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MeadowGrass kicks off summer festival season with strong local and national artists

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'To say I'm excited to return would be an understatement,' says Joe Johnson of his first 'official' MeadowGrass set in four years.
  • 'To say I'm excited to return would be an understatement,' says Joe Johnson of his first 'official' MeadowGrass set in four years.

For folk/country singer Joe Johnson, the MeadowGrass Music Festival signifies the "official summer kickoff," and his view is bound to be echoed amongst local musicians and fans. This weekend brings the ninth year of the festival, and another opportunity for local music lovers to not only revel in the unofficial inauguration of the summer concert season, but also soak in Rocky Mountain Highway's latest effort to bring together a mix of national, regional and local acts.

Once again, attendees can catch a variety of nationally touring artists on the festival's main stage. Just as a sampler, this year's lineup includes the Louisville-based, cello-led, folk-soul storytelling of Ben Sollee, who's bringing his new band Kentucky Native to Colorado for the first time; Michigan-based indie folk-rock trio The Accidentals, who were named Billboard's "breakout band" at SXSW 2015; Washington, D.C.-based blues harmonica virtuoso Phil Wiggins, who is considered one of the foremost masters of the instrument and who has performed on every continent aside from Antarctica; and Joan Osborne performing the works of Bob Dylan, among others.

However, the festival's dedication to featuring local artists, or artists with deep connections in the local music scene, is something that makes each year's MeadowGrass special, especially as more and more local artists are beginning to branch out into national tours. Out of this year's lineup, Joe Johnson, Xanthe Alexis and Charlie Milo have all spent significant time on the road in the past few years.

Johnson, who hails from Morgantown, Mississippi, but now calls Manitou Springs home, says he has played many festivals across Colorado and the U.S., but hasn't found anything that feels quite like an afternoon at the La Foret Conference & Retreat Center.

"MeadowGrass has all the atmosphere and individuality of a small festival, but with music that rivals its much larger counterparts," says Johnson. "In that way, it perfectly reflects the community."

Not only is this year's performance Johnson's sole show in Colorado Springs for the summer, but also his first "official" set at MeadowGrass since playing the closing slot in 2013. That performance saw him joined for a song by an exuberant Todd Snider, the Nashville-via-Portland singer-songwriter who headlined the 2013 festival that year with Denver's Great American Taxi, who are also returning to the MeadowGrass stage this year.

"To say I'm excited to return would be an understatement," says Johnson, who also hinted that the second half of his set could contain a surprise on top of some "new sounds" and material.

Similarly, the prolific Charlie Milo is excited to unveil new material while performing with The Milo Hayes Meld, his new project featuring mandolinist Bruce Hayes, keyboardist Michael Hawkins and drummer Khalill Brown. The project was formed when Milo and Hayes met and played together at the 2016 Pikes Peak Art Fest, and the pair quickly congealed into a "proper band," with a new EP forthcoming.

"I love MeadowGrass," Milo declares. "It's the perfect family-friendly festival."

Another artist with significant local roots preparing to make a triumphant return is singer-songwriter (and late 90s-era Indy reporter) Malcolm Lucard, a self-described "musical hobo" who joined his first band, the Bull Run Bluegrass Band, in Long Island as a 13-year-old. Lucard found his way to Colorado Springs years later, playing in the six-piece Irrational Exuberance and the pre-Edith Makes a Paper Chain group The Goods. He also recorded his first album at Western Jubilee Recording Company.

Now based in Switzerland, where he edits a humanitarian affairs magazine for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Lucard is returning to the United States — and Colorado Springs — with a new album, Vagamundo. Featuring a supporting cast of musicians, many hailing from Brazil, Lucard describes the new album as a bridge between his Colorado years and his time in Europe, including songs conceived in Shooks Run Park and later being finished in Le Parc Mon Repos, Geneva. In addition to Lucard's Sunday afternoon MeadowGrass performance, you can also catch him performing at Front Range Barbeque on Wednesday, May 24.

Send news, photos and music to reverb@csindy.com

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