This is an archived article that was published on in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Lynn Rogers remembers a night listening to the notes of famous musicians echo off the sandstone walls flanking the Colorado River during the Moab Music Festival.

As Béla Fleck and Chick Corea played after a wonderful meal, the Rio Rancho, N.M., music lover reveled in the moment, surrounded by beautiful music and spectacular scenery.

The night ended with fireworks.

Rogers and her husband, Kirk Benson, will be returning for the 24th season of the Moab festival, which runs Thursday through Sept. 12. It will be the fourth such visit for the couple.

"Once we discovered it, we have been trying to go every year," she said. "The first year, we eased into it. We did a grotto concert, a musical hike and attended a concert in Star Hall. It was fabulous."

The couple then saved for a raft trip that featured overnight camping and music, sometimes on the shore and at times while the rafts were floating down the Colorado.

The variety of experiences have made the Moab Music Festival a staple on the itineraries of many musical enthusiasts. Its popularity makes planning ahead important, since some of the more popular concerts sell out.

The festival features multinight Colorado River trips before and after the main event, concerts inside a beautiful redrock grotto where workers float a grand piano down the river and haul it into the location, and music hikes that require a trek to places divulged only to those who have signed up.

There are also free park concerts, benefits at local ranches and homes and less expensive performances at Moab's historic Star Hall.

This was the vision of New York-based musician Michael Barrett, who was looking for a place to stage a Western music festival with his wife, Leslie Tomkins.

They initially looked at Logan, where Barrett's parents were living. But a 1991 trip through Moab to Santa Fe changed all that.

"We had a big experience in a short time," he said. "We decided we had to come back. We went to Arches National Park, sat under an arch and saw a double rainbow. We said, 'Why don't we make the music festival here?' "

In those days, Moab was relatively quiet. You could buy a nice house for $40,000. Barrett and Tomkins were hooked.

"Once you come here, you come back," he said.

The couple purchased a home. Barrett became music director and set about starting the festival.

Every concert hall has a different sound.

"The acoustics are pure," said Barrett about playing in some of the outdoor venues. "The sound travels in some kind of unhampered, undisturbed ways."

He said that in traditional city concert halls, there is white noise such as air conditioners or city sounds. Those largely disappear in the wilderness. There is just silence.

Barrett has spent time in famous concert venues including Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.

"It's a different kind of experience down here," he said. "It is a much more spiritual experience. It is the meeting of music in the redrock landscape. It is the purity of the acoustic and the purity of Earth here. It is a great, great marriage. It touches my spirit."

Cellist Tanya Tomkins, who has come to the festival every year since its inception, calls Moab a magical place like nowhere else she has ever been. She said playing the festival is the high point of her year.

She said the grotto setting emulates some of the best concert halls in the world.

"The silence is not to be beaten," she said. "There is a bird that will sing. Concerts in that grotto are some of the most special I've played. We play differently. We are so inspired. We take off our shoes and put our feet in red sand. In that environment, there is lots of energy. You can feel it in the performances and the audiences."

Tomkins is always amazed at the places organizers select for the hike-in concerts.

"It's never a strenuous walk or hike," she said. "You don't know where you are going. There might be a ledge or a big surprise like an overlook. You wonder how we are going to do this. We're used to a controlled environment with a green room, bathroom and lighting a certain way. You get into these special places and let go of all sense of control. Great things happen. It is so different and so fun for everything."

But Tomkins has praise for the more traditional venues such as Star Hall, a place she calls a beautiful small theater that is perfect for chamber music.

"It's such a Western town with so many nice people, small businesses, restaurants and cafes," she said. "It is a wonderful place to be."

She remembers one intermission at a concert on the Red Cliffs Ranch on the banks of the Colorado.

"I was lying on my back on the lawn where the tent is and having an intermission where you look over the Colorado River and see the most spectacular sunset you can imagine," she said. "That epitomizes the experience."

Part of the festival's appeal is the variety of music played. This year's programs feature classical, the Beatles, opera, Spanish, chamber music, Brazilian, Latin, Cuban, Paraguayan, jazz, bluegrass and numbers from the Great American Songbook.

Barrett described the experience this way:

"I am a musician. Music touches me. It is what I care about. There is something about it. It is like the Earth and music come together. It is a more perfect moment than I have experienced anywhere in the world. And it happens to me every year."

Twitter: @tribtomwharton —

Moab Music Festival schedule

The festival presents concerts in many venues in and around Moab. For information, to buy tickets or to get on a waiting list, visit or go to the festival office at 58 E. 300 South, Moab.

Grotto concerts • Thursday, Sept. 1, and Sept. 8 and 12; sold out

Schubert/Beatles • Thursday, Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m.; Star Hall; $30; $5 for youth (6 to 18)

Spanish Gold • Friday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m.; Star Hall; $25; $5 for youth

Music hikes • Saturday, Sept. 3, and Sept. 10-11, 9 a.m.; $65 (the Sept. 10 hike is sold out)

Paquito D'Rivera Quintet • Saturday, Sept. 3, 6 p.m.; Red Cliffs Lodge; $40 tent seating ($20 for youth), $30 lawn seating ($5 for youth)

Clarice Assad + OFF THE CLIFF • Sept. 4, 6 p.m.; Red Cliffs Lodge; $40 tent seating ($20 for youth), $30 lawn seating ($5 for youth); an open rehearsal conversation that morning at 11 in Star Hall is free, but tickets are required

Rocky Mountain Power Family Concert • Featuring Sonidos Latinos; Sept. 5, 2 p.m.; Old City Park; no tickets required

Ranch benefit concert • Sept. 6, 6 p.m.; sold out

House benefit concert • Sept. 7, 5:30 p.m.; private Moab home; $250 (includes meal)

American Masters: 20th and 21st Century Duos • Sept. 9, 7 p.m.; Star Hall; $25; $5 for youth

Renee Rosnes Quartet • Sept. 10, 6 p.m.; Sorrel River Ranch; $30; $5 for youth

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis • Sept. 11, 7 p.m.; Star Hall; $25; $5 for youth

Cataract musical raft trip • Sept. 12, 8 a.m.; sold out

comments powered by Disqus