Tornado stays away, people flock to Rock Ledge Fiddles

       A tornado scare notwithstanding, the fourth annual Fiddles, Vittles & Vino drew its best crowd ever Aug. 23 at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site. Mark Gardner, an area musican and historian who emceed the event, estimated the crowd at 1,000 people - exceeding last year's 750 and the near-1,000 of 2006.
Fiddles, Vittles & Vino scenes at Rock Ledge Ranch Aug. 23... Energetic kids enjoy the Sons and Brothers band.
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       “I think the format worked great,” Gardner said. “I was personally very pleased with the way the music went and the schedule for the food and drink tasting. People really enjoyed it.”
       A few drops of rain fell, but compared to what could have been, event planners felt relieved. A tornado touched down that afternoon at Elevenmile Reservoir, and a watch was in effect for El Paso County until 4:15 p.m. “We dodged a huge bullet,” said ranch manager Andy Morris. “I was in my office monitoring it, deciding what to do.”
       He laughed at the suggestion that the music-and-good-spirits aura from Rock Ledge wafted upward to form a weather protective shield. “If you believe in that, it might be true,” he chuckled.
       The six-hour festival featured music on two stages from four bluegrass bands, plus food and drink samples donated by more than 30 restaurants, wineries, breweries and liquor companies. The donation aspect helps keep costs down; otherwise, ticket prices this year would have been far more than the $40 that was charged, Gardner pointed out. In any event, all proceeds go back to Rock Ledge.
       Most people brought in portable chairs, setting them up in front of either stage, then intermittently sitting to listen or strolling around to the tasting booths (which were open for three hours).
       One person found sitting - at least between sets - was Frank Wolking of the Sons and Brothers band from Westcliffe. The band consisted of himself and his three sons. Gardner has credited Wolking with seeding the idea for a Rock Ledge bluegrass event several years ago when he and his boys played in the ranch's barn.
       “Look at this, isn't this great?” Wolking beamed, looking out on the crowd. Fiddles, Vittles & Vino scenes at Rock Ledge Ranch Aug. 23... While attendees check out the food-and-drink 
sampling booths Kyle Green and Christine Nekl keep the chuckwagon fires burning for cooking demonstrations.
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       It was the second Fiddles for Sons and Brothers. Specializing in amplified western, gospel and bluegrass, they had played at the first festival in 2005.
       Also back from the first year were the Ackermans from Pueblo - another son-and-children family band that sticks to a more traditional bluegrass style, with all the musicians using a single microphone.
       Other bands were Finders & Youngberg, playing all-original songs - most of them by Mike Finders, who has won two major songwriting competitions, according to Gardner - and Spring Creek, which took top honors at two bluegrass festivals last year.
       From the culinary side, “the chefs were ecstatic,” Gardner said. Their side of the event is giving people different food preparations and promoting their restaurants, he explained.
       The turnout was close to the self-imposed limit of 1,200 people for Fiddles & Vittles. Any more than that would be too crowded for the designated area around the ranch's Orchard House, Gardner said. Too many people would also mean longer lines and a diminishment of the intimate feel that the event has fostered, he added.
       He suggested a few reasons for the bigger crowd this year: the 25 percent “early-bird discount,” more advertising and general word of mouth stemming from the reputation of the first three years.

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