Finally a sell-out in 7th year for Rock Ledge music/culinary festival

       For seven years, Fiddles, Vittles & Vino has been a unique event at Rock Ledge Ranch, an annual seven-hour bluegrass festival in a pleasant setting that, for the price of a ticket, offered people basically all they could eat, drink and listen to.

Fiddles, Vittles & Vino scenes... Dancers swing to the music of Honey Don't, one of four bluegrass bands that were featured in the July 31 Festival at Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site.
Westside Pioneer photo

Fiddles, Vittles & Vino scenes... Two of the bands had previously won the Rockygrass competition in Lyons, Colo., and one of them was the Henhouse Prowlers from Chicago.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Only the financial element kept it from being a complete success. Despite the best efforts by ranch management, Rock Ledge's Living History Association (LHA) and the area chefs who organize the “vittles and vino” aspects, the crowds were good but not great. Out of 1,000 tickets printed each year - even last year when there was good weather for a change - typically a hundred or more went unsold.
       That finally changed this year. A favorable omen was the brisker pace of advance sales. By the day of the event, July 31, just 250 tickets remained unsold and, in more good news, the weather forecast called for clear and sunny. “We knew we'd have a big day,” ranch manager Andy Morris commented afterward.
       The big moment came in the late afternoon. Area historian and musician Mark Gardner, who has lined up the bands every year, took to the main stage with a broad smile on his face. “We have a sellout,” he announced, and the crowd greeted the news with applause.
       In all, Morris estimated afterward, as many as 1,400 people were on hand, because the vendors, bands and various supporters/ employees all got in free.
       As planned each year, the event proceeds after expenses will go to the ranch fundraising effort.

Fiddles, Vittles & Vino scenes... Crowds enjoy the setting and the "vittles and vino" aspects of the event.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The only people who might have felt any disappointment July 31 were veteran Fiddles attendees, who could recall earlier festivals when vittles and vino sometimes remained at a few tents even as the 9 p.m. closing time neared. This year, despite about 25 percent more vendors (60 in all), all the goodies were pretty much gone by 6 p.m. (four hours after the gates opened). Jan Goldfine, the stand-up bass player for the Henhouse Prowlers, sympathized. “There may be no more food and wine, but we will intoxicate you with banjo and fill your bellies with mandolin,” he cheerily pledged to the audience just before starting their final set at 6:20 p.m.
       The nationally known band, which had won the adjudicated Rockygrass Festival in Lyons last year, was among four bluegrass groups that performed. The others were Town Mountain, also a past Rockygrass winner; regional favorite Honey Don't, from Paonia; and a local band gaining in popularity, Grass It Up.
       Another individual pleased with the day was James Africano, president of Club Nine, the consortium of chefs and restaurant owners that took Rock Ledge under its wing several years ago, even funding the planting there of apple trees, berry plants and asparagus and sometimes using the fresh produce for meals they make. Taking the stage late in the event between bands, he raised his hands in the air, thanking all those who had pitched in.

Festival attendees sample from different vendors in one of the food tents.
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Grass It Up plays on the "Pergola" stage at the rear of the Orchard House (one of two stages used).
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       The apparently unique event concept took shape in 2005 as a marriage of fundraising ideas. Club Nine leaders were talking about a food-and-drink gathering, and Rock Ledge management and volunteers had the idea of a music festival. So they decided to try the two simultaneously.
       “Every year it gets a little better,” commented LHA President Ron Wright. He doesn't know yet how much money Fiddles & Vittles made this year, but was hopeful it might be up to $10,000. The ranch's website currently shows an overall donation goal for the year of $100,000, with about $66,000 still to go.
       The sellout was obviously good news for Morris himself, who actually had to fear for his job two years ago, when a revenue-stricken city government decided to find most of its budget savings on the back of the Parks Department, and part of the fallout was the city-owned 1880s-style working ranch getting only a quarter of its previous funding.
       Since then, the LHA has been in almost constant fundraising mode.
       Still, Morris' comments dealt less with the event's money-making and more on the joy people derived from it. He described seeing “moms with newborns, old folks and more young folks than in the past,” and getting the impression that bluegrass music is catching on with Colorado Springs. But “mostly,” the 13-year ranch manager said, “I think I feel super good having an event like this one that brings people together, visiting with each other and having a great time.”

Ice sculptures add an arty touch in the late-afternoon sun.
Westside Pioneer photo

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