as the longtime cellist/vocalist in folk-rock heroes the Lumineers. Last year, though, she left the band to pursue a solo career and hasn’t wasted any time getting to work. Earlier this year, she hit the road with Devotchka and made her debut at the Grand Ole Opry.
In January, Pekarek also released her debut album, “Rattlesnake,” a roots-driven collection of songs produced by indie troubadour M. Ward. The record is described by Pekarek as a “Folk Opera,” chronicling the life of “Rattlesnake” Kate McHale, a Colorado legend who single-handedly killed 140 snakes to protect her young son.
In researching and creating the record, Pekarek was inspired by McHale’s courage and found symbolism that relates to her new career endeavor: “Snakes are symbols of rebirth and transformation,” she said in a statement on her new album. “It all felt really symbolic for me in this new adventure.”
Appearing at: Bluebird Music Festival