State of the Yampa kicks off River Fest |

State of the Yampa Address kicks off River Fest

Indie folk band The Infamous Flapjack Affair wrote and played music on public lands of the Colorado River Basin in their film “Confluence.”
Photo courtesy of “Confluence”

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Of the long, winding weekend that is the 38th annual Yampa River Festival, the headwaters can be found at the Chief Theater at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The State of The Yampa Address event kicks off the festival with an evening of films, talks and presentations, all saturated with appreciation and understanding of the Yampa River.

The festival’s host, local nonprofit Friends of the Yampa, has the mission to protect and enhance the environmental and recreational integrity of the Yampa River and its tributaries through stewardship, advocacy, education and partnerships. A $10 donation at the door supports the group’s work.

The evening begins with the local premier of “Confluence,” directed by Amy Marquis and Dana Romanoff, a film that follows indie folk band The Infamous Flapjack Affair as it makes its way through the public lands of the Colorado River Basin. As the four friends and musicians roll from the rim of the Grand Canyon to Bears Ears National Monument to Dinosaur National Monument to Steamboat Springs to Rocky Mountain National Park, they facilitate conversations with people who’ve lived in the areas, often for generations. They aim to deepen their understanding of each place and of the river basin as a whole.

These conversations inspire and inform their songwriting and their jam sessions, which include guest musicians they meet along the way and often take place on stages of the cliffs and grasses of public lands.

The band absorbs the words and wisdom of Dianna Uqualla, a medicine woman from the Havasupai Nation; Pete Sands, a musician and member of the Navajo Nation at Montezuma Creek, near Bears Ears; Kyle Monger, a Yampa Valley rancher; and USGS ecologist Jenny Briggs.

“It’s an interesting ethical challenge in documentary filmmaking, because there’s so much power in the editing for how people are represented — especially in a film that features people from oppressed communities,” said IFA banjo player Ben Barron. “We tried to hold ourselves to the highest possible standard, allowing as much opportunity for our hosts to define the conversation.”

Sands, who sat in on his guitar with the band, shares insight gleaned from seeing decades of conflict over the land and waters of Bears Ears — including a 2017 executive order by the Trump Administration to reduce the size of the monument by 85 percent.

If you go

What: The State of the Yampa Address
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, May 30
Where: Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave
Price: $10 (donation to Friends of the Yampa)

“It’s possible to respect one another’s cultures and still be able to differentiate ourselves as individuals as well,” he said. “We might not like each other, but that doesn’t mean we need to battle each other.”

Barron and Sands will be in attendance at the address and will be jamming at The BARley Tap & Tavern after the address, starting at 9:30 p.m.

The Infamous Flapjack Affair plays music at sunrise on Colorado public land during their film “Confluence.”
Photo courtesy of “Confluence”

The event’s keynote speaker is Ray Sumner, local historian and great-great-grandson of Jack Sumner, a member of the John Wesley Powell Expedition, which began 150 years and six days ago, pushing off May 24, 1869. The expedition marked the first time white men navigated through that stretch of the Green and Colorado rivers to reach the Grand Canyon.

Sumner will talk through his research about the expedition and Powell’s expeditions on the Yampa River prior to the Grand Canyon trip.

“It’s important to understand our history. It shapes how things are today,” Sumner said. “I’d like attendees to really understand how the Middle Park area and Routt County really influenced and shaped what (the expedition members) did.”

The Infamous Flapjack Affair band members’ favorite quotes from “Confluence”
Amala Posey, Grand Canyon NPS ranger: “It humbles me to stand here and think about all the folks who came before me, and all the folks that will come after me. And how do we set the stage so that the next generation will conserve and protect?”
Dianna Uqualla, Medicine woman, Havasupai Nation: “We still carry the hurt and the pain that was put onto the native people, and we keep pushing it onto each generation. And when are we going to heal? Maybe this is where you come in. To begin the healing.
Pete Sands, musician, Bears Ears activist, Navajo Nation: “A lot of the land around here is always in danger because there are always natural resources that people are going after. You have to decide if the people who live in the area are not as important as the resources that they need somewhere else.”
Kyle Monger, rancher, Yampa River Valley: “We just want people to respect the history, and the heritage, and what we’re all about too.”
Jenny Briggs, ecologist, USGS: “In 2009, a wave of pine beetles came into Colorado from the Northern Rockies and from Canada. It was a landscape scale epidemic. But I guess my eye is always turned toward the little trees that are popping up. They are going to represent the future generations.”

Thursday night’s event also will screen the recently released short film “Making of The Yampa is Wild Mural,” by Ben Saheb and Rig To Flip. The film explores the creation and goals of the 70-foot painting featuring the entire Yampa River, which is set to be hung on the Ambulance Barn in June.

The mural was designed by Steamboat artist Jill Bergman, traced and painted by dozens of volunteers and supported by a partnership of Friends of the Yampa, Steamboat Creates, the city of Steamboat Springs and other organizations.

All evening, $4 Storm Peak beers will be available, and free snacks will be offered for as long as they last.

“The State of the Yampa is an opportunity to bring different people together,” Friends of the Yampa board member Greg Hamilton said. “The hope is that we keep advancing these discussions and the people in the community keep asking the good questions. That way people know what’s happening when the issues come up for votes.”

“One person can’t save the world, and no single one of us will stop climate change,” Barron said, “but that’s not an excuse to give up. We all need to think about what we can do in our own sphere to craft as responsible a relationship as possible with the places we call home.”

The Yampa River Festival continues through June 2, with river races, food trucks, beer gardens and gear demos. Find the full schedule at

To reach Julia Ben-Asher, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @juliabenasher.

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