© 2023 Kansas Public Radio

91.5 FM | KANU | Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City
96.1 FM | K241AR | Lawrence (KPR2)
89.7 FM | KANH | Emporia
99.5 FM | K258BT | Manhattan
97.9 FM | K250AY | Manhattan (KPR2)
91.3 FM | KANV | Junction City, Olsburg
89.9 FM | K210CR | Atchison
90.3 FM | KANQ | Chanute

See the Coverage Map for more details

FCC On-line Public Inspection Files Sites:

Questions about KPR's Public Inspection Files?
Contact General Manager Dan Skinner at skinner@ku.edu
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

RockyGrass 2014

RockyGrass 2014 (Photo by Bob McWilliams)

RockyGrass 2014 crowds on the first day of the festival. (Photo by Bob McWilliams)

Last September, massive floodwaters from the St. Vraim River devastated the small Front Range town of Lyons, Colo., including the Planet Bluegrass Ranch, site of the annual RockyGrass and Rocky Mountain Folks Fest. While the main stage survived the floods, the Wildflower stage, office buildings and much of the rest of the ranch was swept away or buried in mud and other debris. But as soon as the waters receded, the Planet Bluegrass staff embarked on a crash recovery program to ensure that this year's festivals would go on. I can bear witness to both the amazing restoration of the festival grounds and the very impressive music at this year's RockyGrass festival. The entire Planet Bluegrass staff, led by Craig Ferguson, is to be highly commended.


Béla Fleck and his wife Abigail Washburn, of Uncle Earl, on day one of RockyGrass 2014. (Photo by Trish McWilliams)I'm not going to go into a set by set review of this summer's RockyGrass, but want to mention some of my favorite moments. Hot Rize, which has only performed a few dates a year for many years, has a new CD out this fall and will be embarking on an extensive touring schedule over the coming year. They were in superb form this year, with many great new songs (most notably Tim O'Brien's "Blues Is Fallin'"), and their traveling companions, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers were there as well, with special guest trailblazers Elmo Otto and Waldo Otto (the two bore some resemblance to Sam Bush and Darol Anger). If Hot Rize comes to your town this year, do not miss them. In their first appearance together in six years, Uncle Earl showed why they were a beloved all-female string band, with zesty playing, singing and a bit of clogging, as well. Abigail Washburn of Uncle Earl is mostly busy these days both being a mom and playing duo shows with her husband, banjo legend Béla Fleck. Their set was outstanding, and they announced they are recording a duo album--you can bet you will be hearing that (and that new Hot Rize) on Trail Mix.


Stuart Duncan and Noam Pikelny on day two of RockyGrass 2014. (Photo by Trish McWilliams)Three other special duo sets captivated me. Banjo player Noam Pikelny, best known for his work with the Punch Brothers, played music from his recent CD, "Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe" in the company of legendary Nashville fiddler Stuart Duncan. And Jazz met Bluegrass as guitarist Julian Lage (who was hired by legendary jazz vibist Gary Burton when Lage was in his teens) and guitarist Chris Eldridge were adept at both light fingered jazz and hard driving bluegrass. Meanwhile, on the smaller Wildflower stage, another guitar duo, of Grant Gordy and Ross Martin sparkled, even doing a tune by legendary bebop pianist Bud Powell. Speaking of jazzy bluegrass, the Matt Flinner Trio had dazzling improvisations in music that drew on both traditions.


Young bands who impressed me included last year's band contest winners, the Railsplitters, whose banjo player Dusty Rider (yes, his real name) was stranded at his home in Lyons during the floods, and Della Mae, a high energy, all-female band that includes the fantastic fiddler Kimber Ludiker.


Darol Anger and Tim O'Brien on day three of RockyGrass 2014. (Photo by Trish McWilliams)One of the most purely FUN sets was Darol Anger's Big Chill. The fiddler—and mentor to so many young string musicians—led a large aggregation through pop music of the ‘60s (with songs by the likes of Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell and the Kinks), concluding with a very cool version of the Rascals' "Groovin', with the line "You and Me and Leslie" changed to "You and Me and Leslies," at which point mandolinist Dominick Leslie was joined by his parents and siblings for a dance across the front of the stage.


You and Me and Leslies on day three of RockyGrass 2014. Dominick Leslie (far left) was joined by his parents and siblings for a dance across the front of the stage. (Photo by Bob McWilliams)


There was plenty more great music. Alison Krauss and Union Station were totally at the top of their game, with especially strong performances by banjo player Ron Block and dobro master Jerry Douglas. Peter Rowan was a treasure, focusing on traditional bluegrass (or, as he sang "Keepin' It Between the Lines), while Laurie Lewis and her Right Hands were a delight. The Steep Canyon Rangers showed they don't need that Steve Martin guy to put on a great show. Pert Near Sandstone provided a blast of youthful energy. I had to leave before Sam Bush's closing set started, but it was a blast to just being around Sam before that. His enthusiasm and energy are a real hallmark of RockyGrass.


My advice: if you want to go to RockyGrass, go to the Planet Bluegrass website and sign up for their email list. This year's festival sold out very quickly way back at the start of the year. And check out the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest that happens every August. I am not able to attend that this year, but it is on the same beautiful site and always has great lineups.

Bob McWilliams, who earned his B.A. and M.A. in history at the University of Kansas and his J.D. from Harvard Law School, far prefers radio to law. He's hosted jazz programs on KANU and KPR since 1983, and became jazz director and Jazz in the Night's weeknight host in 1996. He also did graduate work in jazz history with the late Dick Wright. He co-hosted the Flint Hills Special for many years, and has produced and hosted Trail Mix, blending contemporary and traditional celtic, folk, bluegrass and beyond, since it began in 1994. He's also active in teaching U.S. History at Johnson County Community College, and is a passionate St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan and Kansas Jayhawk basketball fan, as well as an avid if not particulary talented tennis player. Somehow, he also finds time to be an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction, and indulges his news habit with three daily newspapers and numerous magazines. Bob also founded the nonprofit West Side Folk concert series in Lawrence. "To me, there's nothing quite like 'goosebump music,' the music that makes time slow down and draws you in, away from everything else, and leaves you with goosebumps," Bob said. "I hope listeners enjoy the music on many levels, but I also hope that, on occasion, I can leave them with 'goosebump' moments."