Opening weekend at State Bridge brings musicians and fans to historic venue.
By Phil Lindeman
There are a certain type of people who congregate at the grassy campsites and sun-drenched stage of the State Bridge concert venue outside of Bond, just a half hour northeast of Eagle on the Colorado River. As described by Darcy Giles, they’re “old souls, but young at heart.”
“It’s people who enjoy the outdoors,” says Giles, a self-described “jack of all trades” on the State Bridge managerial team. “They want to enjoy the music, dance and have the freedom to kind of be one with nature.”
Thanks to pristine weather, the venue has been open every weekend since early May, but this Friday evening marks the official start of the State Bridge concert season with three days of live shows. The musicians on hand are some of Colorado’s finest Americana and folk artists – Whitewater Ramble, Whiskey Tango and Great American Taxi headline, along with a spattering of local favorites such as Hardscrabble – and the young-at-heart will follow en masse.
For Giles and the rest of the “State Bridge family” – a term she uses to describe her co-workers and a core group of regular concertgoers – this year is a milestone for the venue. Last summer was the first time concerts were held on the outdoor stage since 2007, when a mid-summer fire left the 117-year-old main lodge perilously damaged.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but on opening weekend a year ago, the love, the energy and the excitement showed just how important State Bridge is in the community, and even the state,” Giles says. “We saw a revitalization of the area. It was like coming home.”
Although the blaze was a devastating blow – an on-site manager barely escaped and the fire was later ruled arson – a group of locals took it as an opportunity to renovate the aging concert grounds, led by new owner Douglas Moog and partner Scotty Stoughton, the venue’s longtime promoter and a co-founder of the Snowball Music Festival. Chad Staehly, a founding member of the Nederland-based Americana quintet Great American Taxi, fondly remembers the old State Bridge site.
“We do miss the old lodge building and the way it used to be, but Doug and Scotty really created a phoenix from the ashes,” says Staehly, who played opening weekend last year and returns for a headlining set this Sunday. “State Bridge is one of those unique spots in the country. We play coast to coast, and there’s really nowhere else like it.”
One reason for State Bridge’s quick resurrection was its near-mythic reputation in the Colorado music community. It often earns comparisons to storied outdoor venues like Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver, although long-time visitors favor State Bridge for the nearby yurts, cabins and traditional campsites.
“As fans and patrons of music, State Bridge is incredible,” says Patrick Sites, the mandolin player for Whitewater Ramble. “It’s a beautiful place that embodies all the things we love about Colorado: the mountains, the river, the atmosphere.”
Despite a relatively secluded location, the venue also attracts high-profile acts. Giles says members of the Grateful Dead have sat in with local bands over the years, and Colorado legend Bill McKay of Leftover Salmon will play keyboard for Whitewater Ramble on Friday.
“You really get to see a normal side of these world-renowned musicians,” Giles says. “These guys sit at the same campfire and jam at night – they just want to be around everyone. It’s incredible to see, but very relaxed.”
Last year’s reopening was stellar for music, Giles says, and organizers look to build on that foundation with more recreation options. They’ll offer on-site yoga classes, a concierge service and barbecue from local favorite Moe’s Original BBQ. They’ve partnered with a number of nearby guides, including Stand Up Paddle Colorado, for kayak and paddle tours through September. Giles hopes the broader scope leads to State Bridge’s long-term survival.
“We’ve really tried to create an overall vacation area,” Giles says. “They come here at night to enjoy a concert, then during the day we have river tours, zip line tours, horseback riding – we just need to create a community.”
State Bridge has attracted a plethora of music, but opening weekend is traditionally heavy with the finest of Colorado’s homegrown folk, Americana and jam rock acts. Self-proclaimed “dancegrass” band Whitewater Ramble headlines Friday evening, followed by the young Denver-based funk/bluegrass group Whiskey Tango on Saturday. The weekend ends with Staehly and Vince Herman leading a set by Great American Taxi.