By Emily Clingman-Johnson
When Jeff Reichert wondered how he could help struggling animal shelters, he had no idea he would eventually be the founder of a one-of-a-kind event known only to Northern Colorado.
As publisher of the Colorado Paw Pages, a directory and information guide for animal enthusiasts, Reichert regularly heard stories of animal shelters and non-profit organizations in the region lacking the funds they need to keep up with the demand for their services. Reichert, a fervent dog lover and music junkie, came up with a fundraising idea – The Bark and Bluegrass Festival.
He pitched the idea of an outdoor music fest where dogs were allowed to attend to the community, and not only was the idea well received, it came to fruition and wound up being one of the coolest gigs in Fort Collins last summer.
Held in Civic Center Park last July, Bark and Bluegrass shattered every expectation Reichert had for the event. 1,500 people and 600 dogs came out for a day of music, food, beer, dancing, kiddie pools, hula-hoops, Frisbees and all kinds of fun.
“It was super chill,” Reichert recalled. “Totally different from other music festivals where people rush to the front. People were laying on blankets in the shade and just truly enjoying the music and the vibe.”
Not that it didn’t get more exciting as the day progressed – one highlight during Drew Emmit’s (lead singer of jam band Leftover Salmon) performance was getting all the canine attendees to howl at the same time.
“I loved that so many communities came together as one for a day,” Reichert said. “We had the business community, the non-profits, animal lovers, animals, music lovers, families…it was awesome”
So awesome that Bark and Bluegrass is scheduled for two days this year, with a stellar line-up of local bands and some nationally known acts as well, including The Everyone Orchestra (EO) – an improvisational musical project that features a constantly revolving roster of musicians. Conducted by Matt Butler (of Hot Buttered Rum), EO creates different music at each performance.
“These are totally accomplished, proficient artists,” Butler said. “It’s fresh and exciting to bring them together.”
EO’s line-up at this year’s Bark and Bluegrass will feature Michael Kang of String Cheese Incident, Erik Yates & Nat Keefe of Hot Buttered Rum, Matt Loewen & Joe Lessard of Head For The Hills and Dave Watts of The Motet.
Butler considers himself a traffic director of sorts. He leads each show with body gestures and words he writes on white boards. He often includes the audience participation.
“It’s really unique,” he said. “Especially when the audiences gets in on it. Imagine getting three hundred to ten thousand people singing the same note.”
Other musical performers at this year’s event include Hot Buttered Rum, Musketeer Gripweed, Tony Furtado, Good Gravy, Oakhurst, SHEL, The Holler! and many more.
An event like this doesn’t come together by itself, of course. Jeff Reichert has a background in marketing, not event planning.
“The biggest event I’ve ever planned was my wedding,” laughed Reichert.
As he pulled together his festival team last year, one woman became invaluable to Reichert. Cindy Lee, President of the Wags and Menace Foundation in Denver, offered loads of advice and assistance to Reichert. She was so helpful that her foundation has been named as this year’s presenting sponsor for Bark and Bluegrass.
“Bark & Bluegrass is a tremendous compliment to community tolerance and appreciation for animals,” Lee said. “Not even in Oregon or California, where dogs commonly accompany their owners into stores and events, is there anything like this festival.”
Lee likes the synergy the festival creates among animals and humans.
“It’s grassroots,” she said.
For twelve years, Lee has been an animal activist. Her foundation specializes in medical care for sick animals in Colorado and also offers educational programming to the community.
“If you commit to an animal, you commit to your family and your community,” Lee said.
All in all, Bark and Bluegrass is a “win-win” event on many levels. It’s fun, educational and gratifying for all involved. The beneficiaries of this fundraiser win the most, however: Money raised by the event will be donated to the Larimer Humane Society and Animal House Rescue.
Marcie Willms, community relations manager at the Humane Society, said that an event like this is amazing.
“As a non-profit organization, we are very dependent on financial support from the community,” she said. “We are so thankful for all of the help [we’ve received].”
The Larimer Humane Society serves nearly 12,000 injured, homeless, ill and orphaned animals, wild and domestic. Animal House Rescue saves animals slated for euthanasia.
Reichert is excited for this year’s second annual festival and wants everyone to come.
“It’s like Woodstock,” he said. “You just won’t know how cool it is unless you experience it.”
The Second Annual Bark & Bluegrass Festival will take place at Civic Center Park on July 23 & 24. Tickets purchased in advance are $20, and will rise to $25 the day of the event. Admission includes entry for two friendly, fully vaccinated dogs per person.
Visit coloradopawpages.com for more information.