Craig Ferguson stands at the entrance of the main pavilion on Planet Bluegrass Ranch, gesturing above eye level to show the height of the river that tore through the Lyons festival grounds 10 months ago.
"The water was basically right up to my head," the Planet Bluegrass owner says over the sound of hammering, power tools and the hum of a shop vac that continues to suck water from underneath structures. "Words can't even explain it."
At first light on Sept. 12, 2013, Ferguson and his family climbed the cliff overlooking Planet Bluegrass Ranch and watched in horror as the historic flood ripped through the grounds, bringing fences, debris and entire structures with it. His daughter filmed videos that would quickly go viral on social media, showing the once-tranquil home of RockyGrass and Rocky Mountain Folks Festival sitting under 4 feet of water, littered with lumber, dirt and destroyed vehicles.
At that time Ferguson could think only one thing: "As long as that stage stands we can put on our show."
The stage held, though the vegetation and Planet Bluegrass buildings and offices were damaged or destroyed — including the main pavilion and Ferguson's home, which sits at the center of the grounds.
"Once that stage stood, we didn't have any second thoughts about putting on the shows this year," Ferguson said. "I didn't really have a choice. Once we decided we were going to do it, it was like, 'Where is the hammer.' "
Two days later, Ferguson and the Planet Bluegrass crew went to work, vowing to rebuild in time for RockyGrass, a sold-out annual festival attracting Alison Krauss, Béla Fleck, Ricky Skaggs and more to perform July 25-27.
With eight employees working full time and, at its peak, crews of 40-50, Planet Bluegrass spent $1.3 million during the following months repairing the damage.
By December, Planet Bluegrass employees huddled in offices taking ticket orders for the organization's biggest event, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Ferguson refused to move the Dec. 6 on-sale date, even though the offices were still in disarray. With no bathrooms, one phone on the ground and only a small space heater, employees worked as tickets sold out within 16 minutes. They put blankets on the website server, terrified that it would crash from the cold.
During the months after the flood, Ferguson did his best to book the artists for Planet Bluegrass events, driving up the hill to where he got service to call agents and spending days in hotels with Internet availability .
On a recent morning, Ferguson proudly hiked the grounds where RockyGrass and Rock Mountain Folks Festival will bring more than 20,000 people through Planet Bluegrass' gates this summer.
In a few weeks, Ferguson said, "we have to turn the power on for RockyGrass."
But that power grid isn't up and running yet. If the water isn't all removed and the power lines installed, Ferguson will have to use generators to give electricity to the main stage.
As yellow earth movers rolled by, Ferguson talked about the flood's devastating path. "My brand new BMW, the one I'd been waiting my entire life for, was flipped over down there," he said, pointing to a spot about 50 yards away, where an employee applied a fresh coat of paint to a new fence.
Ferguson said 20-foot-tall mountains of sand and sediment had to be removed once the water had been diverted from the grounds. It took more than 1,000 dump truck loads.
Now, the grounds are blanketed with a pristine layer of grass, the buildings stand stronger than ever with new wood and layers of cement, and the field in front of the main stage now slopes up, where crews dumped some of the sediment to improve the views from the back.
This Planet Bluegrass 2.0, as staff calls it, is thanks in part to donated time from the community, a bank loan of $1 million and donations from the festival's loyal musicians.
The biggest donation came from Yonder Mountain String Band, the nationally known, Nederland-based bluegrass group that got its start playing Planet Bluegrass festivals.
In December, Yonder Mountain played a flood relief benefit show, raising $60,000 from ticket sales and a silent auction. to pay for new grass on the festival grounds.
"It was kind of a no-brainer for me," said Yonder Mountain's Adam Aijala . He saw Planet Bluegrass three weeks after the floods and when he got there, Ferguson was still peeling photo albums apart in his house. "After the flood happened, we just thought we had to do something."
But it took some convincing on Aijala's part because Ferguson wasn't immediately asking for or taking community donations.
"We were pointing everyone to the Lyons Community Foundation, because the biggest needs were the basic human needs of the town," Ferguson said.
Eventually, Ferguson allowed Yonder to make its donation and soon after, other longtime Rocky- Grass and Telluride Bluegrass artists were reaching out to help.
Chris Thile of Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers offered to play in Telluride for free. Béla Fleck organized his unprecedented headlining set with the Colorado Symphony, and Alison Krauss made a special effort to route her tour to include RockyGrass.
"I had some of the greatest musicians on the planet say, 'You just let me know and I'll come out. I learned how to play the banjo at the academy,' " Ferguson said.
Even the local community, which was dealing with destruction of the entire town of Lyons, volunteered to pitch in at Planet Bluegrass.
Lyons-based touring musician KC Groves put together a few volunteer days, where people helped fix up the grounds and make Ferguson's home livable again.
"We're very proud of our collective back yard," Groves said. "Everyone in Lyons owns a little piece of Planet Bluegrass."
Following the disaster, Groves organized the Lyons Musicians Relief Fund, which raised $21,000 for musicians who experienced loss in the flood.
For the next 20 years, Planet Bluegrass will be repaying the $1 million loan for rebuilding the ranch. The way Ferguson sees it, that's $1 for each ticket sold. And so far, the organization has rebuilt without raising ticket prices or cutting back on any 2014 festivals.
"We made a point of not giving any festivarians this year any expense due to the flood," Ferguson said.
While Planet Bluegrass is nearly back to normal, other Lyons residents are still rebuilding or even stuck in temporary housing after the destruction.
"I know someone who still lives in an RV next to his destroyed house," Groves said. "Another family is living in a basement."
Planet Bluegrass has become a rallying point for the community, she said. "For some people it's a relief, like, 'Thank God we'll have RockyGrass,' " Groves said. "More than anything people want things to go back to normal."
First, though, Ferguson and RockyGrass have to make it through the final stretch of relentless construction to fulfill the promise they made nearly 10 months ago. Ferguson said it will all come down to the moment he again turns on the speakers at RockyGrass.
"When that happens, I'm likely to fall to my knees in tears."
Matt Miller: 303-954-1785, email@example.com, @Official_MattM