The 19th Rocky Mountain Folks Festival began on Friday, August 14, in Lyons, Colorado, along the banks of the St. Vrain River. While kids frolicked in the calm but cool waters, a hardy group of folk enthusiasts were like transfixed students eager to soak up some musical knowledge. They were schooled in a wide variety of styles during an afternoon and evening of intense instruction. Here's a look at the day's final four, each 75-minute act practically running like clockwork.
1. Covers Girl Madeleine Peyroux has an album of new material, and had a hand in writing all 11 songs, but that didn't stop the silky smooth singer from going back to the basics and interpreting Serge Gainsbourg ("Here's a song by an old French guy," the former Parisian said before taking on "La Javanaise") to Bessie Smith ("Don't Cry Baby") to Bob Dylan ("Your Gonna Make Me Feel Lonesome When You're Gone") . Of course, several cuts from her March release, Bare Bones, were on the eclectic set list, including "Instead," which Peyroux referred to as "the happiest song I have."
2. If Loving You Is Wrong I Don't Want to be Wainwright
Rufus Wainwright is a musical progeny, the openly gay son of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle. As the night's closing act, his set was more fun than fundamentally sound. His glorious voice kept the crowd enraptured and his off-the-cuff comments were hilarious as he moved from piano to acoustic guitar. Fighting off a swarm of bugs, he asked a stagehand to add some insect repellent to his hair. "It's a spray and a mousse," he declared. Then there was his "What-the-(Folk)-Was-That?" moment during a brief hiccup in the sound system. The show-must-go-on showman did stumble through a couple of numbers, though, and spent more than half his set at the piano set farther back on the stage, depriving the audience of seeing either him or his magic fingers. Don't hail him as the next Lyons King quite yet.
3. When It Rains, It Pours Mary Gauthier knows a thing or two about writing a sad song. Cue the tears or, in this case, the rain. If her set began promptly at 4, the downpour followed no later than 4:01. "I'm just gonna play one sad song after the other; it sort of suits the weather," Gauthier said a few songs into her set while the crowd was still scurrying for protection. She kept her promise, too. An acoustic guitar was her only accompaniment early on as she played a series of spare and sorrowful sagas highlighted by "Last of the Hobo Kings," her stirring tribute to "Steam Train" Maury Graham and Utah Phillips from her most recent album, Between Daylight and Dark. "This is about 'Steam Train' but it's for Utah. He's my king," Gauthier said wistfully. Good thing she was at least wearing rose-colored glasses. Also seemingly on cue, as soon as Gauthier's recent writing partner, Ed Romanoff, joined her onstage, the bright sunshine appeared.
Dougie (pronounced Doogie, as in Howser) MacLean did his best to get the crowd going during the dinner hour, inviting them to join him for at least four sing-a-longs, including during "Broken Wings." The former fiddler who still lives in Scotland and played at the first Folks Festival here in 1995, smiled, joked and cajoled his less-than-enthusiastic audience into giving their best effort. "I've always said the people at the Lyons Folk Festival were the best singers in the world," he said in a thick but endearing Scottish brogue, before quickly adding, "Did that sound sincere?"
5. Big Band Theory
Peyroux went against the grain by performing with a full band, all of whom looked as sharp as they played. Electric guitarist Pat Bergeson had a couple of opportunities to shine, especially on "River of Tears," and Peyroux had the entire group -- Gary Versace (keys), Barak Mori (upright bass) and Darren Beckett (drums) -- huddle around her for a couple of numbers, creating the setting of a classy jazz nightclub rather than the Wild West venue it is.
6. A Fine Rhine
The husband-and-wife team of Over the Rhine made a guest appearance near the end of Gauthier's set, with Karin Bergquist providing exquisite harmonies while Linford Detweiler hid behind the grand piano on Gauthier's "Mercy Now," one of the highlights of the afternoon. Teaming the gritty Gauthier with the harmonious couple might have seemed like somebody's off-the-wall suggestion, but Detweiler has made it known he reveres the Louisiana lady, and they recently have been writing songs together. Let's hope Gauthier stays and returns the favor during Over the Rhine's Saturday set.
7. Hats Off
Peyroux wins the day's best-dressed award, beginning the night with a bowler, then later on adding a stylish gray chapeau that matched her pressed slacks. Wainwright came in a close second, thanks to a scarf and a jacket with wide white pin stripes.
8. French Dip Wainwright (left) actually did Peyroux one better by singing two songs in French, including one from his opera Prima Donna. The opening of his three-song encore was "Les feux d'artifice t'appellent," which he said translates as "The fireworks are calling you," adding that the song comments on "how beautiful and how short they are. Like many things in life ... and life itself."
9. Altitude Adjustment
Both MacLean and Wainwright had trouble handling the high-and-dry Colorado climate. "You guys don't have a lot of oxygen," a jet-lagged and waterlogged MacLean said after arriving from Scotland the night before. "They say to drink a lot of water," he added. "It's very dry up here, but I actually really don't like water. But you got to hand it to the guy who decided to put it in little bottles and sell it to you for lots of money. In Scotland, it actually falls down from the sky ... for free." Wainwright's reasoning was more succinct. "I'm not used to the mountains. It makes me nervous."
10. Political Animals Maclean (right) and Wainwright also didn't hide their disdain for the U.S. government. In introducing "Talking to My Father," Maclean worried that he's becoming more and more like his dad, who passed away last year. MacLean said his father didn't care who he offended as he neared the end of his life. "And politics, the words 'loose cannon' come to mind. Taking him to him a pub was a nightmare. I can't even begin to tell you the things he wanted to do to (George W.) Bush." Wainwright harped on the health care system in this country, mentioning his mother in Canada doesn't have to pay a dime for cancer treatment. In America, Wainwright concluded in his rant before beginning his set, "It's so stupid. I just had to say it."
See more festival and concert photos at flickr.com.