Local musician Dana Ariel grew up a festival kid.
Carted up to Reservoir Hill in Pagosa Springs by her parents for the bluegrass, roots and folk festivals that bookend the summer, the festival vacation remains a summertime ritual for loads of families. Hitch up the camper, load the Toyota or Subaru with tents, chairs, tarps and acoustic instruments, pack the cooler, toss everyone in the car and make the cozy forest that sits above Pagosa Springs home for four or five days.
For the festival kid, it’s a dream because you’re on vacation with your family with loads of other families doing the same thing. Many of the festival kids who kick it on Reservoir Hill for the weekend in early June and over Labor Day have done so their whole lives, and that includes Ariel. When a camping trip is at the center of a music festival, whether on the festival stage or all around you and your campsite, you’re bound to absorb those sounds, and perhaps even head down that musical path yourself. Ariel sure did – festival attendance turned into learning an instrument and attending the music camps that are part of the festivals events.
“I was what I call a bluegrass baby. I started playing violin as a 5-year-old. I started with the Suzuki method, which is the classical method that most kids start off with, especially in the United States,” Ariel said. “It was fun and I enjoyed it, but with my parents being bluegrass people, I definitely started to move into fiddle, and did a lot of fiddle camps around Colorado.”
When it wasn’t festival season, Ariel studied with Jesse Ogle at iAM MUSIC, winning the local music school’s songwriting contest in 2020. Inspired by performers like Esperanza Spalding or the band Moonchild, she performs “neo-soul,” vocal-heavy R&B with subtle funk leanings and flavored with down-beat lounge rhythms.
“I have worked with Dana as her music teacher and mentor from middle school through high school and now as a fellow musician that shares the same platforms and stages. Her growth as a musician has always had an upwards trajectory,” said Ogle, iAM MUSIC director. “Above all, Dana has embraced iAM MUSIC’s core principles of being an original artist and giving back to the world through music. She is also an exceptional songwriter.”
As a songwriter she’s dropped multiple singles, some of which were recorded locally at Scooters Place with Scott Smith, others recorded in Australia, where she’s been pursuing a degree in music therapy. While her education has been placed on a temporary hold because of the pandemic, she’s been writing. Winning the iAM MUSIC songwriting contest came with a recording session at a studio in Denver, so she’s currently writing tunes to lay down at those forthcoming sessions, which will yield an EP. Dana Ariel and The Medicine Men are also booked to perform at two iAM MUSIC events this summer.
While she’ll forever be a fan of bluegrass music and a lover of the festival scene, she’s moving away from the music that was such a big part of her summers and her musical upbringing.
“I’ve grown up playing bluegrass, but I wasn’t an amazing bluegrass musician. I’m a vocalist, and I never would have seen my career in music going into bluegrass because I don’t shred on guitar or fiddle,” Ariel said. “I did really try to be a folk artist, and one of my singles I released was inspired by all of the bluegrass that I listened to, but in the last couple of years I have really dove deeper into what music means to me and what my style is and what my talent is, so I’m branching out right now.”
Ariel’s music can be heard at danarielmusic.weebly.com or on her Facebook page.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.