From the humble beginnings of hosting intimate band performances in a living room, the Rail Live Music Community has blossomed into a small music festival just outside Longmont known as “Rail on the River”—a true literal grassroots festival taking place on top of grass.
It all started when Paul Rennix offered his house as a performance space twenty years ago, inviting people and passing the hat to collect funds for the band. "Do you know anywhere we can play in Fort Collins?" the band had asked him. His response was simple yet revolutionary, "My house."
That impromptu house concert twenty years ago turned out to be not only a monetary replacement for the band but also a model that Rennix would replicate time and again. In his living room, bands found a welcoming space and an enthusiastic crowd.
"They made a little bit more than the bar was offering them," Rennix said, a testament to the supportive and appreciative audience that these house concerts attracted.
In 2015, Rennix started a Meetup group called the Rail Live Music Community and it has grown with people who have the same interest in offering an open environment where musicians can jam and socialize casually. A band sets up, and up to about fifty people gather, and a unique vibe permeates the room. Rennix describes it as, "the coolest party you're ever going to have."
However, the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic momentarily halted these gatherings. Yet, the group’s spirit remained undeterred. As soon as restrictions started to lift, they reignited these music-filled events in a safe manner. Seizing this renewed desire for community and connection, the group decided to elevate these gatherings into a mini festival, known today as the Rail on the River festival.
The Rail Live Music Community took a significant step to formalize its efforts by establishing a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called Rail Arts. Setting up Rail Arts was an essential step, allowing them to provide a larger platform for musicians while also strengthening the community aspect of these gatherings. Organizing a festival as vibrant and community-centered as Rail on the River involves substantial expenses, including artist fees and equipment costs.
Amy Heneghan, a member of the Rail Live Music Community, highlighted an essential aspect of their gatherings and the Rail on the River festival.
"We say party. I mean, it is a party but it's more about community and it's more about camaraderie, and enjoying music," Heneghan said.
The phrase 'party' may create an image of a raucous celebration, but for this group, their gatherings signify much more than that.
In the Rail Live Music Community, there is a blurring of the lines between performers and audience members. Everyone is involved and engaged, making the experience a shared celebration of music and community spirit. This approach reflects the true ethos of Rail Arts.
Andy Schwartz, another group member, also chimed in about the unique nature of their Rail on the River festival and their community events. He emphasized the accessibility of the musicians at these gatherings, noting how they are not just performers but active participants.
"The musicians are also part of it," Schwartz said. "They're accessible, they mingle, they don't just run off to some green room somewhere. They're part of the event that's happening."
"It's a really diverse group," Rennix said. "It leans heavier towards the 35 plus crowd with a pretty good distribution from 35 to 70. And there are plenty that are younger than that as well.”
Another group member, Kori Loadman, underscored the community’s role in forming personal bonds: "Relationships have been formed too. There have been couples that have come together. I can think of at least three that are still together."
The 2023 Rail on the River Music Festival, set for June 22-25, boasts an impressive lineup and tickets are still available. Kicking off with the Gasoline Lollipops on Thursday, June 22, the musical feast continues over the following days. Artists including the Teresa Storch Band, Wood Belly, Louder By The Hour, MOJOMAMMA and Crick Wooder will grace the stage.