Mark Morris of Rapidgrass fame is an accomplished musician, but music is only one part of his world. He’s also a professional athlete, a commercial photographer, a husband and an entrepreneur.
Bluegrass music flows through Morris’ veins, a style he started learning at the age of 10 while following in the footsteps of an older brother.
“I learned fiddle tunes right away. My older brother, Timmy, played mandolin and I wanted to do what he did,” Morris says.
After graduating from the University of Colorado with degrees in music business and music performance, Morris joined The Hickory Project, a northeast-based bluegrass band. With this group, he traveled the world and became friends with Coleman Smith who was also part of the ensemble.
Eventually, the two decided to explore other options, and Morris used his bluegrass roots to start a small festival, called RapidGrass, in his hometown of Idaho Springs.
The first festival was on a local baseball field.
“My sister actually suggested the name, RapidGrass. It combines whitewater and bluegrass — we hoped to get the attention of rafters with the title.”
The festival is now 10 and has grown far beyond that first little gathering.
The name, RapidGrass, also replaced Morris Mountain Music for the new band, featuring Morris and Smith. “The original handle didn’t get traction, so we changed it. RapidGrass works a lot better.”
Playing music is a family tradition for Morris. Both of his parents play, as do his brothers and sister, Sarah, whom Morris calls “one of the best singers I’ve ever met.”
The fifth of six children, he said the entire clan was always in choirs or playing instruments.
Morris is also an avid athlete, and snow skied professionally for many years on the Free Ride World Tour. “By the age of 13, I knew I wanted to be a skier and a musician.”
To achieve at high levels in two vastly different pursuits, Morris claims being surrounded by the right people was essential. “I’ve always had people around who really pushed me.”
He credits friendships with great skiers like Doug Evans and Julian Carr for helping him achieve athletically, and associations with musicians such as Ross Martin and Smith for his success in music.
“I put myself in the way of opportunities, but having high achievers around made the difference.”
These days, Morris uses his athletic background for business success. No longer competing on the professional circuit, he skis around the globe as a commercial photographer, specializing in big air.
“It’s taken me all over the world. I’ve skied Austria, Siberia, Switzerland.” He sells his images to magazines, catalogs and other commercial entities.
While few professional musicians are also professional athletes and vice versa, Morris sees the two pursuits as complimentary. The perseverance he learned in one world transfers to the other.
“Sometimes things aren’t going well on stage, for a variety of reasons. That’s when I draw on the athletics.”
If audiences aren’t responding to the music, Morris says he gets the same feeling as being on top of a cliff, preparing to ski downhill.
“You wonder if you’re going to make it.”
Early on, Morris saw the connection between bluegrass music and skiing. He says the two marry up well.
“Skiing is a man-powered sport; bluegrass is man-powered music. You don’t need electricity for either. They’re both very organic.”
When writing music for RapidGrass, Morris draws on his outdoor experiences.
Most of his songs are about the mountains and skiing, or reflective of tougher days.
Morris has been hospitalized numerous times with ski injuries—he had both shoulders rebuilt, his knees were damagedand he suffered blown out hip flexors.
“Heck, I’ve even hurt myself just skiing onto the chair lift.”
As if running a decade-old music festival, touring with a band and traveling the world photographing snow-skiing weren’t enough, Morris also goes to Burning Man, in Nevada, each year to play music with his brother.
“There is a place there called Camp Honeypuddle that was started by some illustrators from Pixar. My brother Timmy and I play there each year.”
In their younger years, Timmy and Mark toured the United States for a while as a duet.