Never Ending Sea of Smiles: A Review of Beanstalk Music and Mountains Fest
14 Jun 2015

The Author

Profile photo of Abby Benjamin
Soulful Scorpio always chasing the next adventure in the outside world and within.


As the last week of May progressed, excitement grew inside me knowing I’d soon be surrounded by incredible natural beauty, hypnotic music, and smiling faces.  Beanstalk was shaping up to be a family affair, as I spoke with dozens of friends making plans to travel to State Bridge for the three days of bliss that awaited us.  My heart leaped as my friend Kristen knocked on the door Friday afternoon, already “festied out” in patterned flair pants and a sexy black crop top. I was unusually prepared with all my gear by the front door, ready to begin the adventure.

Time flew by as we drove west into the mountains, finally arriving at the infamous 131 turn-off where all cell phone signals vanish. Our surrounding landscape changed from majestic snowy mountains to alpine desert featuring different shades of green. The anticipation built as we drove alongside the river and pulled up next to State Bridge hearing construction, laughs, and sound-checks. We made our way down the road to the designated camping area at Rancho del Rio. This clearing was a few miles away, and as we arrived we were informed that a shuttle would take us to the music every thirty minutes.


Rancho del Rio campgrounds as the train rolled by!

The lack of cell service manifested worry about finding the friends we were supposed to camp with. Nevertheless we followed the instructions of a mo-hawked, weather-beaten man parking cars. We put on sweaters, stepped out into the cool mountain air, and gazed upon our breathtaking new home for the next three days. Seemingly on cue, a whistle rang in the distance as a train rolled by, met with cheers from festival-goers setting up their campsites. We grabbed a few necessities and set off with the hope of running into our friends.

While walking through the camp I noticed that everyone was in great spirits and getting the party started quite early it seemed. I heard my name from a few different directions, stopped and said hello, but couldn’t seem to find our camp. Just before exasperation set in, Kristen yelled, “There they are!!” and we ran to greet our good friends who had set up an easy-up, table, chairs, and coolers. They welcomed us warmly and offered their wagon to help load in our stuff.  We quickly filled the wagon with our gear and set up our tent-homes, hoping to get to the music as soon as possible.


Sparkleberry Alex Reynaldo hooping to the Kitchen Dwellers

The group gathered by shuttle pick-up and we began our first of many trips up the hill to State Bridge.  We arrived just in time for Montana-based bluegrass shredders the Kitchen Dwellers, inspiring an instant stop-drop-and-hoop session. This was my first time seeing music at State Bridge, so I took a moment to take in the surroundings. The venue area was quite small and intimate, and the stage backdrop was an absolutely gorgeous mountain view.  As the Kitchen Dwellers ended I found some friends who invited me back to their yurt behind the venue.  As I saw a line of cabins and yurts occupied by festive souls, I wondered if I should have planned better and reserved one instead of camping 4+ miles away from the music.


View from my friends’ yurt

Their quaint yurt was tucked away on a hill overlooking the venue and filled with old familiar faces. I exchanged hugs and kisses, made myself a stiff drink and congregated on the porch with stunning views of the mountains.  I’d never felt more at home or in love with the glorious state of Colorado.  After checking the clock I realized that Florida-based jam-funk band The Main Squeeze was about to come on.  I said good-bye and headed back into the venue.  On the way down I realized that even though the yurts were closer to the music, the camping area seemed to have more action when the music wasn’t going on. Rancho was hosting yoga and hoop classes, and had the river to enjoy during the day.  I wondered what I would do up in a yurt all day before the music…probably hitch a ride down to Rancho (shuttles only ran when music was going on).


The Main Squeeze as the sun went down

The Main Squeeze killed it; the energy in the crowd was palpable. It was refreshing to see a funk element included in a jam-dominated line-up.  The vibrant colors of the earth shifted from light to dark as the sun set over the mountains, in turn shifting our mood from day to night energy.

Kyle Hollingsworth Band with Michael Kang was the next act and I was particularly excited for them; because, the String Cheese Incident is probably my #1.  Kyle was dressed silly as usual in his signature tie-dye onesie and a beanie with huge pink furry balls dangling on either side. Their soulful set featured many songs from Kyle’s new album, Speed of Life, including one of my favorites “Fallin’ Through the Cracks.” Kang’s energy fit right into the band’s dynamic, and the playfulness between Kyle and Kang was (to my excitement) reminiscent of the full String Cheese Incident.

Weeks earlier the Magic Beans told me in an interview that Kyle and Kang were some of their biggest influences and inspirations. Knowing that, I can only imagine how the Beans felt taking the stage after them, headlining their own music festival. You could see the pure, raw energy pouring out of them as they took the stage and greeted the supporters of their third annual music celebration. Their first set of the weekend illustrated how far they’ve come as a band, showing off the musical prowess that has come to define them. Corey Frye and Ben Silverstein from the Main Squeeze joined in for the latter part of the set, throwing a funk spin on the space jam that had been flowing. Friday night blew me away, and I headed back to the campsite satisfied with my musical fill. Unfortunately I was greeted with a bone-chilling wet cold you only find near bodies of water.  A thermal sleeping bag and two fleece blankets couldn’t comfort me, so I tossed and turned until the sun came up and warmed my tent, allowing me to finally get some much needed rest.

Because of the hard night I awoke on Saturday later than expected, but I didn’t let that taint my mood.  I was greeted by my friends’ beautiful faces offering water and food to start my day.  A voice in the distance echoed “fresh pressed carrot beet juice” and I followed it in the hopes of putting the concoction in my body immediately. I found a gentleman with a small purse-like cooler offering beet, carrot, lemon, ginger AND turmeric juice. Though I thought $10 was pretty steep for a small mason jar of liquid, I recognized the value and effort put into making them and secured myself one.  The juice gave me so much clean energy, I felt like I could take on the world!


Friends by the river

I set off to explore the campsite and ran into some friends wading ankle deep in the river. Memories from the refreshing water at YarmonyGrass came rushing back to me (though that event is in August), yielding a much different water temperature than May. I dipped my big toe in and an unfamiliar shriek came out of me, likely a combination of the near freezing temperature and PTSD from my frigid night spent rolling around in my tent. My friends laughed and told me that I had no choice but to jump in, an offer I quickly brushed aside. However, after hearing how invigorating the water felt, I threw on my bathing suit and my imaginary “big girl pants” and cannonballed into the icy depths.  Though my face was lovingly described as a “wet cat” when I reached the surface, it was one of the best feelings in the world (Keller/SCI pun intended). Now feeling like I could take on the universe, I headed to the yoga session that had just begun.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people had shown up, and I joined in for some stretches and sun salutations. I noticed a beautiful massage booth set up next to the yoga area – a pristine setting to work out the kinks from dancing all night!


Juno What?! warming up Saturday night!

We headed back up to State Bridge for synth-funk side project Juno What?! featuring Joey Porter and Garrett Sayers from The Motet, freelance guitar virtuoso Dan Schwindt, and Tyrone Hendrix from Stevie Wonder’s touring band. Their fun, upbeat set kept the crowd dancing and wanting more. The much anticipated Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (JRAD) was up next, and this would be my first time seeing the Grateful Dead cover band I hear so much about.  From the beginning, I instantly understood the hype. There are a lot of bands who try to emulate the Grateful Dead’s sound, many of which seem to be constantly playing Denver venues. In my opinion, JRAD is one that keeps the true spirit of the Grateful Dead alive. Their musicianship is beyond belief, and the dynamic on stage is so fluid and seamless that it lifts you up and takes you to another world.  I also love seeing the drummer as a front man – a rarity for most full-piece bands.

After two face-melting JRAD sets I wondered if the Magic Beans had made the right choice playing AFTER the Grateful Dead reincarnated.  To my amazement, I watched a nascent band in it’s fifth year of existence slam the crowd with their psychedelic space jam, showing that they are a force to be reckoned with. I heard so many different influences as they weaved their way through the set, giving the crowd exactly what they wanted on a Saturday night. One of my particular favorites was a cover of Bob Marley’s “Iron, Lion, Zion”, a version that reinvented the song while maintaining it’s powerful essence. While grooving I looked around at the crowd and saw nothing but smiling faces and bodies that couldn’t stop moving.  Needless to say I was impressed by the way the Magic Beans held down the night.

Floating on a cloud, we returned back to the camp in search of late night shenanigans.  In the area where yoga was being held during the day we found an impromptu dance party with a mini disco ball and light set-up.  We began a fire circle next to it with talented spinners, staffers, and hoopers.  I had never fire hooped, but Kristen had brought one and asked to keep it in my tent.  I took this as a sign.  With her permission I grabbed the hoop and brought it to the fire circle.  My heart raced, and I asked myself genuinely if this was a good idea, knowing I had been partying all night.  Despite my rage face I felt very centered, and my intuition yelled, “YES”.  A friend helped me fuel the spokes and I carefully lit them in a fire pit.  A rush of adrenaline came over me as I stared at the flames and began experimenting with off-body tricks.  The whooshing sound of the fire was intoxicating, and instilled courage within me.  This feeling and the positive response from the crowd was all I needed to keep spinning, loving every minute of it.  A tiny bit of my hair was singed in the flame, but it was a fair trade for my overwhelming sense of accomplishment. The Sunday morning sun lit the sky, signaling to my body and mind that the night was finally over. Before cozying up in my tent I took some time to appreciate the beauty of the dawn I so rarely get to see.

When I got as much rest as needed I arose with a bittersweet feeling knowing it was the last day of the festival.  We had to leave that night due to work commitments, so we packed up camp and loaded the car before heading up to the music. I wanted to catch Iron Horse – a 4-piece bluegrass cover band who’d be pickin’ on Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Modest Mouse, and Black Sabbath. I always love hearing bluegrass renditions of completely different genres, and the spirit these older guys brought to the stage was awesome. The rain came, but it didn’t damper anyone’s mood!

Pure magic was in store for the last night.  Marc Brownstein, Aron Magner, and Allen Aucoin from the Disco Biscuits were onsite, as were members of JRAD, Brothers Past, and Particle.  First up was the “Magic Brownies” consisting of Brownstein and Aucoin with Scott Hatchey and Casey Russell from the Magic Beans, and Tom Hamilton from JRAD/American Babies/Brothers Past.  Brownstein gave a great opening speech, thanking the festival and expressing his love for the Colorado music community.  With that they created a brand new sound, reminiscent of the space jam from both the Disco Biscuits and the Magic Beans.  They threw this jam on top of a Grateful Dead classic, bringing it to a whole new level.  You could tell how excited Scott and Casey were to be playing with these legends.

Next up was Hollywood Nights featuring Magner, Aucoin, Hamilton, and Clay Parnell from Particle/Brothers Past. This set was absolutely incredible. The raw sound they produced was one that can only be created by a side project with influences from different bands. The crowd’s reaction fueled the fire and we all became one as the sun went down.

With that Kristen and I headed to Rancho and hit the road, hoping to make it back to Denver before 2am. As we drove by State Bridge we heard the Magic Beans keeping the party going once again. If they can get members from two of the biggest jam bands (Disco Biscuits and SCI) AND the best Grateful Dead cover band (JRAD) to play their festival, then they must be doing something right. Every time I realize how young the Magic Beans are, my mind is blown all over again. I can’t wait to see where their musical journey takes them next!


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