Fifty years ago, in 1972, after a concert at Boulder’s infamous, now gone Tulagi’s, the founding father of Bluegrass Music, Bill Monroe proposed the idea of Colorado hosting its own festival to the newly developed (and still thriving) Colorado Bluegrass Music Society. Less than one year after that seed was planted, the first Rocky Mountain Bluegrass Festival took place at the Adams County Fairgrounds headlined by Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, Lester Flatt, and others.

Along with having national touring and local bluegrass acts, contests were part of the festivities for individual instruments and bluegrass bands, a tradition that continues to this day. The list of prior winners is extensive and impressive. One of this year’s headlining bands, Steep Canyon Rangers, won in 2001 and since then has become a major touring act on its own and as Steve Martin’s backing band.

Over the years the festival grew and it eventually settled on its current home at the lovely Planet Bluegrass Ranch along the St. Vrain Creek in Lyons in 1992, becoming what we now know as RockyGrass. There are quite a few things that make Planet Bluegrass gatherings special like their commitment to community, sustainability, and world-class events. RockyGrass is not only a family-friendly event but feels like family itself with the traditions that have been developed and extreme dedication of returning festivarians and staff over the years.

Related: Béla Fleck Performs “Whitewater” With Sam Bush, Sierra Hull, & Jerry Douglas At Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival [Watch]

In addition to creating win-win partnerships with artists, vendors, staff, community organizations, sponsors, and fans, Planet Bluegrass has maintained its commitment to the Earth and environment through what it calls “Sustainable Festivation”. Planet Bluegrass’ festivals divert as much waste as possible from the landfill and over 60% of its waste has been diverted across all festivals (Telluride, RockyGrass, and Folks Festival) since 2016. The organization’s dedication to clean energy, leave no trace ethics, and doing the right thing has long paved the way as an example of how a festival can be less impactful and harmful to the local communities and environment, and instead work in tandem.

When festival attendees weren’t tubing the creek or watching countless jams in the campgrounds, world-class music rang out from the main stage featuring multiple generations and styles of the genre. First-generation bluegrassers Del McCoury and Peter Rowan, both RockyGrass regulars, were members of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys early in their careers and still stun audiences to this day like they have since the ’60s. Boundary pushers and newgrass pioneers like Sam Bush, Hot Rize, Yonder Mountain String Band, Punch Brothers, and projects featuring folks like Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas rounded out the schedule with legendary sets.

One nice thing about such a well-curated festival with only one big stage is the opportunity to be turned onto some younger bands. Some of these standouts from RockyGrass 2022 (July 29th–31st) were Tray Wellington, Hawktail, Big Richard, and We Banjo 3 who dazzled and energized early in the day under the hot Colorado sun. In the tradition of bluegrass music as a community, it is common throughout the festival for bands to call up guests and perform in special arrangements and one-off collaborations. Both Hot Rize’s and Sam Bush’s sets ended with epic jams with countless musicians onstage finishing out the night.

Sam Bush All-Star Band – “Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” (Flatt & Scruggs) – 7/30/22

[Video: Ted Silverman]

Bluegrass music is alive and well in Colorado and that is no doubt in part thanks to the community and influence of Planet Bluegrass and festivals like RockyGrass. Cheers to 50 years and looking forward to many more. Check out Ted Silverman‘s YouTube channel for an extensive catalog of fan-shot videos from RockyGrass 2022 in Lyons, Colorado. Scroll through a full gallery of photos from the weekend below via Elliot Siff.