Bluegrass icon picks a fitting tribute to Jerry Garcia

Banjoist Bela Fleck played a truly rare, whole set of traditional bluegrass music July 28 at Rockygrass in Lyons, Co. (Photo by Lisa Lehndorff)

3:15 p.m. July 29, Lyons, Co. –   Who would have guessed that a 70-something member of the Grand Ole Opry would be the one to bring the music of the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia to Rockygrass on the occasion of its 40th birthday?

And yet there was Jesse McReynolds onstage delivering heartfelt, precisely picked renditions of the Dead’s “Ripple,” “Alabama Getaway,” “Deep Elem Blues,” and “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.” In his dapper hat, he’s the thoroughly cool, Leonard Cohen of the bluegrass jam set and still able to deliver his patented mandolin cross-picking. Like the late Earl Scruggs, he’s refused to be pigeonholed in traditional bluegrass.

Other highlights of the festival so far:

* Sam Bush singing “One Tin Soldier”  for the victims of the Aurora shooting

* The pristine trio female harmonies of Red Molly

* The speed wood, thrash-grass propulsion of Trampled by Turtles

* The jazz-classical-world music banjo virtuoso, Bela Fleck, performing a one-time-only all-bluegrass set with stellar vocalist Danny Paisley  and members of the Del McCoury Band. Some of us Fleck fans had been waiting decades for this moment.

* Dr. Ralph Stanley wailing “Oh Death” as a solitary grey figure fading in the lights onstage

* A slice of perfect tart cherry pie after dinner from My Mom’s Pie in Niwot

* And the heavy baptismal downpour right now as two Colorado music stalwarts – Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon and Bill Nershi of String Cheese Incident – dig deep into their bluegrass roots.

– The Rockygrass Blog: