Returning to Colorado, Vikki Thorn of the Waifs Has Festival Fever

Singer-songwriter Vikki Thorn of the Waifs, the Australian folk rockers who were profiled on Aug. 7 in the first part of a series previewing the 25th annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado, loves these musical feasts so much that she would attend even her group wasn't playing.
08/12/2015 12:45 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2016

Singer-songwriter Vikki Thorn of the Waifs, the Australian folk rockers who were profiled on Aug. 7 in the first part of a series previewing the 25th annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado, loves these musical feasts so much that she would attend even her group wasn't playing.

"In the three years that we had off, that we didn't work, I was trying to think of something that I could do to go to a festival, like be a food vendor," Thorn said during a phone interview in July ahead of the Friday (Aug. 14) release of the Waifs' new album, Beautiful You (Compass Records). "... It never worked out."

Thorn, who has performed with her older sister Donna Simpson and singer-songwriter Josh Cunnigham on and off since 1992, gives her impressions of folk festivals and the artists who appear there in these excerpts from our July 30 interview.

Who are you interested in seeing perform at the upcoming Folks Festival?
"I'm really looking forward to seeing Gillian Welch and the Wood Brothers. I'm hoping I'll get there in time to see (fellow Australian singer-songwriter) Kasey (Chambers) 'cause I've never seen Kasey perform in America. I've seen her in Australia plenty but I've never seen her here."

What are some of your favorite memories of playing festivals in Colorado? (Planet Bluegrass' Telluride Bluegrass Festival, 2003; and Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010)
"We played (in 2006) with (Australian singer-songwriter) Paul Kelly. ... And we got to tour in the States with him and I got to get up and sing on one of his songs in Lyons. And also having Michelle Shocked get up and sing with us. I think this was the last time we played in Lyons (2010).

"She was the first female singer-songwriter that I had heard. Someone handed me a tape of hers and it was The Texas Campfire Tapes. And she was the first woman singer-songwriter that I ever listened to. So I was heavily inspired by her for a lot of years.

"I had written her a letter as a teenager and she'd actually written back to me. I think I was 18. I wrote her a letter because I went to a gig of hers in Australia. Anyway, at that Lyons gig, I got to go up to her and just say, 'Hey, you know what, thank you. Thank you for all the inspiration. You were a big part of me becoming a singer and songwriter.' It's nice to go to someone who inspired you so much and get to say that to them. And then have them jump up and sing with you, too.

"Actually, you know Kasey Chambers was (at Telluride in 2003). ... And Emmylou Harris. And we got to meet Emmylou and her mother after that show. They watched our show and she came up and she said she liked it. I just even pinch myself even now retelling these stories.

"Seeing John Prine (in Lyons) the one year he closed the festival on a Saturday night, that was pretty special. Greg Brown ... he was always there. There's almost too many. I've seen so much great music there. I think the intimacy of the festival is a big part of that. You know, having those experiences. Being so close to the artists."


The Waifs (from left): Donna Simpson, Josh Cunnigham and Vikki Thorn. (Publicity photo by Jarrad Seng)

What's the Waifs' relationship with Planet Bluegrass?
"Lyons is hands down one of our favorite festivals in North America. ... They just treat the artists so well there. (Planet Bluegrass owner) Craig (Ferguson) is amazing to us. We get to take our families to the festival and hang out. I love the fact that it's a small and intimate festival. I'm actually going to go and attend the whole festival this year. ... I want to say that Craig was at the Folk Alliance when we played there in 2000 in Vancouver. I can't be 100 percent sure of that but I thought I remember meeting Craig there. He was one or two of the few festival directors that we actually shook hands with.

"And it was one of those things where you meet people very briefly and you don't really think much of it. But we had no idea we were meeting festival directors and shaking hands with, you know, these people that are running the biggest festivals in the country. Folk festivals, anyway. You know, they're all true to their word. Within six months of meeting these people at this Folk Alliance convention, we were back touring for 10 months a year. They're good folks."

What are some of your other favorite American festivals to play?
"There's one in California called the Strawberry Festival. We haven't been there for a long time but I love that setting. ... We did Newport I think three times and we got to play, we were touring with Bob Dylan when he played at Newport (in 2002) for the first time since the '60s, since he was booed off there (in 1965). ... So that was a momentous occasion to be there for that. Nobody pulled the plug on him that year. And actually I've got to say that Newport was fantastic. I always felt a little nervous about doing it because of the history, because of its reputation."

Third in a series previewing artists scheduled to perform at the 25th annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado, from Aug. 14-16. The Waifs will play from 3:15-4:30 p.m. Aug. 16.