Annual festival makes room for new fans of an old-fashioned sound

Three years ago, several local musicians were looking for a way to give some entertainment back to the community and to showcase the talent growing in Utah. The project took root in the small town of Torrey and the resulting festival has grown to include roughly 20 artists ready to strum and pick their way through the three-day event Aug. 4 through 6.

Located in Wayne County near Capital Reef, Torrey -- population 120 -- has the homey, intimate feel festival planners were hoping to create for the folk and bluegrass festival year after year.

Some people like to go be part of a crowd but a lot of people prefer something more intimate, said Phillip Bimstein, participating musician. Torrey is ideal for those folks. You'll have a good crowd but it won't be so big that you can't easily get around.

Part of the draw for festivals like this one is the variety of music available and the accessibility of the performers.

Once the performers come off stage, most of them are right there to talk with the audience, said Barry Scholl, whose family owns the Robber's Roost Books and Beverages where the festival takes place.

And for Southern Utahns looking for respite from the heat -- Torrey's 7,000-feet elevation makes the night air considerably cooler.

Musicians from California, Colorado, Minnesota and Utah will descend on Torrey next weekend, offering a range of acoustic style tunes from folk to pop and bluegrass to jazz.

The demographic drawn to this style of music has shifted slightly over the years, said Rob Miller, guitarist for a Colorado band called Sweet Sunny South. "In the beginning we were playing for the old timers, the coal miners and ranchers in our town."

Those "old timers" still come to hear Sweet Sunny South, but more teens are checking out this old-fashioned sound.

"When we play cities all the punkers, the kids, they love it," Miller said of the near "hypnotic" sound Sweet Sunny South creates.

Combining two popular styles from back in the day, Sweet Sunny South writes in a bluegrass style with jazz influence, meaning people take improvisational solos on nearly half their tunes. The other half is more of the old-time music with fiddle-driven melodies that make for a good dancing beat.

"Wherever we go, the more and more young people we play for. We find more people are dancing more than we would have expected in the beginning," Miller said.

Other bands featured at this year's festival will include Melissa Warner, winner of the 1999 SLAMMY (Salt Lake Area Music Award) for best Folk/Acoustic and 2001 SLAMMY for best female vocalist. She will be joined by Dale Keys, Gina French, John Dupuy, Lonnie Knight and the Springdale-based performers of Red Rock Rondo.

After attending the festival the past two years, Bimstein said the musicians behind Red Rock Rondo decided sharing their music in this rural festival seemed like a natural fit.

Red Rock Rondo celebrates the community life of Zion National Park but the stories also tell of places and people in small Utah towns, Bimstein said. "I think you would find similar stories in many towns around Utah so it will feel very good to sing the Red Rock Rondo songs in Torrey."

Red Rock Rondo has been performed throughout the state, including a sneak preview performance in Rockville earlier this year and premiers in Salt Lake City. Now the full Rondo will be performed 8 p.m. Friday in Springdale at the OC Tanner Amphitheater and 4 p.m. Saturday in Torrey as part of a Southern Utah tour.

"It's a great festival," Bimstein said of the Torrey event, "so it's great to be invited."

The 20 or so acts participating in this year's event were narrowed down from a pool of 60 submissions by director Steve Lutz and a committee. In between the main musical acts will be "tweeners" playing a couple of songs. Audiences will then vote on their favorite "tweener" and that group will be invited back to play a full set at next year's event.

It gives people from around the state an opportunity to participate and gain some recognition, Lutz said.

As of press time there were still some slots available for tweener groups. For more information, e-mail Lutz at

The Torrey Music Festival will take place Friday-Sunday, Aug. 4-6. Tickets are $20 per day or $45 for all three days. For more information, check out on the Internet.

Originally published Friday, July 28, 2006