Bluebird Music Festival returns to Macky Auditorium for reduced-capacity event

·7 min read

Sep. 22—The pandemic has hit the live music industry and the nonprofit sector particularly hard.

Bluebird Music Festival — an event put on by Future Arts Foundation, a Lafayette-based organization dedicated to providing a myriad of after-school art programming to kids throughout Colorado — was forced into premature hibernation due to live entertainment's inevitable shutdown.

The two-day festival, featuring a killer lineup — including Phoffman of Greensky Bluegrass, Rayland Baxter and City and Colour — will make its return to University of Colorado's Macky Auditorium this weekend.

"I cannot believe that we're about to host the festival after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus," said Travis Albright, founder of Future Arts Foundation and Bluebird Music Festival. "The first two years of the event were such a success and it was on such a roll, but then COVID hit. Last year — one month prior to the event — everything shut down and the event had to be canceled."

Tickets were refunded when 2020's event was canceled.

"Though it was heartbreaking, there were more important things the world was worrying about than a music festival," Albright said.

To Albright's pleasant surprise, many ticketholders came to the aid of the foundation despite not having a festival to attend.

"So many fans reached out to either donate their ticket money or push their tickets to this year," Albright said.

While last year's Bluebird Music Fest didn't morph into a livestream event, it did offer up a documentary that featured rare and never-before-seen footage of musicians.

Wesley Schultz (The Lumineers), Jade Bird, Langhorne Slim, Adam Aijala and Ben Kaufmann (Yonder Mountain String Band) and so many others joined forces to contribute to "Strings & Stories: The Film" — a two-hour long collaboration that raised money for the foundation," Albright said. "All of this helped our small nonprofit stay afloat while we waited for this storm to clear."

Previously, Bluebird has brought Jim James of My Morning Jacket as well as The Tallest Man on Earth, local dirt-floor folkers Gasoline Lollipops and many other artists of different genres to the stage.

On top of having to contend with what seems like the ever-changing rules of COVID safety, Albright was thrown a curveball when this year's headliner pulled out at the midnight hour.

"A month prior to the event, we received a call from Jeff Tweedy's agent that he was no longer able to join us due to an 'unavoidable personal scheduling conflict,'" Albright said. "Though this was not the surprise we were looking for after the last 18 months, one thing we've learned over that time is you never know what can happen from day to day. We must learn how to pivot and we must stay positive because a lot of others are dealing with real-life problems."

Understanding that many fans would be traveling with the main purpose of seeing Jeff Tweedy — frontman of Wilco — Albright and his team offered anyone who had a Saturday ticket the option to transfer those to Bluebird Music Festival 2022.

"We've had a few request this, but most are attending the festival because they love it and not just for one performer," Albright said. "We've had no one give us a hard time. No one — even on social media. What? When does that ever happen these days? I couldn't be more grateful for every one of these folks."

Albright — an avid music fan who has also put on intimate shows at Longmont's Firehouse Art Center and The Saint Vrain — started brainstorming who would be a complement to the artists' roster in Tweedy's absence.

He landed on Jonathan Russell of folk band The Head and the Heart.

"I really owe Jon (Russell) for helping us out," Albright said. "Once Jeff (Tweedy) had to pull out, I was left scrambling to find someone of his stature to fill the slot. Jon never really played solo shows in the past. Everything he played was as the lead vocalist of The Head & The Heart. But, I saw that he just played a solo set at the Newport Folk Festival in July. I reached out to Jon that very day and he graciously accepted."

The inaugural Bluebird Music Festival in 2018 featured former Head and the Heart member Josiah Johnson.

Albright, along with fans, are eager for the addition of Russell.

"It will be so cool seeing him up there solo on guitar and piano," Albright said. "We ended up replacing someone whose band headlines Red Rocks to someone whose band headlines two nights at Red Rocks. We are very fortunate."

From its start, Bluebird Music Festival has been known to provide a mix of artists.

This year, British songstress Jade Bird, Boulder's own bluesman Otis Taylor and virtuosic guitarist and songwriter Molly Tuttle are on the bill. Willie Watson, Trout Steak Revival and Heavy Diamond Ring are also on the schedule.

More intimate "Storyteller Sessions" will take place with select artists in the afternoon on Saturday and Sunday, prior to the evening shows. Folks can attend all four events or plan their own Bluebird Music Festival experience.

"I'm — very much so — looking forward to being on that stage again," said Daniel Rodriguez, formerly of Elephant Revival, who will perform Sunday night. "That theater is a special theater. I've been looking forward to it since the last time I played the Bluebird Festival. I'm also starving to hear music from my fellow craftspeople. It's been a long time since I've been exposed to the art of my peers. I'm ready to play for the people and ready to be teary eyed from the songs of everyone onstage."

Rodriguez will be joined by Darren Garvey on percussion and Emma Rose on bass.

"They both have splendidly beautiful voices and you can expect some three-part harmonies and cuddle-rock vibes," Rodriguez said.

In addition to following Boulder County's mask mandate for indoor spaces, attendees will also need to bring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of the event.

"It's a strange time to tour," Rodriguez said. "It's a strange time to be alive. But, I feel lucky to be alive. So ultimately, I'm grateful.

Earlier this month, Rodriguez performed a donation-based concert with Andy Thorn — banjoist of Leftover Salmon — at Montezuma Park in Cortez in southwestern Colorado.

"In this age of information comes the age of vast subjectivity and disinformation," Rodriguez said. "Most people don't know what to believe or who to trust and it's quite maddening. These are such trying times because of this. The virus is real. We've well established that. If you choose to not get the vaccine or haven't yet had it, what's the harm in a little nose tickle before entering a crowded place during a pandemic?"

The main source of funding for Future Arts Foundation doesn't come from the festival's alcohol or ticket sales, but from an online charity action that is now live. Folks can access the collection of music-related swag at go.rallyup.com/6fbaaa.

It features signed memorabilia from Wilco, Phish, The Head & The Heart, Gregory Alan Isakov, Greensky Bluegrass, Jim James and many more.

Bidding ends at 8:45 p.m. Saturday.

As of Wednesday morning, festival tickets were still available but will likely go fast as this is a reduced-capacity event. Organizers are keeping at least 500 auditorium seats empty to ensure more space to spread out.

"I hope it's a time that we can all look into each other's eyes and know that we're going to pull through these crazy times together," Albright said. "It's an amazing lineup, with performers from England to Canada to right here in Colorado."

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