Singer and songwriter Matt Munisteri will perform from “The Great American Songbook” will perform at this year's Ranch Benefit Concert on Tuesday, Sept. 3. 

Great music by world class artists will be showcased in sandstone grottos, within the shade of cottonwood trees and in historic Star Hall during the 21st Moab Music Festival to be held Aug. 29 to Sept. 9.

“Our 21st season celebrates a new generation of instrumentalists and singer/songwriters, while paying homage to the ancient characteristics of the Moab landscape, the original people of America, and musical masterpieces,” said Michael Barrett, co-founder and music director of the Moab Music Festival. “I think we’ve found a fabulous balance of youthful energy and history.”

The first concert is in a hidden grotto on the edge of the Colorado River at noon, Thursday, Aug. 29. It is one of three Grotto Benefit Concerts to be held during the festival.

The experience begins with a 40-minute jet boat trip down the Colorado River with views of canyon walls flanking the river. Then there is a very short hike into a cavernous red rock amphitheater, much like a natural concert hall.

Music for this concert includes John Musto’s “River Songs”; Johannes Brahms’ “Clarinet Trio in a minor, Op. 114”; and Franz Schubert’s “String Quintet in C Major, D. 956”.

The official opening night of the festival is Friday, Aug. 30 at the historic Star Hall. This concert includes “Six Pieces in Canon Form” by Robert Schumann: Manhattan, a film entitled “Self-Portrait” by cellist Nick Canellakis with music by pianist Michael Brown. There will also be a world premiere by Carla Kihlstedt based on Kenneth Koch’s “1,000 Avant-Garde Plays”, Sergei Prokofiev’s “Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 3”; and Johannes Brahms’ lofty “Clarinet Quintet in b minor, Op. 115”.

Open rehearsal for Sunday’s concert begins at 11 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 31 at Star Hall. While the open rehearsal is free, tickets are limited and must be reserved in advance.

That evening, Red Cliffs Lodge will host “The Future of American Song”, featuring Gabriel Kahane. Kahane will be joined by Carla Kihlstedt and Mathias Bossi of Rabbit Rabbit Radio. The three have been producing original songs that draw from popular and classical music and American folk idioms.

“I am excited about the ‘Future of American Song’ concert and the new pieces that will be performed throughout the Festival. Growing up and living in many rural communities, I have found that I have missed out on much of the ‘new’ music throughout the years so I am always interested to hear what musicians are conceiving or performing,” said Laura Brown, director of the Moab Music Festival.

For those seeking a little exercise and adventure, there is a Music Hike on Sunday, Sept. 1 featuring the performance of “Dohnanyi Serenade Op. 10” and a Mozart Duo for violin/viola by a string trio.

“Patrons should be in fairly good shape. The hike itself is generally not overtly strenuous and we keep it to less than 30 minutes, but patrons should have a moderate level of agility and stamina,” Brown said. “There are occasional places where we hike over slick rock or the terrain is unbalanced. Of course there is always the sun and altitude to worry about so we ask patrons to drink plenty of water and of course, wear shoes fit for hiking.”

That night Red Cliffs Lodge will host “The Wisdom of the Earth,” a concert rooted in the legacy of America’s native people. It will feature works by Kenji Bunch, Russell Goodluck and Juantio Becenti.

“American Songs Then and Now” is the theme on Monday, Sept. 2 for the Free Annual Labor Day Rocky Mountain Power Family Picnic Concert in Old City Park. This festival tradition will include knee-slapping, hand clapping and flag-waving – both literally and figuratively – during an exploration of American song heritage from the last 300 years, including traditional folk songs and songs by Bolcom, Bernstein, Ives, Gershwin, Carla Kihlstedt, and others.

Musicians for the opening weekend are pianists Michael Barrett, Timothy Long, and Michael Brown; baritone Adrian Rosas; violinists Jennifer Frautschi, Charles Yang and Arnaud Sussmann; violist and Festival Artistic Director Leslie Tomkins; cellists Tanya Tomkins and Jay Campbell, singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Gabriel Kahane; singer/percussionist Mathias Bossi; violinist/composer Carla Kihlstedt; flute player Russell Goodluck; composer Juantio Becenti, and Christopher Layer on pipes, flutes.

Singers and songwriters of “The Great American Songbook” will perform at this year’s Ranch Benefit Concert on Tuesday, Sept. 3. It is an intimate evening featuring guitarist and singer/songwriter Matt Munisteri and violinist Mazz Swift.

A second House Benefit Concert on Wednesday, Sept. 4 will feature an evening of fine food and good accompanied by chamber music by Janáček and Mendelssohn, and Michael Brown’s “5 a.m.”

The season’s second Colorado River Grotto Concert on Thursday, Sept. 5 includes the “Faure Violin Sonata in A Major, No. 1, Op. 13,” Mozart’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano in e minor, K.304” and Brahms’ “Quintet for Strings, Op. 111”.

On Friday, Sept. 6, there will be chamber music on the banks of the Colorado River at Sorrel River Ranch. Sets include “Astor Piazzolla”, “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” and “Piano Quintet in D Major, Op. 51”.

The season’s second free Open Rehearsal is on Saturday morning Sept. 7 at Star Hall.

“Michael Barrett will take some time to talk about how all the pieces he chose for this concert show the influence of Beethoven. There is a lot of scholarship about the immense reach that Beethoven has over composers,” Brown said.

That evening there is another concert at Sorrel River Ranch by the Pedrito Martinez Group featuring Ariacne Trujillo. The ensemble has roots planted firmly in the Afro-Cuban Rumba tradition and the bata rhythms and vocal chants of the music of Yoruba and Santeria.

“Pedrito Martinez Group is the new ‘it; group with their Afro-Cuban music. We’ll have a dance area for those who want to move,” Brown said. “Pedrito’s smile is infectious!”

On Sunday, Sept. 8 the second Music Hike has a program called “Rhapsodies and Rhythms: Old World Melodies in the Americas.

“We often think of American Folk music as having its origins in the musical traditions of the British Isles, but this is only true if we’re just looking at a small slice of North America. The Caribbean, Central and South America inherited their own traditions of African, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese music,” said Matt Munisteri. “And when the Old World’s melodies met exotic new rhythms in the New World, the trade winds dispersed a newly impassioned and virtuosic music.”

Munisteri will be joined by Joe Barbato, Chris Layer and Dennis Lichtman for the hike concert where they will provide a program of Brazilian choros and sambas, Caribbean beguines and calypsos, and stowaway tarantellas and waltzes.

Closing Night at Star Hall on Sept. 8 features a masterpiece by Neils W. Gade: “Octet, Op. 17” and Max Reger’s rarely-heard “Piano Quartet”.

The third and final Colorado River Grotto Concert is Monday, Sept. 9. The concert will feature works by Bach, including his “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major”, and the “Suite for solo viola in E-flat major, BWV 1010”.

For those who crave more adventure and there’s a 4-day, 3-night custom Colorado River raft trip that begins with the Sept. 9 Grotto Concert and features intimate concerts performed by world class musicians in unforgettable river settings. A local naturalist also joins the expedition to lead a series of short, scenic hikes, as well as to provide insight into the history and spectacular geology of Canyon Country.

Musicians for the second weekend include violinists Elena Urioste, Arnaud Sussman, Mazz Swift, Charles Yang and Harumi Rhodes; violists Leslie Tomkins and Jodi Levitz; cellists Tanya Tomkins, Jay Campbell, and Nick Canellakis; pianists Michael Brown, Eric Zivian and Michael Barrett (who will also conduct); guitarist Matt Munisteri; guitarist and accordianist Joe Barbato; bass player Robert Black; Dennis Lichtman on mandolin, clarinet and fiddle; Chris Layer on pipes and flutes, and the Pedrito Martinez Group featuring singer Ariacne Trujillo.

Free concerts during the Moab Music Festival

Open Rehearsals

11 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 31 at Star Hall, 151 E. Center. St.

11 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 7 at Star Hall, 151 E. Center St.

Rocky Mountain Power Family Picnic Concert

2 p.m., Monday, Sept. 2, at Old City Park, off Murphy Lane in Spanish Valley

And of course the red-rock landscape always seems to give our concerts an added depth we can find only here.”