The Moab Music Festival is a one-of-a-kind music festival that includes old and new chamber music, Latin-flavored jazz, and traditional music from around the world. Twenty different concerts take place in a variety of settings, both indoors and outdoors – although it’s the outside venues that the festival is best known for.
There are “grotto” concerts accessible only by boat on the Colorado River; and music hikes – always in a secret location – reachable by hiking a mile after being dropped off at the trailhead by a shuttle.
Indoor venues include Star Hall, Red Cliffs Lodge, private homes and school auditoriums.
This year’s event, which runs from Thursday, Aug. 31, through Monday, Sept. 11, celebrates the festival’s 25th anniversary since it was founded by Michael Barrett and Leslie Tomkins. The professional musicians from New York City fell in love with the Moab landscape while on a “rare” vacation a quarter century ago.
Notable acts this year include 2016 Grammy Award-winning banjo duo Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. Additionally, Marcus Roberts – whom Barrett called his “favorite living jazz pianist” will perform two concerts – one at Star Hall, and another at a private residence.
Another act, The Requinte Trio, includes nine-time Grammy winner Janis Siegel of the Manhattan Transfer, pianist/arranger John di Martino, and singer, percussionist, guitarist and songwriter Nancy Assis. Bassist Leo Traversa will join the trio for a night of Brazilian jazz, soul and original songs on Sunday, Sept. 3, at Red Cliffs Lodge on state Route 128.
Barrett, a pianist, and Tomkins, a violist, gather approximately 40 musicians each year who come to Moab, where they rehearse together to perform in a variety of small ensembles throughout the week.
This year’s festival also celebrates the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein, whom Barrett described as “the greatest musician of the 20th century.” A closing night Leonard Bernstein Centennial concert will take place at the Grand County High School auditorium on Sunday, Sept. 10. Bernstein’s daughter Jamie Bernstein will narrate the evening with personal anecdotes about her father.
While the majority of the concerts are ticketed events, there are two free concerts that you should know about. The annual Labor Day Rocky Mountain Power Family concert, held at Old City Park in Spanish Valley on Monday, Sept. 4, at 2 p.m. is a favorite of festival coordinator Erin Groves.
“The concert highlights different parts of the festival,” Groves said. “I love the selection. I also love the venue,” where there’s shade and children can run around, and even play on the nearby playground while their parents enjoy the music. “It’s a lovely, family-friendly, relaxed venue.”
Special this year at the Labor Day concert, in honor of the festival’s 25th anniversary, is the “dessert booth,” where summer beverages will also be served at no cost, Groves said.
“It’s part of our ‘thank-you’ for 25 years of support and patronage,” she said.
Another free concert worth mentioning is the annual open rehearsal conversation on Saturday, Sept. 9, at Star Hall, 159 E. Center St. Six musicians will rehearse Johannes Brahms’ Sextet for Strings in G Major – music that will be performed at the third Grotto concert. Barrett will be present to explain to the audience what is taking place.
“It’s an insiders’ view of how musicians work to create a concert,” Groves said. “It’s a lot of fun; they do it every year.”
Each year the festival also arranges for free concert assemblies for students in grades kindergarten through 12. Fiddler Brittany Haas – a regular on “A Prairie Home Companion” – her sister Natalie and other musicians will perform for the elementary students a mix of traditional, Appalachian, Scandinavian and original tunes.
The middle- and high school students will be treated to a concert titled “Who was Leonard Bernstein?” – a sample of what will take place during the closing Leonard Bernstein Centennial Celebration concert.
“Leonard Bernstein really loved reaching out to young audiences,” which is the reason this concert was chosen, Groves said.
Thanks to the support of donors, the Moab Music Festival also awards five $300 scholarships to children in grades two through 12 to further their music education. The due date to apply is Monday, Aug. 28. Applicants are required to have had at least one year of experience with an instrument. That can be through the BEACON Afterschool Program, private lessons or through participation in school band, for example. Recipients will be announced at the Labor Day concert.
Five years ago, longtime Moab Music Festival artist-in-residence Christopher Layer partnered with the high school marching band to create the annual Band Aid Concert, which happens once a year in late August at the Farmers Market, at Swanny City Park.
Middle and high school band director Casey Lawson said the concert generates donations for the marching band. Passersby like to put money in the tuba bell, she said. This year’s concert will take place on Friday, Aug. 25, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Lawson said she and her students enjoy the concerts the festival puts on for the schools.
“I appreciate the opportunity to expose them to outside performers and music they wouldn’t hear otherwise,” Lawson said.
Event features chamber music, Latin jazz, Bernstein celebration and much more
“Notable acts this year include 2016 Grammy Award-winning banjo duo Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. Additionally, Marcus Roberts … will perform two concerts – one at Star Hall, and another at a private residence.”
When: Thursday, Aug. 31, through Monday, Sept. 11
Where: Various indoor and outdoor venues around Moab
Information: www.moabmusicfest.org; 435-259-7003
For more information, go to: www.moabmusicfest.org, or call 435-259-7003