Community, Features, Print December 2, 2021

UPLIFT: FoCo – New Generation on the Rise

by Dan England

Starting the Uplift: FoCo festival two years ago gave Andy Whilden more personal satisfaction than he expected. He’d already volunteered for the Matthews House in Larimer County, a place for underserved youth, including those in the foster care system, and loved the connections he made with the kids. The festival was another way to give back. Now he’s doing it as a part of his job. 

Alysia Kraft fronting the house band at the 2019 Uplift: FoCo event – Cover photo and above by No Coast.

Whilden joined The Matthews House this year as his first “real” job after spending 11 years on the road as a professional musician, starting from age 19. He’s as excited to get back to Uplift after taking a pandemic-related year off as he is about his new responsibilities. 

“My thinking was, ‘Yeah, get me off this bus,’” Whilden said of his decision to leave touring for the job. 

Featured artists at this year’s Uplift: Foco event, clockwise from top left: Mary Claxton, Liz Barnez and Julia Kirkwood

The festival, just like the first year, will feature acts that are “acoustically driven,” as Whilden said. The concert features local songwriters backed by a house band. He doesn’t want to say much else: The first year he called the acts “bluegrassy,” which wasn’t exactly right. The three featured acts, Liz Barnez, Mary Claxton and Julia Kirkwood, are diverse and fun, each great in their own way. 

“They can play any genre,” Whilden said of the house band, which includes top flight professional musicians from the area, most of whom played the previous event, though the 2021 installment will also deliver something different, and, well, a little less tenured.

The 2019 Uplift House band, including Dusty Rider and Eric Wiggs (pictured) will return for the 2021 event. Photo by NOCOAST

Uplift’s new wrinkle has more to do with his new job with The Matthews House. Whilden started a music program, and he will host a kids talent show the week before Uplift. The co-winners of the talent show will get to play at the Uplift event, on-stage at the Aggie, backed by a band from School of Rock. Whilden began the program after teaching informal guitar lessons at the house for fun – now it’s driven by volunteer professional musicians who have given 250 lessons this year. 

“The whole goal of this program is to give kids an outlet so their voice is heard,” Whilden said, “and allow them to express themselves and cope with all the terrible things going on with their world. Songwriting and playing are a part of those tools.” 

Youth taking part in musical education and exploration offerings via the Matthews House

Whilden also uses the outdoors as a way to reach and teach the kids, but the music is a big part of it, and he believes using his own connections and experience in his new career-level job will help Uplift be better than ever – with the kids’ help, of course.

“If I wasn’t working here, I wouldn’t be able to make those connections week after week,” he said. “Uplift is the synthesis of all that.” 

Uplift: FoCo takes place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, December 7 (Colorado Gives Day) at the Aggie Theater in Fort Collins. Go to for more information and a link to buy tickets. Proceeds benefit The Matthews House youth music program.