Head to the hills for music and food at Keystone’s Mountain Town Music Festival
Harvest time is here and Keystone wants to celebrate the bounty in style. This weekend’s Mountain Town Music Festival brings together food and folk music to send off summer with a bang.
“This one is our granddaddy of the summer,” said Maja Russer, director of events and marketing at The Keystone Neighbourhood Company. “It’s gained in popularity and we continue to grow every year.”
The Keystone Neighbourhood Company is not tied directly to the resort, rather it’s an association that acts as a pseudo town planner and manager for the unincorporated area. Six years ago they decided to form the festival and partner with local restaurants and vendors to serve up a farmers market feel.
Almost all dishes available feature an iconic Colorado food like Rocky Ford melons, Olathe corn, elk and Palisade peaches. For instance, Kickapoo Tavern will have elk burgers with Palisade peach and habanero jelly, Zuma Roadhouse will offer oven-baked peaches and cream and Timber Ridge will dish out pork and Olathe sweet corn ramen.
A highlight of the festival is Colorado Mountain College’s popular booth. This year their culinary students will create a peach crumble served with buttermilk ice cream and all proceeds from the sales then go back to the college’s program. To wash it all down, New Belgium Brewing Company will be on-site pouring its signature beer along with seasonals like Tartastic Lemon Ginger Sour Ale.
“People know that when they come to any of our events they’re going to get treated to some delicious food,” Russer said.
Because the only cost of the event is food, and tickets can’t be purchased ahead online, Russer suggests attendees browse the selection before purchasing meal tickets.
Though improving weather and permission from Lake Dillon Fire District and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office would allow for a fireworks show, The Keystone Neighbourhood Company ultimately decided against it.
“They agreed that we could shoot our display, but out of an abundance of caution we’re not going to,” Russer said. “We’re super proud of how the entire community has embraced the fire ban this summer and has taken it really seriously. We feel it’s our responsibility to continue that sentiment throughout the remainder of the dry summer.”
However, there will still be plenty to do and enjoy at the festival. Pets aren’t allowed but kids can participate in Keystone’s regular Kidtopia events in addition to face painting and flower pot painting. Elevation Outdoors will be raffling off hiking equipment and gear as well.
“The flower pot ties into celebration of the Colorado harvest,” said Russer. “You get to take a little piece of the festival home.”
As you dine, drink and play, four different bands will perform throughout the day. To set itself apart from Keystone’s Bluegrass and Beer Festival, Wine and Jazz Festival or the classic rock tunes of the Bacon and Bourbon Festival, the main genre heard on Saturday will be folk. First, The Mulligan Brothers from Mobile, Alabama, will play their blended Americana, bluegrass and folk tunes. The eight-piece band, The Dustbowl Revival, will perform a mix of Americana sounds. Afterward, The Lone Bellow, a band from Brooklyn known for their talented harmonies, will go on stage.
Blind Pilot Takes Flight
Headlining the festival is Portland-based Blind Pilot. Lead singer and songwriter Israel Nebeker and drummer Ryan Dobrowski initially began the group as a summer side-project in 2007. With little more than a dream the duo grabbed their instruments and bicycles to start a tour down the West Coast, playing wherever they could.
“This was just a fun little thing, but in the process of having fun with it, it clicked,” said 38-year-old Nebeker. “I just want to write music that can connect with anybody. If we showed up randomly in a small town, could I actually get anyone to listen and to connect? That would be pretty cool.”
Though Nebeker has fond memories of the tour and is grateful for the launchpad, he is a little dismayed on how often the conversation focuses on that first trek.
“We never wanted it to be a shtick or gimmick,” Nebeker said. “We just wanted to be a band … We can’t ever do (the bike tour) because we don’t want to be the bicycle band, we want to be a music band. But I do think we carried that spirit with us, though.”
After taking off on that trip down the coast, Blind Pilot is still flying high in the air a decade later. Since then the band has released three albums, added four additional band members and even more instruments.
Nebeker has always loved music. He started out on piano but when he grabbed a guitar and realized he could emulate Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Smashing Pumpkins and other bands he heard on the airwaves, he was hooked.
“I put a really dumb band together in high school that was four guitar players and someone had to sing so they were like, ‘Israel you’re going to sing.’ I started writing songs and it was my favorite thing.”
However, Nebeker admits he isn’t the fastest writer. That doesn’t seem to bother the rest of the band members, who stay busy with other projects. After days of focusing on a single song, he’ll take a demo to Dobrowski and the pair will fine-tune it more before gathering the whole group together to arrange the tracks. Then they blend their styles and influences — ranging from obscure jazz, to Dave Matthews Band, to Nebeker’s favorites of Conor Oberst, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell — until the album is ready.
Each collection of songs is a personal marker for Nebeker, who doesn’t worry about balancing familiar and new sounds when writing. “I’ve never had an interest in remaking something I’ve already made. Even if I tried I couldn’t go back and make another ‘3 Rounds and a Sound.’ It represents a time and a place.”
Their 2016 album, “And Then Like Lions,” touches on emotional and specific life events for Nebeker, such as losing his father to cancer in 2014.
“I think I’ve always written with the same degree of personal quality, but this one was about specific events so it’s important for people to understand like where they were coming from. I wanted to promote a conversation for people about loss and the healing that happens through it.”
Blind Pilot has performed at major festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza and on programs such as the “Late Show with David Letterman” and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert web series. Yet two of Nebeker’s favorite venues are located in Colorado: the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride and Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder. They’ve also played at Red Rocks with fellow Mountain Town Music Festival performer The Lone Bellow. This weekend Blind Pilot will play an even mixture of samples from their released albums and they may even preview a song or two currently in the works.
“It’ll be really good to be back in Colorado. … I love it there and I’m excited to be back.”
The first time Blind Pilot played in the Centennial State was at the Belly Up in Aspen. There, Nebeker realized how much altitude could affect his performance.
“I remember seeing the oxygen machine in the green room and just thought that people were really into oxygen,” he said. “But then I got on stage and started singing and was like ‘Oh, this is a totally different thing.’ I really had to plan out my breaths so much more.”
While Nebeker favors certain locations, he doesn’t have a preference on audience size. The energy of the crowd is more important to him. “Every time we get to play pretty much any show I’m still surprised that I get to do this for a living. … I love it in live shows when you can feel the energy coming off the stage and then you feel the crowd putting it right back to them. It’s one of my favorite places to be.”
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