Grass-roots festival kicks off |

Grass-roots festival kicks off

Zimbabwean thumb piano featured in festival

Who: More than 20 Colorado bands, including Steamboat singer, songwriter and mbira player Virginia Barrett What: Colorado Grass Roots Music Festival When: Today through Sunday Where: State Bridge Lodge, off Colorado Highway 131 in Bond. Cost: $15 a day or $35 for the weekend. Free camping. Tickets available at http://www.coloradograss.... org or by calling State Bridge Lodge at (970) 653-4444.

The Colorado Grass Roots Music Festival features more than 20 Colorado bands and solo performers playing “unplugged” at State Bridge Lodge this weekend. The lineup includes rock, blues, alternative, folk and Celtic — and the melodic sounds of the Zimbabwean thumb piano.

The festival kicks off tonight with Steamboat Springs resident Virginia Barrett singing her soulful, poetic lyrics in English and Shona, accompanied by the sweet, rhythmic sounds of her mbira. The mbira, known as a “Zimbabwean thumb piano,” is a sacred instrument of the Shona people from Zimbabwe. The Shona traditionally play the soothing, tinny-sounding instrument during all-night ceremonies in honor of their ancestors.

Barrett said she initially was inspired to learn the mbira by friends who were in the Colorado band called Jaka that featured traditional Zimbabwean instruments. She had written poetry for years and was interested in singing, but it wasn’t until she attended a Zimbabwean music camp near Santa Fe that she saw her shining chance to incorporate these pursuits.

Soon after, Barrett found herself in Zimbabwe, where she spent six months studying the mbira with Zimbabwean teachers and writing the songs for her solo debut CD, released this year, called “Show Me the Way.” The CD includes a collection of Barrett’s original lyrics and melodies sung to traditional mbira pieces.

This summer, Barrett is a visual arts teacher at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp. She has been performing sporadically on the mbira during Monday open mic nights on Mondays at Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill and plans to continue doing so in the upcoming weeks.

Among the other bands sharing the stage during the Colorado Grass Roots Festival are Bodha Celtic Music and Sentimental Hitmen from Boulder, The Meek from Vail, Sweet Sunny South from Paonia, Bluegrace Mountain Band from Eagle and the Lazy String Gang from Denver. For the full festival lineup and tickets, visit Proceeds from the festival benefit the Colorado Children’s Foundation.

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