Editor's Note: Trawling the Small Print is a new feature wherein we squint hard at big festival lineups and spotlight a few gems that may have been hidden below the headliners.
The three-day Nederland Music and Art Festival, aka NedFest, happening this weekend, August 26-28, is into its eighteenth year, and it has survived and thrived for good reason. Hosting everything from bluegrass to rock and roll, NedFest is a family-friendly event with a capacity of only 2,000. As a result, the festival feels lively and busy but also intimate and manageable.
This year, the bill-toppers include the Taj Mahal Trio and Coral Creek — but, as is always the case with a festival like this, there are gems to be found toward the bottom of the bill, ever ready to get out and play early when people are barely out of their sleeping bags. Two of those bands at this year's NedFest are West Virginia’s Fletcher’s Grove, and Taarka, from right here in Lyons.
Fletcher’s Grove got together in high school ten years ago, a group of kids who wanted to form a jam band in order to play West Virginia's All Good Music Festival. That now-defunct jam and folk event was the catalyst, but the guys ran with it from there. The songwriting is split between Ryan Krofcheck and Wes Hager, with Krofcheck penning the rootsy material and Hager coming up with the progressive, jam-band stuff.
“I think each of us brings our own unique style to the band,” Krofcheck says. “I like to use the term ‘Appalachian jam-rock.' We’re from the Appalachian state, and the jam-rock thing is a wide genre term that people use in the scene. So I feel like ‘Appalachian’ describes the folk and roots rock that I bring to it. The jam rock is the improv and the progressiveness of it, the kind of fusion.”
This will be Fletcher’s Grove’s third tour of Colorado; the band comes every year for about two weeks, as it is one of its stronger markets. However, this is the band's first time at NedFest.
“Last year, we played in Nederland, and the NedFest talent buyer, who had spent a lot of time in West Virginia, had heard about us, came out to see us and loved us,” Krofcheck says. “She told us that she’d love to have us next year. It was really great, making that West Virginia connection. The states and the scenes are very similar, even if West Virginia might be a little bit more conservative in some ways. I say that West Virginia is like the East Coast Colorado. Maybe because of that, people dig our sound out in Colorado.”
The band is currently in the process of writing, and because of the addition of a new bass player and the recent loss of a percussionist, Krofcheck is expecting some evolution in the sound, as well as further touring.
“I think some of the former members didn’t really want to put that much time into being on the road,” he says. “For the last ten years, we’ve just kinda been a regional band in West Virginia, but within four hours of Morgantown, West Virginia, which is where we’re from, we have a lot of cities like Columbus, Cincinnati, Baltimore and D.C. We’ve been sticking around that area. I want that to change.”
The band is playing at 2 p.m. on Saturday at NedFest, but Krofcheck is confident that they can inject some energy into the early afternoon and get people down to the stage.
On Sunday, Lyons band Taarka plays the same time slot, 2 p.m., and it is that band’s first time at the festival, too.
Taarka formed in 2001 in New York when David Tiller and Enion Pelta (now Pelta-Tiller) joined a band called Brooklyn Browngrass.
“After a little bit of time, we both had different ideas about what music we wanted to play and what that band was about,” David says. “We started playing together, and fell for each other romantically at the same time. We moved out to Portland and started playing and working on making a group. That’s when we formed Taarka. But Enion and I are really the band. We put together rhythm sections around what we do.”
The band’s name refers to the sound that roasting herbs make in Indian cooking, and it means “colorful” in Hungarian. It means different things in different languages, making it an appropriate choice for a fledgling world-music duo.
“We were really digging into world music and a lot of gypsy music, Indian music and Latin music,” David says. “We were into odd time signatures and all kinds of things like that. Over the course of a number of years, we started playing a lot more American and Irish fiddle tunes. Original tunes, but more influenced by our upbringing in America as opposed to our world music. It’s hard to just jump ship and lose our brand name, so we still hung on to Taarka. It became the title of what we do.”
David and Enion moved to Lyons from Portland early in 2007 on the advice of musician Jefferson Hamer. The two love their home despite suffering horribly in the 2013 floods.
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“We lost our house to the floods,” David says. “We had six feet of water in the house. It took down a number of the walls and most of our possessions. We lived in the basement of some friends' for two and a half years, and then we finally got a FEMA buyout in January and were able to buy another house. We did consider leaving, but we didn't know where we would go. We didn’t change our band name, we didn’t leave — we seem to stick with things.”
This will be Taarka’s first NedFest performance, and David says that we can expect a treat thanks to the stellar group of musicians that he has assembled alongside Enion and himself.
“I love the band that I play with,” he says. “It’s going to be all acoustic this time. It’ll take you through the gamut of moods and emotions. Some of it will be fast and uplifting, and some of it will be moody and euphoric. I guess that’s what you can expect. I can’t promise any fire dancing, shirtless women or acrobats this time.”
NedFest takes place on August 26-28 at the Jeff Guercio Memorial Baseball Field in Nederland; Go to nedfest.org for more information.