Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2016
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Perfect. Perfection. These are words we often avoid for fear of overstating what might have been or things we might have witnessed. However, when you begin to add up all the various parts and pieces of this year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the resulting whole starts to outweigh the sum of those very parts rather quickly. And summarily. From perfect weather conditions to the perfect setting for such an endeavor, the votes for perfection are mounting. And how about that marvelously stellar line-up? If you came to hear bluegrass and roots and string band music of all types, then you walked smack into a perfect line-up for just that. And what about the crowd, all those others gathered likewise in homage to grass music of all kinds? If you wanted a group of like-minded, like-hearted folks with souls filled to the brim with excitement and enthusiasm and a willingness to party in the name of bluegrass, then you found the perfect fan-base, the perfect family for just such shenanigannery. Ah, and Telluride herself. What a picture perfect wee mountain town to host an event such as this. For 43 years running now. Must be a pretty perfect marriage of town and fest for it to have lasted so long. And Town Park itself, you ask? Well, talk about your perfect venue (especially with the brand new stage) and your perfect campground (especially with all the big camps and late night picks) for the 43rd Annual. I bet you’re sensing the theme here by now, my friend. So much went so right in so many ways this year in Telluride. Which is why I even dare to use words like “perfect” and “perfection” to describe the experience. And dare to do so without fear of reproach. Here, let me share even more of that very festival with you now to help show you just how amazing and perfect it really was. Onto the music!!!
Thursday Highlights - “The Day of Living Legends”
When you see the schedule for the day has Peter Rowan, Del McCoury, and John Prine all performing on the same stage in quick succession, it is hard to not refer to Thursday as “The Day of Living Legends”. And, when you add Bela Fleck and Chris Thile (both legendary in their own rights) to the mix, the temptation to do so is all the greater. As such, it was a magnificent day of music to kick off the whole shebang in Telluride this year. What a Thursday it was, my friends. So, let’s get to some of it, shall we? How about we start with Mr. Peter Rowan? According to the man himself, it was his 36th Telluride Bluegrass. Quite the auspicious number to be sure. And certainly one worthy of much respect. Just like Peter. As he sat down he called Telluride a “special gift [he] always look[s] forward to” and we all couldn’t have agreed more under that warm noontime Colorado sun. Mr. Rowan and ensemble chose “Across the Rolling Hills” as their first number of the day, the clarion call of Peter’s voice ringing out over the crowd and into the surrounding mountains. How familiar and how wonderful. It’s always as if your favorite uncle is singing ballads to you and in an environment like this? Well, it was all the more amazing, let me tell you. Special. That’s the word. And legendary to be sure. We are talking about the Peter Rowan, after all. Next, we were fortunate enough to get a nice recording of some of Peter’s solo performance from the set, “Before the Streets Were Paved”. Please enjoy, my friends!!
Just lovely. And poignant, too, no doubt. It is a especially interesting when lovely music makes you think, right? He followed this with the crowd favorite, “Doc Watson Morning”, crooning to us all once again as he sang the story of Doc Watson and his own feelings on the man. If you’ve never heard this song before, hit up YouTube immediately…it is so gorgeous. And it really serves to showcase Peter’s fantastic voice. Not to mention his guitar picking skills as well. A favorite of the crowd, a favorite of mine, too. So glad to have gotten this one in Telluride! Apparently Mr. Rowan was into doling out solo crowd faves that day as we got a really fine “Panama Red” as a follow-up to “Doc Watson Morning”. This one very much excited the crowd, so many folks seemed to have been waiting for this song in particular. It has a certain infamy to it after all. And we all just ate it up. A little on down the set the gents in his ensemble rejoined him for the remainder. Even on didgeridoo, no less!! At least for this very lengthy kind of trippy jam that they played. I wish I had caught the title of this one…it was pretty incredible. Mellow but jammed out to be sure. One of my favorites of the set. Next up, the mandolin player swapped his mando for a flute for the intro to “Vulture Peak”, a song filled with wisdom handed down from Peter to the listener. “It’s a hard lesson to learn living someone else’s life.” Truth there, no doubt. “It’s a hard lesson to learn…who’s to bless and who’s to blame?” Not a question that I want to answer. Not even remotely. There was some more really lovely flute-playing throughout that added such a diaphanous other-worldly feeling to the song in counterpoint to Peter’s voice. Marvelous. Later still in his set, Peter and company played “Snow Country Girl”, that brooding ballad about life in the mountains. It was a sweet and tender moment in a set filled with incredible moments of all kinds. But that is Peter Rowan for you. Always taking you on a journey through the feels. Finally, Peter and the fellas brought everything to a close with adouble-whammy of a crowd favorite duo: “Free Mexican Air Force” and “Midnight Moonlight”. I’ve heard Rowan perform these songs many times and I still love hearing them. How different each time depending on the venue and the surroundings? How amazing were each of these here in Telluride? My goodness! Just superb. A huge round of applause and thanks to Peter and friends on stage — what perfectly fantastic music. What a set! Thank you so much for coming to Telluride once again this year, Mr. Rowan! Let’s hope to see you back again next year!!
The Del McCoury Band
We continued our day a bit later on with another living legend. Why not, right? Let’s be gluttons for the good stuff. That larger-than-life guitar pickin’ gentleman from Cumberland, MD, Mr. Del McCoury and The Del McCoury Band were up on the stage! I had just seen these fine fellows out in Maryland for DelFest and was anxious to see them again so soon, especially with the mountains of Telluride as a stunning backdrop. We walked along the river path to the venue as the first strains of “Travelin’ Teardrop Blues” echoed through the valley. Believe-you-me, it was a mighty perfect moment. Right there with nature surrounding, the murmur of the river in front of us and the venue beyond, Del’s voice singing out to us over the greenery all about us. Yes, that was quite a wonderful moment to be sure. We hustled the rest of our way to the stage area so that we could catch the entire show — we didn't want to miss a note. They followed “Travelin’ Teardrop” with “The Bluest Man in Town”, a sad song about a lonely fellow down on his love luck. However, that doesn’t mean there wasn't room for some incredible harmonies between Del and his son, Ronnie. Nor does that mean there wasn’t more than enough room still for some fabulous musicianship during the breaks from everyone. Boy, can those gents play and play and play some more! Such adept musicians each on his own instrument. Next up we were treated to a Ronnie McCoury-led tune filled with fast pickin’ enough for one and all. Lots of folks dancing to this one, as well they should have been. I remembered this one from DelFest and was so happy to be hearing it yet again, and in such a place as this. So, I joined the dancers for this one, letting go and glad to be doing so. Sometimes and so often it is nice to do just that. Let go and dance. Especially to such great music! Ronnie led the next number, too, “Body and Soul”, but this time it was a vocal lead. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my goodness does that man sound like his father in so many great ways. What a perfect bluegrass song, too. It has all the goods: great vocals, perfectly balanced instrumentation, that quintessential bluegrass sound. Bravi to all the men on that stage for this one. Bravi! Rob McCoury stepped up to the plate next to show off his banjo chops for “Lime House Blues”, another excellent instrumental and one Rob recorded on his solo album. This tune provides such a great opportunity for round-robin hand-offs of the melody between solo instruments. And they do it so deftly and adeptly. Then, we were again we were able to grab some video of this performance for you, this time “Nashville Cats”. Hope you enjoy!!
Just love hearing Rob sing, even it ever so briefly. Plus I do love hearing Del sing that one, as well. Just all those numbers coming at you. Fantastic. A little later in the set, bassist Alan Bartram was up to the mic for the vocal lead on “You Win Again”. So many amazing crooners in this band! So much versatility as a result! Ronnie had a supremely fine mando solo early on in this one that definitely served to showcase his skills, and, man, does he have some skills. And who doesn’t love hearing Del hit those high notes? Even as harmonies. So good! Speaking of Del and high notes, “Cold Rain and Snow” was a nice surprise to have come up in the setlist next. And we all went nuts when he went for those high ones, too. Plus, this song is such a crowd pleaser in its own right. Jason Carter’s fiddling has always been the perfect complement to Del’s singing in this one and was that day to be sure. Excellent form, just grand. I really enjoyed Robbie’s banjo solo about halfway through as well — they don’t call that man “The Five-String Flamethrower” for nothing. Later down the set, Del was back to the forefront for “Smoking Gun”, another big favorite, apparently if the yells from the crowd were any indication. I certainly saw plenty of folks in the audience singing along with this one, as well. Ronnie’s mandolin solo was of note here, a perfectly crafted bit of playing which he handed to his brother who, in turn, handed things to Jason Carter. And all done so expertly, too. Bravi, gents! Such masterful playing! Woody Guthrie’s “Ain’t A Gonna Do” with its talk about “cornbread and creek water” fired up next for us and with that great banjo beginning. Fast pickin’ all the way through, this one is full of classic Guthrie lyrics. From the new Del & Woody album recorded by Del and band, this one has become a new favorite of mine in a hurry. And it was a big favorite of all those dancing madly under that incredible azure sky, so many happy people, so many hopping feet. Later on down the line, “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” roared from the stage the motorcycle of the title. The sad tale of love and loss…and motorbikes reverberated around the valley of Telluride and throughout Town Park like the voice of an old friend, delighting all those in attendance with the familiar tale. It certainly made things feel more complete as the last of the notes died down at the end of things. More complete, indeed. Now we had a real, live set going, friends! Del changed a broken E-string as the band picked a lively one behind him. A pretty cool music moment and one worthy of remembrance. And, then, to end things a bit further down the set, they picked the one-two punch combo of “All Aboard” and “High on a Mountain”. One, a whizzbang roller coaster of intense bluegrass energy and the other, a staple of the bluegrass diet and always a welcome addition to any setlist, much less a Del Band one! Both of them sounded spectacular and provided the perfect ending to a marvelously magnificent Telluride Bluegrass Del McCoury Band set! “And the train keeps rolling and the world keeps turning…” We rolled right along that train track and right up high on that mountain until we could barely take any more. And then, just like that, it was all over and we were wanting just that…more. More and more of that unbelievably incredible bluegrass sound that only The Del McCoury Band can provide. A very big thanks to Mr. McCoury, to his sons, and to their bandmates. Thank you so much for all the amazing that you give so freely to all of us. That amazing music and community feeling that sustains us in our everyday. Cheers to you gents for all that you do!! Hope to see you again really soon…
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
Walking back from our condo break, we heard those oh-so familiar sounds of Bela and the Flecktones soaring out from Town Park and through the town of Telluride. How great to be hearing the Flecktones playing with Bela once again! This being the last of a 14 show reunion run together after parting ways in 2010. And we all couldn’t have been happier that this was the case. The first couple of tunes were unfamiliar to me, but were full of that fantastic Flecktone goodness we’ve all come to really cherish over the years. From Howard Levy wailing away on that harmonica of his to the Wooten brothers killing it in their own fashion and then to Bela on his ever-present banjo, what you get from this group really is a sound like no other. Their music takes you places that other music doesn’t. Just the overall timbre and texture is otherworldly and entrancing. And the musicianship! Stop the presses! Wow! Futureman Wooten threw down a particularly tasty drum intro to the third tune of the day, “Prickly Pear”, one featuring some seriously intense and awesome bass work from his brother, Victor. So much groove and so much soul to this eclectic group of musicians. How perfect a mix of just the right kinds of musical things. And I love it when Levy switches to keyboards…just for that difference in sound! We got the next one, “Life at 11” down on video for you. Please enjoy (especially the surprise intro)!!
See now? Wasn’t that just some serious fun in Telluride? A bit further on down in the set the band played us an old Flecktones standard which Bela dedicated to friend, Craig Ferguson: “Life Without Elvis”. And what a crazy adventure that tune is! Some seriously next level music going on there. So many notes from so many instruments and the way they all intertwine over and again. And a lengthy adventure to boot — you get a lot of music in this one. Make no mistake. Next up was a tune named “The Longing” and this refers to what might have happened if Howard had chosen to stay for just one more tune with the band. A mysterious intro from Bela on banjo began things for us as the remainder of the gentlemen entered in on their instruments adding to the mournful and somewhat eerie feeling of the piece. A very different feel from many of the other selections of the night. I really ended up enjoying this one quite a bit. And, what a fantastic set from Bela and the Flecktones!! So incredible to see them play together once again…and in Telluride to boot!! So very grateful and thankful to the band for the opportunity!! I’d love to see them back once more next year…how great would that be?
Late Night - The Infamous Stringdusters featuring Nicki Bluhm
And so we made the trek down to the Telluride High School’s Palm Theater to get Dusty late night with The Infamous Stringdusters. What a nice walk through town to the venue alongside fellow festivarians heading the same direction or to other late night offerings. And what better a way to get things going the first night than with the Dusters? “Big River” opened things up for us in a mighty fine fashion, this being quite the crowd pleaser and their version being no exception whatsoever. Crazy good dobro work from Andy Hall here — no surprise, right? Damn, but isn’t he amazing on that instrument of his!! Jeremy Garrett’s vocals were simply spot on, as well. An auspicious beginning to a super fun show. “Cluck Old Hen”, an instrumental, followed and we got it all on film for you!! Hope you enjoy this one, friends!!
What a ride! A dusty ride!! What fine form already from this incredible band. Later on down the set, they catered to my huge Pink Floyd side with “Fearless” knocking it right out of the theater. Bravi to you gentlemen on such a great rendition…and I am particular about my Floyd!! Travis sounded nice and strong on the lead vocals as did all the gents on vocal harmonies. An appropriately grassy version of this classic rock classic. Travis stayed on lead vocals for the next song, “It’ll Be Alright” which they took directly into “Well, Well”. Great fiddle work from Garrett on “It’ll Be Alright” which provided a really nice complement to the vocals. Some mighty fine guitar from Andy Falco in the form of a speedy solo which he handed to Garrett on fiddle with superb acumen. Love the way this band does that so seamlessly. Andy Hall took the lead on “Well, Well”, stepping up to the mic like he owned it. Which he then proceeded to do. This was a particularly quick version of this song, too. Had a lot of people dancing and clapping and carrying on. They followed this with guest Ronnie McCoury coming out to take the lead on “Blue Night”, singing in that clear, amazing voice of his with the Dusters backing. Wow, pretty stupendous stuff. Great fiddle playing from Jeremy all throughout as well as some seriously good banjo stylings from Chris Pandolfi. Travis traded vocals with McCoury verse for verse and sounded damn great doing it. Ronnie’s mando solo was a sound for sore ears to boot — love his style! Ronnie stayed out there for a little Bill Monroe, “Wheel Hoss”, which became a free-for-all of musical awesomeness, bluegrass-style. Panda gave a massively fantastic solo which he handed off to McCoury who ran with it himself. Quite the round-robin of superb musicianship. To close the set out, they gave us another doubled-up combo in the form of “Head Over Heels” into “Machines” which went over mighty well, I must tell you. Huge, massive jam contained in “Machines”…well, it just was one big, crazy jam itself. Lots of energy, tons of excitement and up-tempo ridiculousness. Quite the way to end the first set of the first night of Nightgrass. Damn, boys!!
After a short set-break, we were all ready to get down with some of those Dusty vibes once again. Who had my heady second set? Well, the Dusters, my friend! Andy Falco kicked things off for us on the lead vocals for “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” offering up the good advice of not second-guessing oneself. Positive in message and upbeat in tempo, this was a great way to resume all musical activities at the Palm that evening for our second go-round. Master dobro work from Andy Hall here, just making that instrument sing along as if another member of the band. Travis Book stepped up to the mic to take the lead on the next selection, “Hobo Song”, crooning out a tale of the rails in that pure, Colorado voice of his. Panda took the opportunity to shred a bit in this one pretty much straight out of the gate, flexing those mighty finger muscles of his to the delight of every ear in the crowd. He handed the shredding off to Hall who took up the call on dobro. More of that expert handing off of the solo line for which these fellows truly are infamous. Further down the set, the Dusters invited friend and songbird, Nicki Bluhm, to the stage to join them on a few numbers. Nicki, no stranger to singing alongside the Stringdusters, grabbed that mic and proceeded to belt out crowd pleaser after crowd pleaser, starting with “Amarillo”. I have seen this act before and must say that it really is a perfect musical marriage. Nicki really does add so much to the overall sound on stage, augmenting the Dusters’ texture and helping it transform into something new and more. The timbre of her voice fits the ISD sound so very well and “Amarillo” was a perfect example of this phenomenon. Jeremy Garrett’s fiddle solo was certainly of note in this one. Fitting that a song about Amarillo would have an awesome fiddle solo in it. Fitting, indeed. The familiar and fantastic “Run to Heaven, Run to Hell” was up next in line that evening as night was slowly turning to next morning. This one is bold energy epitomized and one that kept this crowd going strong despite the hour. Incredibly good ensemble sound in this song, all instruments worked in concert with voices to produce a wonderful wall of bluegrass color and texture. A little later still down the set, Nicki was still with the boys for a rousing rendition of “Big Road”. Travis played us into the song with a phatty, phatty bass intro, really showing his chops on that bass fiddle he plays so well. The man certainly knows his instrument, it must be said. Fantastic dobro from Hall throughout the song providing an attitude-laden undercurrent to the sweet sass of Bluhm’s vocals. Then there was Falco’s monster guitar solo that he threw down seemingly out of nowhere. And just dominated it, too. The breakdown at the end of the song erupted into incredible music coming from all corners of the stage: instrumental work par excellence from each and every Duster on their respective tools of the trade. The round robin was, in a word, epic. I know, I know. That word. But, truly, this was some epic stuff, my friends. Epically good. And pretty damn perfect bluegrass jamming, if I do say so myself! And then, as if the evening hadn’t been crazy freaking cool enough, Paul Hoffman (Greensky Bluegrass) joined them on the stage for a number which was pretty colossal. If you are into that sort of thing, of course. Which I happen to be and so were the rest of us. “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight” ended up being quite the perfect selection for this guest opportunity, Hoffman strutting his stuff both vocally and on mandolin. And who doesn’t love playing music with friends, right? The Dusters certainly looked as though they were…Paul, too. Awesome stuff. A bit later down the set we got a big helping of Phish in the form of “Bathtub Gin” or at least a really extended teaser for “Bathtub” during an extended jam. The entire crowd was singing along, however, happy as clams to get some Phishy goodness from their Dusters. Fabulous stuff, my friends, and so much fun. Nicki Bluhm reappeared for a great version of “Not Fade Away” on the way to the end of the show. More singing and more dancing for the audience, we all took the opportunity to just enjoy ourselves and the music. Garrett opened up a big fiddle solo pretty early on making way for a big harmonica solo care of Andy Hall later. Truly they were putting together some supremely fine music on the stage. Panda and Falco had a nice duet moment facing off with one another and inspiring each other to new heights. Not to mention the “Norwegian Wood” teases, too! What a tight rendition of this familiar favorite!! Finally a bit later and to end the set, Andy Hall was up to the mic for the lead on “Hillbillies”, the closing song of their Nightgrass show. And what a big ending it was! So much so that they came back for a big encore, too. They sent the encore out to “all [their] amazing bluegrass friends here this weekend” and then announced it was to be “Uncle Pen”!! How lucky were we?!? And after such a massive night of music already!! They sounded fantastic on this old classic and we all sounded pretty darn good singing along, too, if may say so myself. How about that encore? Wow! So many big thanks to the band and to their friends and guests for a smorgasbord of super wonderful music all evening long and well into the early morn! Such a great way to start the Nightgrass series at Telluride 2016, too! It has been quite an amazing day of bluegrass in such a marvelous setting. So very much for a first day…and we were all so very grateful. What would the remainder of the weekend hold? How much more bluegrass could one soul possibly take? Well, I was about to find out…but you’re going to have to wait a spell for that!