Take Her To The River: Lindsay Lou On A Unique Music Festival

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Summer 2021 has passed, and as we take stock of the memories of this precious season of renewal and relative freedom, few of us will have better stories than Lindsay Lou of Nashville. At the end of July, work, play and worship became indistinguishable when the singer and songwriter was part of the exclusive talent lineup for RiverWonderGrass, multi-day trips to ancient and wild Western rivers with little but the essentials. of life – food, shelter and live acoustic music.

Combining the intimacy of a folk house concert with the natural grandeur of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, RiverWondergrass was born out of WinterWonderGrass, a series of epic, cold-weather, mostly outdoor festivals at ski resorts. Founder Scotty Stoughton, musician, promoter and naturalist, kicked off the series at a Colorado brewery in 2013 with the Infamous Stringdusters throwing themselves into a snowstorm. Since then, the feasts, expanding to larger and larger venues, have been an ideal platform for Greensky Bluegrass, the Sam Bush Band, Billy Strings, and the rest of the Jamgrass Nation.

“Scotty has responded to the pandemic by putting an end to his life’s work, basically,” Lindsay Lou told me sitting on her porch in East Nashville. “He said, you know what?” I’m going to be doing small groups, outdoors, bringing music into nature – always doing what it does, but on a smaller scale, in a safe way in the context of what’s going on in the world. world. And after playing and hanging out at WinterWondergrass, Lou was eager to participate in the summer river version.

Lou grew up in Michigan surrounded by campfires and the rugged natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula. She also took road trips west with her father to visit an uncle in Montana. “I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Colorado Rockies light up at sunrise,” she said of one of those trips.

With that in her past and a spirit always searching for a new angle of existence, she eagerly signed up to be an artist on RiverWonderGrass – a floating festival of six or seven large, ready-to-live-water rafts piloted by guides from Jensen, Utah outfitting Adrift Dinosaur. The public is limited to about twenty people. The talent lineup consists of two or three musicians who have a history together and understand the spirit of travel, in this case Colorado-based guitarist and conductor Tyler Grant and Nashville multi-instrumentalist PJ George.

I didn’t know any of this when I started seeing photos and videos emerging in late July of Lindsay Lou with Tyler and PJ picking in a beautiful river canyon. When I reached out about it, she confirmed that it was as exciting as it sounded. “It really steals your heart, the beauty of this area,” Lou says. “And that just makes sense. Music and nature have meaning. These are really fundamental parts of the human condition, things that connect us to ourselves. So I took a trip last year. This year, I have made two consecutive trips.

The trip shown here covers 44 miles of the Green River from western Colorado to Jensen, UT, through the Gates of Ledore Canyon in the Dinosaur National Monument. Musicians serenade for breakfast on one of the many great beaches along the unspoiled waterway. Then the instruments are placed in waterproof bags with all other equipment and the days are spent paddling or hiking as the expedition heads downstream, sometimes over Class III-IV rapids.

“So you float all day, looking at the canyons and seeing bald eagles and bighorn sheep and crossing rapids,” Lou explains. “And then you get to where you’re going. Everyone stands in a line of fire and brings everything to the campsite. We have created another circle. After dinner, the musicians would sit around a small fire and everyone would play for a few hours.

On the third day, she recalls, the expedition passes the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers and a place called Echo Canyon. “That’s where there’s this huge rock face that comes right up against the water, and you’re surrounded in such a way that it’s very resonant. And it’s very flat, the water calm, so we take our instruments’ out onto the rafts and we perform.

For the second of Lou’s two trips, his musical partner was Mimi Naja, co-founder of the group Fruition. The clientele was entirely female. “It was like a really intense female trip, and I was here with Mimi, who is a very important friend of mine,” she said. It ended with a day of 18 miles of rapids that Lou rode in an inflatable kayak solo. “I was just tottering, just tottering with joy. And, you know, because of this transitional period in my life, I’ve been living in real darkness. (Lou divorced her husband for almost ten years recently.) And this trip totally, totally ripped me off. I mean, I felt like it was just like a shot in the vein of prospect and joy. You know, and I took it with me.

Organizer Stoughton says Lindsay Lou has been a recurring artist at his events because she fully embraces the ethics he filmed for. “I really think more than just putting on a show,” Stoughton told me over the phone this week, referring to both WinterWonderGrass and RiverWonderGrass. “I want everyone to feel connected. And we hold them accountable for the success of our gatherings. It is not a party. It is an event filled with objectives. We do not promote the consumption of alcohol. It’s more like we honor ourselves and our families and friends and Mother Nature here. Sure, you can grab a beer and get up on your heels. But that’s not the point. We need more intention in our world to give people the opportunity to rediscover themselves.

Lou absolutely shines when telling the story of RiverWonderGrass. “Being on the river with Mimi and all these women on the full moon and singing all these love songs and songs that honor our connection to nature, I was built for this situation.”


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