Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2016
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
The Infamous Stringdusters featuring Nicki Bluhm
Never miss a Sunday show as that old and wise saying goes. So, I suppose at a fest such as Telluride, you might have to broaden that a bit and rather say: never miss a Sunday. Such was the case in Town Park this year with a veritable bevy of incredible music to choose from. And what choices, right? Like the Dusters, for instance? Walking up to the main stage area we were graced with ever the crowd pleasing “Night on the River” the band firing up in full force from the get go. And who doesn’t love getting Dusty, right? What a powerhouse band…another of those that keeps getting better each time I see them. And so entertaining! Such energy and movement on stage and the obvious ultra-enjoyment written on ever member’s face the entire time. It sure is refreshing to watch someone who loves their job so much, am I right? And this is always certainly the case with The Infamous Stringdusters. Keeping with the river theme, they took “Night on the River” directly into “Where the Rivers Run Cold” another favorite from their catalogue. Good combo there, those two songs. And what a beautiful evening it was, too, by the way. The sun was beginning to go down throwing long shadows from the trees and painting the surrounding mountains in gorgeous shades of ever-reddening dwindling light. It was our last evening in Town Park for a long time to come and we were all savoring the experience with as much gusto and fervor as we could muster. Next up in line for the set was the instrumental “Sirens”, filled to the brim with incredible musicianship. From Andy Hall’s brilliant dobro dominance to Jeremy Garrett’s absolutely deadly fiddling, pieces like this one always tend to satisfy whatever bluegrass cravings you might have brought with you to the show. A bit later in the set, friend of the band and songstress Nicki Bluhm came out to join the fellas for a few songs. The first of these was “Run to Heaven, Run to Hell” one of the excellent familiar choices for this particular collaboration. I’ve had the chance to hear this song several times now with Nicki in the lead and it definitely grows more and more each time I hear it. And that fantastic dobro intro from Hall? I love that I know it so well now…because I love it. And the fact that the same melodic line comes back over and again in contrast to Nicki’s singing, both complementing the other so well. Excellence and another great opportunity to point out the overall great success of this collaboration between Bluhm and the boys. In honor of Father’s Day, they offered up a little love song next, Jeremy Garrett taking lead vocals with Bluhm in harmonic support. “Ring on Your Finger” was a new one to my ears and an enjoyable one at that. A lovely, buoyant energy to this one really made for some great dancing potential. Which the audience capitalized upon, but of course. And there were some really fine harmonies in this one between Nicki and the boys…polished. Appreciably polished. Like most of the Dusters’ harmonies in point of fact. Sara Watkins also came out for a little guest action on “See How Far You’ve Come” — another of the ladies with whom ISD collaborated on their most recent album, Ladies and Gentlemen. And what a project, too! Lots of star power and voice power counted amongst those friends on the album, fellas. Bravi to all on a job very well done!! What a great body of work to contribute to the bluegrass universe! And then how about that Phish they played for us? Yeah, that’s right…Phish. “First Tube” to be precise. And they killed it! Completely! It really did sound amazing as a grassed-up Dusters version, no doubts there. What an unexpected treat! Thank you Dusters! How about Nicki Bluhm joining in those big, lovely vocal harmonies on “Let It Go” next up in line? What a positive song to begin with, both lyrically and musically, and then to hear it in a place like Telluride with so much nature and joy and life and laughter all around? Magnificent. Just magnificent. It really did sound just spectacular, too. No notes! Later still down the set, we got a very fine “Peace of Mind” which we just happen to have for you here in its entirety, so you can savor a bit of this excellent set:
Hope you enjoyed that. And how about that new stage, huh? Pretty durn incredible, right? Certainly made for the perfect backdrop to the 43rd Annual. They followed “Peace” up with “You Can’t Stop the Changes”, a song filled with lots and lots and lots of great instrumental work. Chris Pandolfi’s banjo is a steady constant of awesome throughout the song, at several points making space for Garrett’s fiddle or Andy Falco’s guitar to take center stage. Travis Book, as always, laying down brick after musical brick of the foundation of each number, his bass booming out in all the right ways was doing so with relish and gusto and that eternal smile of his. Ah, classic rock time. Nicki Bluhm was back out to sing “Somebody to Love” channelling her inner Janis, proving a marvelous way to end a marvelous show. The crowd ate this one up completely — there wasn’t a voice in the audience not singing along to this well-known favorite. Pretty sweet bluegrass version of this song, too. But they weren’t done just yet! Oh no, friends! They had a big encore for us in the form of “17 Cents”. Jeremy Garrett was back up to the mic for the lead on this one, not to mention laying down some phat fiddle in between verses. More fantastic Dusters-style vocal harmonies all throughout this one, too. Just wonderful. Got a bit more dobro to appease my addiction as well thanks to Andy Hall and that magical instrument of his. And his superb skills on said instrument. How much fun had this been? Bravi to the Stringdusters and their friends and guests on a phenomenal afternoon set at Telluride this year!! A big thank you all around!!
Telluride House Band
I cannot help but think of that term and chuckle: “Telluride House Band”. What a completely unassuming name for the band of bluegrass super heroes who took the stage. I mean, here is the roster for you: Bela Fleck on banjo, Edgar Meyer on bass, Sam Bush on mandolin, Bryan Sutton on guitar, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, and Jerry Douglas on dobro. My goodness! I need to sit down after something like that! Supergroup-and-a-half, eh, friends? Precisely. So you can surmise the level of otherworldly music we were granted with for the final main stage show of the 43rd Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Level: expert. Yup, that about sums it up. So, let’s get to that music, shall we? “Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes” was the first song of the show, Sam Bush on lead vocals. Nothing like a bluegrass classic to kick things off, right? Fabulous work from all corners of the band on instruments, too…from Jerry on dobro to Sam on mando and Stuart on fiddle, each colored in the bars of the song in between the verses like a master painter at work on a fresh canvas. These giants of grass music certainly weren’t shy when it came to doling out amazing note after note after note. Great way to get things going — it promised to be a pretty stellar set. As if I didn’t know that already just from the line-up. I didn’t quite catch the name of the next number, a Bryan Sutton lead, but it is more than likely close to “I’ll Find Peace Again”. This was a fast picker, too, no doubt about it. So many notes! So many dobro notes, for instance, as Jerry was wont to deal them out delightfully liberally. Thankfully. And quite an excellent amount of mando notes, too. Thanks, Sammy. Great fun, this one…I really need to track down the proper title so I can find it again. Next up the band played a piece written by Bela Fleck entitled “Spanish Point”. What a lead-in by Sutton on guitar!! But wait, you can check it out yourself — we snagged a video of the entire song just for you! Please enjoy, friend!
“House Band” right? Hahaha. Right. I want them to be the band at my house. Why not? Then it was time for “John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man”…gee, I wonder what this song was going to be about. Have to love bluegrass that way sometimes. This one started out at a quick clip with some serious fiddling from Mr. Duncan peppering the entire intro. Bela stepped forward to showcase his banjo skills a couple of minutes in with a big solo only to be answered by Sammy Bush not long after who tore up his mando fretboard like a madman. But, Jerry Douglas was not to be outdone jumping out for his own big moment just before the lyrics came back in again. And then Sutton, whew!! The speed with which that man can attack a guitar is just breathtaking. Just when you thought this song couldn’t get any crazier, Edgar’s bass solo sparked up like a firecracker surprising more than one member of the crowd for sure. All around, such incredible music from everyone on stage. Damn. Jerry led things off for the next selection, taking some sweet, sweet time to make that dobro of his sing and dance. No argument that the man is an adept, an expert-level master on his chosen instrument. And always what an honor to hear him play! This was a lively instrumental from start to finish and the perfect environmentin which to solo for each and every member of the band. Big, fat solos from all of them…and I mean all of them. Bryan? Amazing. Meyer? Are you kidding me? All of them, as I said just dominated the round-robin and back-and-forth throughout the entire piece. What a shame I have no idea what the name of it was. Hazards of the job, right? A Merle Travis song was next in line, one about coal mining life in places like West Virginia and Kentucky. The indomitable John Cowan joined the house band for the lead vocals on this one. It had been fantastic seeing John all over during the festival weekend. What a magnificent addition he made to so many songs and bands! “Dark As a Dungeon” was a sad tale of exploitation and horrid conditions for the miners in question, an anthem to champion their plight. Cowan just nailed the vocals, of course, this being a perfect song for his range, in my opinion. Poignant and powerful, this one was intense both lyrically and musically, mellow yet brooding. A little later on in the set we got a fantastic tribute to John Hartford in the form of “Up on the Hill Where They Do they Boogie”, a rendition of which Mr. Hartford himself would have been proud. I love this song. I love this song no matter who plays it and the Telluride House Band was rocking it all over the place. Some dark and mysterious fiddle from Stuart early on bled back into the melody line in a masterful stroke of the bow. “I wonder what they do when they do the boogie and I wonder what I’m doing here.” Well I knew precisely what I was doing there at Town Park, boogying to Edgar Meyer thrashing out on his bass for one thing and the remainder of the band going nuts for another. Bravi, gents, what a ride!! John Cowan was back up to the mic for the lead on the classic “A Good Woman’s Love” and, man, did he ever hit some strong notes. That fellow has quite the voice on him. Really lovely work from Bela and Jerry on this song, both men showing just what they can do on their tools of the trade. A mighty fine version of this bluegrass love song. Later on down this monster set, they closed things out with hard drivin’, fast pickin’ number that featured pretty much everyone many times over before things were through. A Stuart Duncan lead, it was Bill Monroe’s “Pig in a Pen” and it was marvelous. So fast, so precise, so many notes from so many hands. The exchange of solo from man to man throughout was nothing short of expert. It’s almost impossible to describe that impressive wall of sound coming from the stage. A bluegrass tsunami of massive proportions that caused absolute mirth and merriment wherever it splashed down. Despite all that amazing, they weren’t done yet! They had a few encores for us to savor. The first of which was Edgar Meyer’s mellow tune, “Green Slime”, whose music far outshines its name. This was a chill exploration through the musical landscape dotted all along by the instrumental lines of the giants on the stage. Banjo and fiddle and dobro and guitar…all were featured and all featured so well. The second encore was Flatt and Scruggs’s “Salty Dog Blues” and we were all invited to sing along to this familiar friend of a song. Which lots and lots of us did, our voices raised to the sky. Probably the best version of this song I’ve ever heard just given the musicians in question and their demigod status. Their third and final encore of the evening and the last notes to be played on the Telluride Bluegrass main stage for the 43rd Annual was the “White House Blues”. This proved to be a bluegrass freight train rocketing down the tracks at ludicrous speed filled completely with world-class grass picking. Damn, it was just so good! Blasting at all cylinders until the very end, this was the perfect finish to a weekend already brimming over with more amazing music than I could handle. What a show!! Bravi, gentlemen, and thank you ever so much for one of the best sets of the weekend!! Please consider being the house band at my place, if you are ever looking for a non-Telluride gig together, that is. We’ll make sure to have really good refreshments! Think it over…no need to tell me know.
And then it was over. In a bluegrass blink-of-an-eye! So hard to believe that four days of utter joy just flew by like that — it almost isn’t fair how the marvelous times in life seem to jet past while the miserable days can drag on and on. But, I’ll take it. I’ll take every minute of it no matter the speed at which it travels. An experience such as the Telluride Bluegrass Festival makes it so worth it at every turn. From the main stage shows to Elks Park to Nightgrass and everything that comes between, during, before, or after, your time in Telluride is second to none. Just looking up around at the waterfalls and mountains and green trees and blue skies and then down at the picturesque and inviting little town, you get a sense of just how special this whole deal really and truly is. And has been for well over 40 years. And that’s saying a whole lot. A huge round of applause to all those folks who worked so hard to put this year’s fest on for us. Your work is so greatly appreciated!! A big thanks, as well, to all the bands and musicians who provided the musical everything for the weekend!! I really can’t wait to do it all over again next year. No really. Seriously. Only 11.5 months to go, right? Right.