Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2015
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
For years people had been saying to me: “You mean, you’ve never been to Telluride?!?” And it wasn’t for lack of desire, believe-you-me. But hearing the same thing over gets a bit tired after awhile you know? So, I figured that 2015 was the year to change all of that and stymie any such questions in the future by heading to the 42nd annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival. And I, for one, am so very grateful and happy that I did. While a remote distance from most major metropolitan areas, the bucolic mountain town of Telluride sits in a magnificently lovely part of southwest Colorado. As such, so worth it. Our drive from Boulder was a long one, however, when compared to countless other lengthy travels to get to other festivals, this one was, in a word (well, words), downright pleasant. Heading through the rugged Rockies, over panoramic mountain passes, past streaming waterfalls and jutting rock formations, and through charming old mining towns, each new sight was a new wonder and joy. Suffice it to say, the drive, while long, is not uninteresting. It is breathtaking. And, let’s just call it what it is: a gift. No doubt that it puts one in an incredibly excellent frame of mind for a marathon four day bluegrass bonanza in one of the stunningly prettiest settings on our planet. Arriving into town Wednesday night we were all taken aback by the quiet, charming, and lovely little community surrounded on all sides by painted mountains covered with trees and topped with snow whose sides were carved at intervals by the plummeting white waters of alpine falls. Adequate words fail me to convey to you the beauty of Telluride town if you’ve never been. So, I guess you had better get there, right? But, in the meantime, let me share a bit of what happened there this year starting with Thursday.
The Jerry Douglas Band - Robert Earl Keen - Dave Bruzza & Dave Simonett
I admit, I was excited as Jerry Douglas and his band took the stage as this was my first time seeing them. I know, I know. But, I was seeing them that day and that was more than good enough for me. I am biased towards the dobro as an instrument, it’s true, and one in the hand of an artist just as Douglas is a sight to be seen. And heard. As the first strains kicked to life, so did the festival around me, all of us reacting to the music emanating from the stage. It was early in the day and early in the fest and already the energy level was rising, people dancing, faces smiling, hands clapping madly at the end of each tune. Plainly, Telluride was the kind of festival that lives up to all the hype. And then makes some more. And then invents a little bit extra still after that. And then lives up to that new expectation…and then exceeds it. Like with Jerry Douglas’s unique rock’n’roll dobro groove for instance. As in Jimi Hendrix. On dobro. Played by Jerry. “Hey Joe”. Excellence. What a supremely good cover that was. It was fun watching the band all keep up which is impressive since two of them did the DelFest to Telluride “Delluride” bike trip between the two festivals. Really impressive, huh? Jerry and company finished up with “Who’s Your Uncle?” as their last tune which featured dobro and fiddle doubling the melody in a show of some very fine musicianship. Then, once the drums kicked in, the whole affair became another foot-stomping dance tune, and the crowd most certainly followed suit. I am really looking forward to seeing The Jerry Douglas Band again soon once I’ve had a chance to familiarize myself a bit more with their music. Because their music is fantastic. Robert Earl Keen was up next to bring a bit of country into the mix for us. And yet an early song in his set was “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” which they played in a style very reminiscent of Del and his band. A nice recognizable treat from a musician with whom I was not very familiar. But Mr. Keen put on a great show, replete in his pink jacket and hat and looked every part of many of the festival goers around me. Kudos for tapping into the vibe, sir! They also played the light “Footprints in the Snow”, a song from their newest album. All told I enjoyed Robert’s hour-plus set more than I thought I was going to, country not being my go-to genre. But this festival did start out as the Telluride Bluegrass and Country Festival so I suppose it is apropos to keep the tradition alive. Way to do just that, Mr. Keen! After that we moseyed on to the secondary stage at Elks Park to hear Dave Bruzza (Greensky Bluegrass) and Dave Simonett (Trampled by Turtles) play some Bob Dylan songs for us in the afternoon sun. Opening up with Simonett on “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” they continued with Bruzza singing “Day of the Locusts”, both of which were stylistically in sync with Dylan himself in many ways. They continued with a grooving, yet chill “Outlaw Blues” featuring Dave Simonett. Finally, the last song we caught was Bruzza’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” a familiar song to Greensky fans. It was a really compelling set — I really dig Bob’s work and love hearing other musicians’ takes on it and the Daves did right by Dylan in my opinion. After a quick break, we hightailed it back to the Main Stage for Hot Rize as fast as our legs could carry us, not wanting to miss a note from that infamously awesome Colorado band.
Hot Rize - Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers - The Telluride House Band
Walking up to the sounds of “Nellie Kane” coming down from the quartet on stage, I was already smiling ear-to-ear. Then, standing under the azure blue skies of western Colorado as we listened, it only seemed right for Tim O’Brien to sing us an apropos “Western Skies”. Which he did. And did very well. Next up we got the light and lovely but slightly sorrowful “You Were On My Mind This Morning”, another song from their most recent album, When I’m Free. My favorite song from these fine fellows was also included in the set: “Blue Is Fallin’” which sounded excellent. As always and increasingly so, I was very grateful to get to hear this selection from their repertoire. Then the boys got a little Gospel on us and sang the superb harmony-filled “I Am the Road” — such tight, well-sung harmonies like that are what so many strive for in bluegrass but few achieve to this level. A treat to hear each and every time. Then came “Come Away”, that wistful, pining, beseeching tale of love lost and love that could be. No matter what you say, “Doggone” came next (see what I did there?) which, like most of Hot Rize’s songs, I liked from the first moment I heard it. And I still do…and certainly did at Telluride. O’Brien lamented the mournful, cautionary “A Cowboy’s Life” for us which set us up perfectly for a showing from Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, that cowboy band that travels with Hot Rize from time to time. This time Elmo Otto (Sam Bush) was guesting in with the Traiblazers as well as Elmo Otto 2 (Identity Unknown), both on fiddle. Absolutely made for some great cowboy music! Like “I Know My Baby Loves Me” for instance. And some pretty hilarious joke songs like “Bake Shop Boogie” about the antics at a cannabis bakery. And, always the comedic stylings of Waldo Otto. But, of course. However, all good things must come to an end and soon, the ‘Blazers were being rushed off-stage once more by Hot Rize who returned with the instrumental “Glory in the Meeting House”, another favorite of mine from the new album. Really reminds me of a lot of tunes from my trad Irish music days — a tune you can really drum to. They picked an old song of theirs out of mothballs for us next: “Radio Boogie”. One I had never heard but would love to hear again. All night, all four of them had been on fire musically, seemingly really tapping the whole Telluride vibe and channeling that energy through their music and to us. But their supremely fine musicianship is no surprise to anyone who knows Hot Rize. Ending with McCoury’s “High on a Mountain” these stellar fellers put on a characteristically great show with some great use of available guests. And they set the stage and scene perfectly for the Telluride House Band up next. House Band. What a term for this ensemble gathered. This bluegrass supergroup. Sam Bush, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas, Béla, Bryan, Stuart…you get the idea. A list of greats very great at what they do. And what they did was probably in the top two sets of the entire weekend. And on Thursday. Way to set the bar high, fellas. They opened with “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” kickin’ out some Gospel for us right from the get go. Then it was time for some hard drivin’ bluegrass singing with Bryan from Hot Rize followed later by none other than the “Pink Panther Theme”. Yes, you read that correctly. The “Pink Panther Theme”. On banjo and dobro and fiddle, etc, and it was hilarious. And amazing. What a “cover”!! Good old fashioned fast pickin’ was name of the game with “The Snowflake Reel” with so many intense and intensely good solos from these virtuosi there present. What a privilege to watch so much talent and skill combined on one stage together. Incredible. They grassed-up the Waylon Jennings song “I’ve Always Been Crazy” for us next followed by a sea shanty of all things. This band was all over the place tonight and it was great. Sammy Bush sang us a wonderful “How Mountain Girls Can Love” with that rich baritone voice of his and later sang us some old Doc Watson as well. Just can’t get me enough of Sam. But who can, honestly? “Play It Straight, Strive for Tone” was an Edgar Meyer-led instrumental that was true to its name as each of the world-class musicians showed us just what their chosen instruments could do. And, finally, before the crowd could take anymore, they brought Tim O’Brien out to add his own unique energy to the mix for “Workin’ On a Building” to close down the Main Stage for the evening. My goodness, what a set that was. So much extremely first-class music and so much first-class musicianship. Honestly, even knowing the lineup, it was going to be hard for the days to follow to measure up to such a lofty benchmark as Thursday. But, I was certainly going to cheer them on as they tried. Thankful for Thursday we made our way off to enjoy some late night with The Drunken Hearts. Time to relax and just listen.
Stay tuned for Friday!!