Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2016
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Tim O’Brien Band
So, it was Saturday and Telluride was hopping. I mean, the energy was threatening to jump off the charts, everyone seemed so excited and so into things. It was as if the entirety of us gathered there for the bluegrass hit our festival strides all at once in a delightful festy singularity. And it was this very energy I was tapping into when Tim O’Brien and band took the stage. I am a big fan of Tim and his music — there is something special about the man and what he brings to the table that really kind of defies description. As traditional as one can get on one hand and as whack ado and progressive on the other, you are always in for a wholly satisfying round of music when it comes to Tim. Admittedly, this was my first time seeing him with his band so I was pretty pumped. They kicked things off keeping busy with a bit of “Working” for us, that anthem to all the hard working souls out there toiling away at myriad dirty and tough jobs the world over. “Anybody working is a friend of mine…” So, that’s what it takes to be Tim’s friend, eh? Work? Got it. Loved the overall groove to this one, a nice forward motion with a super catchy beat. What a great way to get things going for this Tim O’Brien Band set! The supremely mirthful and enjoyable “Pompadour” was up next in line, the witty tongue-in-cheek lyrics spurring countless smiles in the audience. The song is as weird as it is wonderful, this homage to that oh-so-recognizable hairdo, the pompadour. Replete with yodeling from Tim, “Pompadour” proved to be an instant crowd pleaser. This song being a perfect example of the fact that you never know just what you are going to get from Mr. O’Brien and company. This happened to be Tim’s 40th Telluride Bluegrass appearance and experience and he certainly brought all that to bear and more during his set. And from the look of things, he was absolutely grateful to be back once more doing it all over again. He dedicated the next song, “Family History”, to his Telluride family. What a nice fella, right? Exactly. A song filled with wisdom about how to navigate the trials and tribulations of a past assorted with family, it certainly wasn’t short on great music. Some supremely fine electric guitar work going on in this one, some really, really nice fills. Nothing like keeping your grass funky, right? And then, just like that, the whole show jibes back towards the traditional with “My Baby Don’t Love Me Anymore”. We’d taken a walk down to the river to get a different angle on the afternoon’s music, the sound perfect to our ears from the stage over yonder. We joined the throng of playful river-goers with their tubes and libations and dogs and children and smiles and laughter and rode out a couple of songs from that vantage. There are so many different facets to Telluride and to the Telluride Bluegrass experience and the river culture certainly is an important one. So much joy and mirth and merriment takes place along the banks of (and in, of course) the San Miguel River that runs through town. It is a great energy to tap into and one that is immensely popular. Then it was back to humor in the form of “I Gotta Move”, a song whose tale of moving woes and breakups contains many nuggets of truth for all, but all wrapped in a more light-hearted feeling musical framework. Some lovely keyboard work from the piano player in “I Gotta Move”, again keeping our grass a bit funky. As with all Tim O’Brien songs, once this one had finished you couldn’t help but feeling happily satisfied. Playing more selections from his new album, Pompadour, we got the intense and slightly brooding “Whatever Happened to Me” next in the set. This song had a dirtier, grit-rock sound and feeling to it, the perfect accompaniment to the introspective lyrics. Of note, the guitarist threw down a particularly lovely solo at one point that served as a fitting counterpoint to Tim’s lead. This one was certainly a thought-provoking number. Bravo, Tim. Can’ wait to pick up his new album (which I will probably download as soon as I am done writing this review). A little later on in the show, the band delivered a mighty fine Tim O’Brien version of “Boat Up The River”. This one was a super fun musical ride…I really got into the entire feeling of the song. It rocked along to this hybrid string band instrumentation in fine fashion, proving a great dancing song if the crowd’s movements were any indication. Always love hearing Tim play banjo, too, even though he is modest about his abilities there. Unnecessarily so, in my opinion. And then he picked up the bouzouki for the next number, an instrument near and dear to my heart. It has such a great tone…like a giant mandolin and a mellow guitar all at once. I do so love the timbre of that instrument, especially in the hands of a master like O’Brien. And, playing his ‘zouk he sang us a song about an Italian gentleman from his youth who sold produce from a truck. And this song freakin’ rocks! So upbeat and happy and lively — it really has all you could want from a song that feels like joy encapsulated in a musical shell. "Megna's" has been in my head ever since hearing it at Telluride. I’d never heard this one before and I cannot wait to hear it again. All you want to do is sing along to all the fruit and vegetable lyrics. And dance. And sing some more. Still later on in the set we got another fantastic selection called “Lover’s Rise”, this one having a bit of a cowboy feeling to it. Tim, on banjo once again, nailed down the lead vocals with aplomb, all of us just loving the sound of his voice. Some really lovely vocal harmonies in this one as well, serving to make it all the lovelier. Tim and band finished up their show with an encore dedicated to all those who have gone before, a rousing version of “Moses” with its chorus of “I might be gone in some lonesome graveyard”. A nice, big closer, but I’m not quite done with Mr. O’Brien and band just yet. I saved my favorite bit of their show until the last: their cover of James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing”. This. Is. Amazing. And we nabbed it on video for you, too!! Please, please enjoy this wonderful bit of music, funkgrass-style:
Yonder Mountain String Band
Directly following the Tim O’Brien Band, Yonder Mountain String Band jumped on the main stage for their big set of the weekend. Very much a part of the Telluride tradition, you could tell that much of the audience was poised and ready to see this band in particular. Getting things going in classic YMSB fashion, their first selection of the day proved to be “All the Time”, setting the pace nice and quick straight out of the gate. Jake Jolliff stepped up to shred on mandolin early on in the song, adding his unique style to the mix and making his solo pop. Before the end, each member of the band would throw down some seriously fine solo work to the delight of the audience, especially Allie Kral’s fiddle line. Such satisfaction and we were only one song in! And then the marshmallows started up. Again. And that’s all I will say about that. Keeping in the theme of classic Yonder, we got a fantastic “40 Miles from Denver” on film for you to view now. Please enjoy!!
Not too shabby, eh, friends? Precisely. “Sister Golden Hair”, that mighty rock staple by America, was up next, lead vocals care of Mr. Jolliff. I happen to love this song already and the Yonder version has quickly grown on me. Then again, I am also a big fan of grassed up versions of classic rock. Dave Johnston had a big, bad solo on the banjo a couple of minutes into things which was answered by Allie’s own blistering fiddle work. They debuted a brand new song that Adam Aijala and Ben Kaufmann had just written which was, as of that performance, unnamed. A mellow and heartfelt Adam-led piece, this one seemed illustrative of the new direction the band is going in. Very pretty ensemble work happening in this song — looking forward to hearing it again. Ronnie McCoury and Sam Bush joined the band for the next song, “Rambler’s Anthem”, a Kaufmann lead. Adam’s early guitar solo was just white hot. That man is a serious guitar machine. Not to mention all that friendly star power on stage with the band. Like Sammy Bush and his phenomenal mando solo, which elicited a great roar from the crowd. And Ronnie? His monster contribution to the song? And Jake? How much mando can one person take? So groovy, so nasty…what a breakdown between those three mandolin demigods! And, as the song hurtled onwards, Ben even busted out a huge bass solo for us, rocking that instrument of his like a champ. Then there was the giant, crazy jam at the end that proceeded to melt a bunch of afternoon faces. Why not? Next up the massively talented Miss Allie Kral sweetly sang us the lyrics of “Son of Preacher Man” as if we were all hearing them for the first time. I love that they have upped her singing rep in band — her voice brings such lovely versatility to the overall framework of the group. Yet another excellent grass version of a familiar favorite with tons of musical fills to send home that very bluegrass in the rendition. Guitar, fiddle, banjo, mando, you name it. They were all there in spades. Later on in the set Jason Carter and Jerry Douglas appeared in order to rock out on fiddle and dobro, respectively, for “Black Sheep”, another standard of the YMSB catalogue. This must’ve been the best version of this song I’ve ever heard!! The band sounded great and really let their guests shine. Jerry on dobro was divine, pure and simple. Jason on fiddle? Do we even need to ask? Just amazing. As always. They really helped to transform this one into something special for Telluride. Bravi! They finished off their set with a rocketing “Traffic Jam”, with lots and lots of notes coming at the crowd in rapid succession. Like those innumerable mandolin notes from Jake. Heavens to Mercatroid!! Allie and Adam, they both elicited an insane amount of notage, too. Jerry and Jason had plenty of chances to shred as well. Such good music and so much of it…right up until the end!! The encore was an instrumental whose name I am unfamiliar with, however, I can tell you it was unbridled musical excellence all around. Fast, precise, fun, this one ricocheted off the valley walls around us in concert with the nature abounding and bringing us all the way along to the inevitable whiz bang ending. Bam!! What a show!! What a great performance by the band and by their friends and guests!! What a way to spend a Telluride afternoon, no??? Many thanks to all of Yonder for such a fantastic set!!
Sam Bush Band
All hail the King!!! The King of Telluride!!! Yup, you guessed it. Time for some Sam Bush Band all up in your business. And this band doesn’t play around; they play supremely wonderful bluegrass music instead. And they get serious about it, too. Sam and the fellas kicked things off with “Play by Your Own Rules” a favorite standard SBB of mine. Songs like this one really epitomize the Sam Bush Band corner of the bluegrass universe, the perfect example of the sound and stature of this music. Nasty little solos from Scott Vestal on banjo all over the song…that man is a banjo beast. Plain and simple. I have nothing but crazy respect for Mr. Vestal and that 5-string of his. Damn. Don’t you worry, there will be plenty more about Scott Vestal as things continue. Next up was “Transcendental Meditation Blues”, yet another Sammy classic. Stephen Mougin sounded excellent on the vocal harmonies backing up Sam on lead. Solos fell to many of the gents in the band, Vestal having a nice and lengthy banjo solo that was punctuated by Sam’s mandolin. So precise and so well polished, this music. Such a pleasure to listen to! Then it was time to get ourselves all aboard so we could be “Riding That Bluegrass Train” with Sammy and band. Sam and Steve had this really nice moment of interplay between them which Scott joined to make this triumvirate of sweet grass sound that was just about perfect. From guitar to mando to banjo and back again and again and again. So good!! Let there be no doubts that this group puts on one helluva show wherever they go. And they were just demolishing things at Telluride. Completely. Jumping off the “Train” we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of some “Working Man’s Blues”, Sammy on the lead. Mougin’s guitar solo on this Merle Haggard classic was nothing short of exquisite, seeing as how that man is a badass robot programmed for “shredding” when it comes to guitar. About like Scott on that banjo — what can’t that man play? And play so very incredibly well? I’d wager nothing, myself. And this song was no exception to the rule for him as he tore up a solo opportunity summarily. And then both of those men did it again!! How much good music can one song hold? Well, how about a huge bass solo from Todd Parks to sweeten the deal? Why the hell not, right? I was just adoring this set! Sam is no stranger to positive messages, it’s true. So the inclusion of the next song, “Everything Is Possible”, in the set came as no huge surprise although the song was new to me. Here is how it went down in sound and color for you, friends:
See, now don’t you feel that much better? What a pick-me-up! A little later down the set we got a nice Stephen Mougin vocal lead on “Hard Hearted”, that good ol’ one about the sad realities of love sometimes. Big mando intro from Sam was the perfect lead in for Mougin’s vocals…Sam providing harmonies as well. They took this one at a quick clip, not that they don't have the chops for fast pickin’ — Mougin certainly proved that point time and again. Later still in the set was a massive crowd pleaser: “Great Balls of Fire”. We were all ready for a little grassed-up Jerry Lee Lewis that’s for sure and they delivered in fine fashion. Hard drivin’ this one, lots of notes played very quickly coming from mando, banjo, and guitar alike. Not to mention that rocksteady beat from Chris Brown. They certainly made a crazy fun ride out of this one! Farther on down this amazing set came a requested Jeff Black song, “Same Ol’ River”, which is a big favorite of mine and was of the rest of the crowd, too. Always nice to get an old friend in a setlist. Especially at a Sam Bush Band show. A gorgeous solo from Mougin on guitar hallmarked the early minutes of the song. I really appreciate the length of the average SBB solo — you never leave feeling unsatisfied from a musical standpoint. Damn, it really was a good solo, too. Bravo, Mr. Mougin! Then, surprise!! Jerry Douglas magically appeared on stage, dobro in hand, ready to join in this fun. And join in he did with a completely baller solo of his own. So freakin’ good, my friends!! And as if that wasn’t enough, Bela Fleck came out to add himself and his banjo to the night alongside John Cowan on lead vocals for “Sail to Australia”. And Jerry was still there, too. Pretty crazy, right? Sammy and John had some really, really tight vocal harmonies that were just lovely. So easy on the ears. What a supergroup on the stage!! A true powerhouse performance. How couldn’t it have been? They finished up this giant set of theirs with some Bob Dylan, slowing things down to an intense rock’n’roll groove. And then, the intensity builds and you get that well-known chorus: “When You Gonna Wake Up”? I’ve heard Sam and band do this one before and I’ll always be happy to hear them do it again. Good songs are always worth hearing again, right? Yeah, so Chris had this drum solo, too, you see. And it was gargantuan in stature. Just huge. And awesome. Just like all the music I had just crammed into my ears like a musical glutton. Holy gods is this a phenomenal band!! Thank you so so much to each member of the band for one of my favorite sets from Telluride this year!! Everything you do is so very well appreciated!! Can’t wait to do it all over again next year. Or, hopefully, sometime sooner.
Slamgrass time. Telluride main stage. Leftover Salmon. Bring it. It’s no big secret how much I love this band and, trust me, this performance only furthered those feelings. By quite a long shot. Having Salmon to Telluride has become tradition — back-to-back yearly invites are very rare. But not for Leftover. And let us all be quite thankful for that little fact!! The evening there in Town Park was just about a wonderful as a person could ask for: cool but not cold, clear moonlit skies, world class music on the new stage. Ahhhhhhhhhhh, life was very good that night. And how did they get things going? Well, with a little “Take Me Back to My Mountaintop” action to be precise. What better a starting song for the set? You know, since we were all up in the mountains together, soaking up so much of the life set forth in the lyrics…so bucolic, so relaxed, so musical, so magical. Take me back to my mountaintop, indeed!! And, big surprise here, I’m going to go on some more about Erik Deutsch, his keyboard skills, and the overall additive qualities he brings to the band. Because he was doing all that good stuff right there, right on stage. Just owning those keys like a true boss and yet gelling seamlessly with the fabric of the band. So glad to have him as a part of this madness we call Leftover Salmon. Drew Emmitt was up to the mic for the next song, “Western Skies”, all set to croon to us in that oh-so Drew voice of his. Songs like this and Mr. Emmitt were made for one another, as if that needs to be said. But you get my meaning. All throughout this song was the musical thread of Andy Thorn’s banjo line, note after note after note playing out into the night helping to weave the entirety of “Western Skies” together into a tapestry of musical genius. Magnificent. The familiar and fun “Liza” was next in line from the Salmon fellas that night. Taken at a speedy clip, this one featured a visit from Mayor McCheese to the stage to grace us all with his mighty presence, all to the backdrop of Erik’s amazing keyboard skills. Vince Herman, of course, on lead vocals sounded excellent as always…and, as always, it was like having a favorite uncle singing to you. Pretty awesome, right? Uncle Vince. I like that. Drew threw down a pretty sweet mando solo in this one about halfway through that was like pouring notes out of a bucket there were so many. What a brute on that mandolin! “Highway Song” followed “Liza” with Drew back up to the mic to take lead vocals, this being another song so well-suited to Emmitt’s strong vocals. Great multi-part harmonies going on in the chorus of this one, which I am always a sucker for. And also a really strong overall ensemble sound which provided a more than appropriate backdrop for Andy’s supremely killer shredding and Erik’s delightful keyboard dominance. What a fantastic set thus far! Next on the docket was the Great American Taxi song, a Vince-led number called “Weary Ramblin' Highway Man” to which the assembled gents on stage did great justice. Erik Deutsch was there a minute in going to town on his keyboards, making them zing and sing and rock us all. Alwyn Robinson was laying down some seriously ridiculous beats behind all this craziness up front. A lot of different tempos switching back and forth depending on the feeling of the song at that point. Masterful work. I’d never be able to keep up! And this song just jammed and jammed and jammed, Drew on electric killing a big solo reinforcing said jamming. This one was reaching monumental proportions. What a rush! Later on down the set, John Cowan, the Prince of Bluegrass, joined them for a little time in the limelight on back-up vocals. And the song? Why, the Emmitt-led “Breakin’ Thru”! Great harmonies between Drew and John all throughout this song, Cowan’s strong voice counterpointing Emmitt’s own. Most definitely an old favorite and crowd pleaser, this one was very well received by the audience who cheered their applause with loud voices up into the night skies above. Andy Thorn wrote the next selection of the evening, a song about how lucky the band is to be doing what they do: “Colorado Mountains Evermore”. With its simply stunning banjo intro, this one is one that I dig very much. And not just because I am from Colorado. This song is an anthem about all the joys and merriments and contentments associated with the bluegrass, slamgrass lifestyle and way of living. And I love hearing Andy sing, too. Hard drivin’, fast pickin’ here as well…all you can eat and more. This song just motors onwards and forwards at a blistering pace, each man keeping time on his instrument like a human metronome. Greg Garrison’s bass line laid a stout foundation upon which all this madness could ensue. Not an easy task whatsoever. Kudos to Greg, no doubt about it. John Cowan and Sam Bush were good friends to have on hand for the next number, John Hartford’s amazing “Steam Powered Aereo Plane”, which roared to life through Thorn’s banjo and ripped into the entire band spurring on one of the best renditions of this song I have ever witnessed. But, wait…you’re in luck!! Because you can witness it, too, through the wonders of this video!! Enjoy, friends!! (I am sure you will.)
Wasn’t that just about perfect in every way? Love that ride! Their last song of the evening was to be “High Country”, a familiar selection from the Salmon catalogue and a very welcome addition to the evening. After all, we were in the high country listening to “High Country” — what more could you possibly ask for? Oh, how about the fact that Sam Bush was still out there with them killing it on fiddle? How about that? Not bad, right? And then they tied an absolutely humongous ending on it and called it a night. Booyah! Or did they? Not unless I had dreamt that Chris Daniels came out to join them all for a badass “Rag Mama Rag” encore. They certainly weren’t going to let this evening die out with a whimper. Alwyn’s drums boomed the opposite of that message, buoying up the evening until the very end and inspiring dancing in every set of feet present. Vince was busy rocking the vocals summarily while Erik took the opportunity yet again prove how deadly he is on that piano. Very. I mean very. Sammy Bush wasn’t to be outdone, himself, chiming in like a demon on his fiddle. Beastly in all the right ways. In all manner of speaking, this was a gargantuan end to a supremely gluttonous set, all of us sated to the brim on Salmon. Delicious, delicious Salmon. My stars, what a show this had been!! My stars, my thanks, my eternal gratitude!! Now that is what Telluride is all about, my friends!! Thank you Salmon men. Thank you for that set and all that you do. Thank you.