Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2015
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Saturday Highlights - Part One
The Telluride Band Competition - Trout Steak Revival - Yonder Mountain String Band
It was “festival early” by the time we dragged ourselves into the Town Park venue. Leftover Salmon had worn us out the night before with a truly epic (yes, that word) late night show. One of the best I’ve seen…but that’s a story for another time. Right now it’s time to talk about why we were up and moving and at the Main Stage “so” early on Saturday morning: The Telluride Band Competition Finals. The five bands that made it through the prelims would be competing for the title on the very stage where one would perform a full set at next year’s festival. We walked in to the familiar sounds of a Lil’ Smokies song, with their robust texture and multi-part harmonies which then gave way to a fast pickin’ instrumental. Afterwards, The Smokies gave us the ballad of “California” followed by another tune featuring some really exquisite banjo work. Denver’s own The Lonesome Days were up next opening with “I’m Tired” a song about the futile attempt to get ahead in life and the toll it takes on the soul and body. Their quick set was peppered by some hard drivin’ music and skillful playing. They surely made Denver proud. And, after all the bands were done (and they all did an incredibly fantastic job — any of them could have taken first place), it was down to just these two bands, as fate would have it. But, there could be only one. And that one was to be Missoula, Montana’s The Lil’ Smokies, the 2015 Telluride Band Competition Winners! They were overjoyed to win and showed it freely on stage thanking the judges and crowd and everyone prolifically. It was a very happy moment. I’ll be psyched to see them and what they’ll bring to the Main Stage in 2016.
Speaking of winners on the Main Stage, it was time for Trout Steak Revival’s triumphant return to Telluride to do just that. This was my fourth or so time seeing this young band and, truthfully, I have grown rather fond of their music very quickly. I was really happy to hear them open with “Get a Fire Going”, one of my favorite songs of theirs. A happy, uplifting, joy-making number, this one always is a great positive affirmation to have alongside all your other live music. It’s one of those that makes you feel better after hearing it. “…it only takes a little spark to get a fire going.” And what a spark Trout Steak has! Bevin Foley was up to the mic next for the sassy but serious “Go On” handing some poor soul their walking papers through song. Later down the set came the driving and mysterious “Wind on the Mountain” which featured some exemplary instrumental interludes in between the hauntingly beautiful vocals. I really do love that song the more and more I hear it. “Ours for the Taking”, that optimistic tale of new beginnings and new possibilities followed — the chorus displaying some more of the harmonious vocal interplay that I have come to enjoy so much from this band. Who doesn’t love a good road trip song? Their next selection, “Oklahoma”, with its fast pickin’ banjo and guitar backing and rather memorable fiddle run, is and was that day, just that. Another great choice for this Telluride crowd. And then, into that special afternoon sunshine, Trout Steak sang and played my favorite of their songs, “Brighter Every Day”. Songs can be about anything — about any subject or situation that the writer imagines, dreams, or fashions. This song is about hope and positivity and joy and goodness and good feelings. And, in a set of songs that make you feel happy, this one stands out as their king. I challenge anyone to listen (and I mean really listen and not dismiss) to this song and not feel better for it. Of their final song they said that it was “about living life with the opportunity to meet anyone and at any moment who just might be the person that will change the course your life.” OK, I was hooked. So when they fired up the furtive “Like a River to the Sea” I could see what they had been talking about. For the unexpected encore we got the much-anticipated “Pie”, a song they told us they had thought no serious enough for Telluride Bluegrass. But what, I ask you, is more important than pie? Early in the morning, late in the evening? Till the day I die? A catchy, fun, and funny little ditty that’s both great for immediate dancing and delayed “lyrics-on-the-brain” syndrome (you will find yourself singing or humming or whistling this song over and over and over again so just get ready) and a great way to finish up a victorious back-to-Telluride set. I expect grand things from this young band in the future.
After a quick break from the sun and a few rounds through this year’s vendors (which were fantastic and varied — it was also great to see our friend Phil Lewis at his booth, always nice to see a buddy) it was back to our spots near the Main Stage for Yonder Mountain String Band’s afternoon set. The lion’s share of their set it turned out was their new album, Black Sheep, which they played in its entirety from start to finish. Certainly a bold and daring move for Telluride, but one that also certainly paid off in the band putting their newest material directly in the hands, eyes, and ears of this of all audiences — a bold move, indeed. “Insult and an Elbow” got things off to that fast pickin’ start we’ve all come to expect from YMSB. The eponymous “Black Sheep” came after followed by the quick stepping “Ever Fallen In Love With Someone You Shouldn’t Have” featuring some very excellent fiddle work. Catching most of the set from the middle of the crowd, we walked up front to the dulcet tones of Miss Allie Krall intoning the sweet and lovely “Love Before You Can’t” in the warm late day heat and grabbed some real estate there to take in the rest of the music. I must now mention the insane mando skills of Jake Jolliff on “Drawing a Melody” a clear favorite of mine from the album if for nothing else than the opening and closing licks from Jake. Insane. Did I say that already? Well, I’m going to say it again. Insane. After wrapping the album with “New Dusty Miller” the band stepped large with the always great Sam Bush joining on for a whopping 23:00+ “Only a Northern Song” that took us all on an electrifying musical journey until finally closing things down for good with a “Shakedown Street” encore, thereby grabbing themselves a bit of small redemption from Dear Jerry as well. Another full circle. Another great set and many thanks to Yonder for an afternoon of very fine musicianship. Certainly had me very much looking forward to the rest of the day…but that will have to wait a spell.
Standby for Part Two!!