Boating to Bluegrass: Say Yes to the Yarmony Music Festival

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Picking, paddles and partying at the Yarmony Music Festival. (Photo courtesy ShowLove Media/John-Ryan Lockman)

Want to float into a music festival? It doesn’t get any better than rafting into the rip-roaring Yarmony Music Festival, a three-day, hippie-filled, Hula-hooping bluegrass concert at Rancho del Rio on the Colorado River.

Held the second weekend of every August during the Perseids Meteor Shower, the event is the perfect place to paddle to a party, letting you lap the 7-mile stretch from Radium to Rancho or 4-mile stretch from Rancho to State Bridge between sets.

Our bonus this year? Rafting in to our friend’s band, Buffalo Commons, playing on an actual floating stage.

Never mind that some of my harder-core kayaking cohorts were rallying to Class V Bluegrass Creek in Wyoming that same day. We’d boat straight into a bluegrass festival, complete with banjos, standup-basses and accompanying debauchery.

The festival’s poster hinted of its flavor, listing such bands as Tenth Mountain Division, The Travelin’ McCourys, The Druken Hearts, Gipsy Cattle Drive and The Kitchen Dwellers — headlined by The Infamous Stringdusters on Friday night. While we’d miss these pickers, at least we’d paddle up to Buffalo Commons, most of whose members are rafters themselves. We’d drift right up to them as they jammed away on the floating stage.

The three-hour trip went well beforehand, filled with squirt gun fights, cannonballs, oaring against the inevitable wind and a few waves over the bow in Yarmony rapid. Then we rounded the corner from a pristine mountain canyon into … partying mayhem.

While not as spot-on as the band’s, our timing wasn’t half bad; after all the cat-herding, we arrived about a half hour into the set. There, true to their word, was Buffalo Commons, crooning away on, yes, an actual floating stage — what looked to be a couple pieces of plywood atop an 18-foot cataraft. But the platform was hard to see as it was surrounded by a watery Woodstock of every craft imaginable. Sunburned fans sat in inner-tubes, inflatable kayaks, sups, rafts, and every other type of blow-up creature and craft you could fathom. A giant inflatable dragon held court on one corner of the eddy, a massive inflatable mattresses on another, and an actual inflatable couch was stationed off to stage right. Then, its entrance perfectly choreographed, a giant swan gracefully floated into the scene, whose neck extended 15 feet skyward. Inside were eight, arm-circling party-goers, in various phases of inebriation, hand-paddling to stay in the eddy.

A handful of all these floating fans were haphazardly anchored, clipped into a rope angling off the stage. Others clung on with rare hands free of beer, to avoid riding the current downstream for a premature exit stage left.

After holding our ground — intermittently grasping onto other revelers and dipping our oars to stay in place — we learned we could just make giant 10-minutes circles in the eddy, carrying us through the show’s entire acoustical spectrum. We’d float down to the eddy’s end, cross to the other side, float up the opposite eddy, and then cross the river again in a giant parabola taking us right back to the stage — sometimes all during the same song.

During one of these revolutions, we tied up to the far bank, where the focal point of the audio was perfect. Lo and behold, from my earlier days guiding, I realized our anchor bush abutted a hard-to-find trail leading up a gully to … dinosaur footprints. The grown-ups had had their fun, and now it was the kids’ turn.

So after the band’s final notes died off in the air, and the musicians began sailor-walking their instruments off the stage, we trekked up the ravine to see remnants of something else that had died off some 150 million years ago. Shortly later, we reached an uplift of strata from the late Jurassic Period — the Morrison Formation, a sedimentary layer of limestone, sandstone and siltstone — where the giant footprints of sauropods and theropods floated skyward like bubbles up the sloping rock.

The kids, naturally, squealed with delight. After everything we had done so far, including raft trip and riverside concert, we ended the day as paddling paleontologists. Not bad for a quick afternoon’s outing from Steamboat showing our guests from LA a good time — and something they’d likely never find on Sunset Boulevard.