Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2015
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
The Telluride Band Competition - Edgar Meyer - Peter Rowan’s Twang an’ Groove
Friday morning we awoke to the stunning surroundings once more even more shocked into silence and awe as we gazed into the early sunlight at the distant waterfall. The utter beauty and inviting majesty of the mountains and natural rock formations all around you when in Telluride is almost impossible to convey to you in mere words. Simply put, there is a reason, a very good reason, that people continue to come back to this charming and gorgeous wee mountain town year after year after year. Well, there are myriad good reasons, but the close proximity and power of nature surrounding are certainly some of the most compelling. But, onto another one of the reasons people return annually: the music. Our first stop of the day was at the Elks Park secondary stage for the Telluride Band Competition. The Band Competition is a long-standing tradition at the festival that showcases up-and-coming talent in the genre from all over the country. Past winners include Greensky Bluegrass and Trout Steak Revival. Leftover Salmon, as fate would have it, placed second the year they performed in it, so you can see the competition can be pretty steep. We found a bit of shade from the warm Colorado sun and settled in to hear some great young bands vie for the coveted Main Stage set should they win the title. There were twelve bands that competed that morning in Elks Park and each of them played three selections from their rep. I rather enjoyed the trio Honeybucket from Cleveland, OH. Really nice harmonies and a clean sound and all three had lovely voices. Not to mention the fact that I also dug their songwriting quite a bit. They made it to the final five. I was also a big fan of The Lonesome Days out of Denver, CO, and not just because I am from nearby. I had never heard of them before but will most certainly be on the lookout for them in the future. And be on the lookout for one of their albums. The Lonesome Days also scored high enough to pass to the next round. The Lil’ Smokies from Missoula, MT, were easily another of my favorites. The six-person-strong group had a very robust sound compared to some of the smaller ensembles competing, but their palpably high energy also helped tip the balance in their favor in terms of moving forward. By the time they finished their three songs, I was already hoping they would make it to the finals so that I could see them play again. All of the bands that competed were rife with talent, skill, desire, and dedication, but only five would move on to the final competition on Saturday — from twelve to five and then to one. As I said, steep competition. What an incredible aspect to this festival! Certainly something unique to me as a first-timer. After the competition it was time for Edgar Meyer’s bass fiddle workshop entitled: “Bass Alone & Other Cultural Oddities”. Edgar took to the stage solo for what amounted to a Master Class for the double bass. Using his broad style of playing and extended techniques, Edgar showed off his vast knowledge of the instrument coupled with his unparalleled skill. It was a sight to see and interesting musically as there was just the timbre and texture of the single instrument, and one that is usually not used as a solo. Another one of the very unique kinds of experiences you can expect from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Then it was time for some Peter Rowan and his Twang an’ Groove on the Main Stage. It is always a privilege to see one of the greats perform live, isn’t it? We are granted far too few realistic opportunities to see so many of them before we or they are gone so, the times we do get are a resultant boon. Playing a guitar from 1957, Peter treated us to some of his own works as well as many old favorites such as “Midnight Moonlight” which sounded as great as I’ve ever heard it. I really found myself getting into Rowan’s voice. And, there certainly was much twanging and grooving as the band’s style slid back-and-forth between a more country sound and bluegrass. Sitting under the warm, baking sun in Town Park and listening to Peter Rowan and company, life really could not have gotten any sweeter. But, wait…Tim O’Brien is up on the secondary stage you say? Well, then, let us go sweeten our life all the more!
Tim O’Brien, Kris Drever, & Bridget Kearney - The Lonesome Trio
Back at Elks Park it was time for a real treat: Tim O’Brien, Kris Drever, & Bridget Kearney playing a host of excellent selections for our enjoyment and entertainment. They played a wide variety of tunes and songs for us included one inspired by the story of Keith Richards falling out of palm tree and hitting his head. Why not? Kris Drever, a guitarist and singer from Scotland, gave us a really light and lovely “Sweet Honey in the Rock” which sounded fascinating with the bit of lilt to his accent. “Beats and Feathers” was a sort of guitar-adapted Scottish pipe march with some uplifting, inspirational lyrics, something of which I am a fan. It’s nice when a song’s words help us to feel better, no? They also regaled us with the old Woodie Guthrie classic “Down By the Water” featuring some superb interplay between guitar and mandolin as well as some masterful harmonies between Bridget and Tim. The late Gene Ritchie wrote “The Cool of the Day” in addition to countless other songs during her long lifetime. Tim taught us all this song line-by-line as we sung it back to him, a few hundred voices united in Gospel singing. It was a really special moment, to be sure. I mean, when else can I say that I have sung with such auspicious company? Kris introduced a song and gave its name, however, it being such old Scottish Gaelic (so old, he said, that no one actually knows what it means), please forgive me if I don’t attempt a spelling. It was a lively guitar reel which Tim joined in on mando with Bridget provide the bass foundation. Another Telluride moment reminiscent of my trad Irish music days. I was really digging this nostalgic vibe! Then Tim invited his old hippie pal up to the stage to do some dancing during “Dance, Hippie, Dance”, that catchy, light-hearted little song. In fact, this hippie friend was the hippie who inspired the song. And still dancing after all these years. Pretty cool, right? And, man, could that cat dance!! Dance, you hippie, dance!! In fact we saw him around all weekend dancing. Awesome. Just awesome. What a delightful hour-and-half of music that was. Just loves me some Tim O’Brien! Then it was time for a little star power. I know, I know…Telluride is full of music stars. And you’re right. But what about TV and movie stars? Ones that play bluegrass? In a group called the Lonesome Trio? If you said “Ed Helms” then you would be correct! I’d never seen an actor play music up close before. I know that many do play instruments, etc, however seeing it in person is a different story. It wasn’t that I was star-struck, it was more that I was interested to see what this man and his two buddies could really do when up against the titanic musical backdrop of Telluride Bluegrass and the assembled horde of grass virtuosi here present. There was a goodly amount of fast pickin’ that occurred on that mandolin, guitar, and bass. Impressive speeds at various points. Their song “Appalachia Apologia” started with some nice, tight instrumental work, for instance. It was great to hear Helms sing solo on “Asheville City Skyline” — his voice sounding so familiar from the countless times I’ve seen him on the screen. Ed also surprised us all with his mouth harp skills on another number and then on their last song of the day, “The Rising Tide of Love”, he had us all sing along with the band. Again, hundreds of voices joining in to celebrate the joy and energy and magic of music in the bright light of the afternoon sun. What a perfect example of a “typical” Telluride moment. Those ones that stick with you all year as you wait somewhat patiently for your next go-round. Those ones that haunt you happily at night, twisting the corners of your mouth into a unstoppable nostalgic grin. Those ones that make you grateful to simply be alive, to be you. The ones that illustrate to us just how very special life is. Those moments, my friends, are precisely what Telluride is all about.
Stay tuned for Saturday!!