Every summer, the quiet mountain town of Lyons transforms into one of Colorado’s biggest parties. Thousands of people flock to the scenic St. Vrain River, beneath red-rock cliffs, to listen to live bluegrass music.
The annual festival, RockyGrass, is put on by Planet Bluegrass. And that’s exactly what Lyons turns into for the occasion: a planet that revolves around everything bluegrass.
The 46th-annual RockyGrass festival runs July 27-29 this year.
It follows the also-famed 45th-annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival (obviously in Telluride), also put on by the same organizers.
Later in the summer, also in Lyons, is the exciting 28th-annual Rocky Mountain FolksFest. This event draws about 4,000 people to listen to folk music, from Regina Spector to the Indigo Girls to Los Lobos. This year, it’s Aug. 17-19.
These music fests are much more than just live music — although the impressive line-ups would be more than enough; Rockygrass is internationally known as one of the world’s best traditional bluegrass festivals. The fests in Lyons are also about community— they’re almost a family, where many attendees return year after year after decade. (They call themselves Festivarians.) People make a full occasion out of these events, camping outside in nature and celebrating late into the night.
RockyGrass is headquartered at the Planet Bluegrass Ranch, along the river. It offers various camping options, including right there on the festival grounds, as well as in nearby Meadow Park and the Planet Bluegrass Farm. (Bohn Park is no longer a campground for this event, as reconstruction continues.)
Adding to the significance of the event was the catastrophic flood in 2014 that ravaged the town of Lyons. RockyGrass rallied and still went on, 10 months after the natural disaster. It became a symbol of the town’s resiliency and has grown stronger since.
While RockyGrass’s three-day passes and single-day tickets are sold out for 2018, it might not be too late to join the fun. Check out the RockyGrass Ticket Exchange/Swap link at www.festivarian.com/rgtix, where people sell and trade tickets they no longer need to this year’s festival.
Tickets go fast, says Brian Eyster with Planet Bluegrass.
“This year’s RockyGrass tickets were completely gone in February. To slow down ticket sales, we wait to announce any festival artists until after tickets have gone on sale in December,” he says.
If you do have tickets, it’s not too late to book a campsite, starting at $35. (Not all campgrounds have openings.) Camping is a major part of the experience.
The whole town comes to life for these three days, and you can hear bluegrass music drifting through the air. Jam circles form along the river and in the campgrounds and kids play on the sandy beach. Many people bring their instruments and pick away, inspired by the performances and seeking community connection. More than half of the attendees camp in Lyons, so the party never stops.
Want to Experience RockyGrass for Yourself?
Here are some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of the experience.
- Sign up for Notes From the Planet emails for info on tickets and musicians. Also follow Planet Bluegrass on Facebook.
Follow the tarp rule from the Festivarian Bill of Rights: “Festivarians shall assume the right to occupy empty tarp spaces until said owners return, at which time Festivarians have the right to become lifelong friends.” Every year, organizers hear stories about cherished friendships (and even marriages) that began when people met on an empty festival tarp space.
Bring a bathing suit and a river tube. There’s no better way to stay cool (and filled with joy) than tubing the St. Vrain River through Planet Bluegrass, Eyster says.
Don’t miss the band contest finals in the Wildflower Pavilion on Sunday afternoon. “The energy and excitement as the final three bands compete for the title is magical,” Eyster says.
- You can’t just pop up a tent anywhere. You will need a camping pass.
- There are a limited number of car passes for some campgrounds. Ideally, figure out a way you can camp and not need your car.
- Some campsites have easy-to-access showers and restrooms.
- There’s a special Family Camping area on the western edge of the River Bend Campground.
- There are a limited number of RV passes for the Lavern Johnson Park Campground.
- If you are camping, participate in the Campsite Challenge to win prizes. Basically, leave no trace (keep your campsite clean) and complete an entry form, and you can win random prizes every day. You can even win three-day tickets and campsite for the festival, as well as beer, a book about the fest and more.
- Creativity is encouraged among campsites. People hang lights and flags and use unique camping strategies and repurposing to create themed decorations.