By Jeffrey Smith
Mark Morris’ determination to bring live music to an outdoor venue in his hometown of Idaho Springs has grown into one of the state’s top bluegrass festivals. His Clear Creek RapidGrass Music Festival, June 24-26, welcomes some of the genres top, nationally-touring performers and Colorado’s top players. Although it’s become a summer festival highlight in only seven years, it hasn’t been easy.
“I have really grown in my patience and perseverance,” festival co-founder Morris said. “Throwing a festival is not easy.” The event was originally designed to showcase the area’s acoustic musical talent and provide a reason for residents to gather and enjoy their beautiful mountain location together. Although it remains local in its focus and intimate in its size, incredible booking has made the festival popular outside Idaho Springs’ city limits, too.
The three-day event takes place on the ball field where Morris played little league baseball. “There are no outdoor music venues in Idaho Springs, and I really wanted to throw a music party when I graduated college,” he said. “I graduated with a music business degree and immediately started a band and a festival.” Both have worked out well. Not only is the festival growing quickly and booking top performers, his RapidGrass Quintet won the prestigious RockyGrass Festival band competition last year and will be opening the Lyons-based festival’s main stage this July. “The band was born with the festival, and the festival offers me a great opportunity to bring my music back to my hometown year after year.”
The festival’s success was somewhat unexpected for Morris. “I just wanted to throw a little down home mountain party year after year,” he said. “People really responded well to the festival and because of that, I am able to bring my musical heroes to a place where I hit my first home run. I guess in a sense I feel like I’m still hitting home runs when I get a big name on the bill.”
He has plenty of “big names” this year. Bluegrass legends Peter Rowan, who will be backed by the RapidGrass Quintet, and The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience headline the festival. “My favorite aspect of the event is being able to meet and hang out with all my musical heroes,” Morris said. Nationally touring, locally-grown acts, including Jeff Austin and his Grateful Dead String Jam, Coral Creek, Finnders and Youngberg, Caribou Mountain Collective, Credibility Gap, Kind Mountain, Gypsy Cattle Drive and more elevate the line-up, while numerous other Colorado-based bands help round out the bill. There is also a special Gospel set planned featuring Sarah Morris, the event’s co-founder and Mark’s sister. See the complete daily schedules below.
Organizers are excited about the line-up and especially Morris, who “cant wait” to play some tunes with Grisman and Rowan. “I think we are going to have a blast,” he said. “Peter Rowan is such an amazing guy. I love the lineup and I am most excited about the Colorado Bands like Masontown, The Lonesome Days and Caribou Mountain Collective,” he said. It’s his own band that really gets him excited. “I set out on this musical journey to play music. I do love promoting music through my festival, but playing music is why I am here. I have never been so excited about anything in my life more than the Rapidgrass Quintet, and I am honored to play with such a high caliber lineup. Opening Rockygrass is going to be a thrill.”
Clear Creek RapidGrass Festival is held at the Shelly/Quinn Ball Field on the east end of town adjacent to Interstate 70. The park features a permanent stage and on-site camping for 200. “It’s in a funny place, being right next to I-70, but people always tell me that once they are on the field, they really feel the magic and they really don’t notice the highway,” Morris said. “So, I get some great feedback. Mostly because the audience is very understanding and loving.”
The second stage for the festival was stolen last autumn, “so we are saving up for a new one,” Morris said. “Also, CDOT is still working on road construction near the site. So, instead of a second stage we are opening up the adjacent ball field to parking and camping.”
Due to the size of the venue, there will be only 200 tent camping passes on site, but additional campgrounds nearby are available. Also, offering overflow parking and camping will be offered at the Clear Creek Middle School. A shuttle will run all day between satellite parking, downtown and the festival.
Several single-day and three-day ticket options are available online. A three-day pass is $75 in advance. VIP tickets are also available for $250.
The Shelly/Quinn Ball Fields are located at 101 Idaho Springs Road East in Idaho Springs. Visit clearcreekrapidgrass.com e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303-519-2492 for more information.
Originally published in the June 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly