Telluride Bluegrass | 06.19 - 06.22 | CO

Words by: Nick Hutchinson | Images by: Benko Photographics

35th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival :: 06.19.08 – 06.22.08 :: Town Park :: Telluride, CO

Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2008
At this point in its illustrious 35-year career, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival can safely be called an institution. The exuberant weeks leading up to the fest, the journey to the idyllic box canyon in the San Juan Range of southwest Colorado and the actual unfolding of the epic four-day musical event has become an integral part of life for the "festivarians" who make it an obligatory summer ritual. For yet another awe-inspiring season, TBF delivered and then some. Perhaps the words of John Hartford (as channeled through Vince Herman) say it best: "Just when you think it can't get no better then it does!"

In keeping with its history of throwing musical curveballs at the audience via eclectic bookings, Planet Bluegrass, which has managed the fest for the past 20 years now, featured what many were calling "the best lineup ever," which included non-bluegrass performers such as Arlo Guthrie, Ani DiFranco, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Glen Hansard (Once), Bruce Hornsby, Brett Dennen and Solomon Burke. The management served up a musical stew for the 35th anniversary that provided something for everyone. The sonic diversity catered to those who love good old American-rooted bluegrass and newgrass (Del McCoury, Hot Rize, Sam Bush Band, Steep Canyon Rangers, Cadillac Sky and The Telluride House Band), as well as to those who enjoy sampling the vibes of artists from further away, such as The Frames, The Duhks and Paolo Nutini. Depending who you asked, all of these acts were pleasing; the audience, which can be critical, tends to be as eclectic as the lineup.

And while the festival seems to outdo itself on a musical level with every new iteration, its continued greening efforts were abundantly clear this year, too. The bulk of the waste produced at the fest was dutifully separated for recycling and composting by a committed crew of volunteers, who kept the festival grounds looking pristine and reminded us to tread lightly so that we can preserve this kind of locale for years to come. Sometimes the best part of the fest is simply being in Telluride, where picturesque falls gush down to feed the cooling creek that flows through town and the shimmering aspens that line the mountains on all sides of the stage. Add to that some of the finest musicians in the world holding court for four days and it's tough not to want to stay in festival Shangri-La forever.

Some Highlights from the 35th Installment

Ryan Adams :: Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2008
Nashville songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott kicked things off Thursday with his thoughtful solo acoustic music. Scott cut his teeth playing with the likes of Tim O'Brien, Sam Bush and Steve Earle, and has written material for the Dixie Chicks, among others. His earthy tunes, including "It's a Great Day to Be Alive," were a fitting pick to warm up the crowd.

The Emmitt Nershi Band played a very well-received set on Friday that closed with a hot take on Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue." Leave it to Drew and Billy to take Dylan up a notch by infusing a classic with a heady dose of jamgrass.

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder with Bruce Hornsby threw down one of the more interesting sets of the weekend. Hornsby crooned many of his hits, including "The Way It Is" and some of his material from the Dead years such as "White Wheeled Limousine" and "The Old Valley Road," while Skaggs and his boys lit things up bluegrass style. Overall, they blended well, with a pleasing tension between pop, piano jazz and bluegrass.

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals seemed to test the audience by putting down a churning high voltage and voluble blend of alt-folk and psychedelia – no acoustic guitar was seen during his set. They ended their unique performance, which included a nice version of "Cold Roses," by saying, "We love bluegrass." Maybe a little irony there.

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder with Bruce Hornsby
Friday night's Leftover Salmon show was a powerful example of collective high country juju when Sam Bush and Del McCoury and sons joined Herman and company for a smoking version of "Midnight Blues" (from 1997's excellent LOS release, The Nashville Sessions) that had the high lonesome sound soaring moonward on a rocket of polyethnic Cajun slamgrass.

Singer-songwriter Tift Merritt made some new friends on Saturday when she declared that she was planning to cancel the rest of her tour so that she could play Telluride every day.

Sam Bush stepped onstage with Yonder Mountain String Band on Saturday and pushed the festival meter into the "no going back now" zone as he added scorching fiddle licks to the already boiling Yonder sound. The crowd sing-along during the encore, "Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown," was one for the books, with the general audience looming maniacally over the poser pit.

The Sam Bush Band, which featured among others, John Oates of Hall & Oates – yes, they played "Maneater" - closed its Saturday set with a rousing "Up On Cripple Creek" that segued into a crowd-amping jam.

Sam Bush and John Oats
The Frames, the Irish folk rock band led by Glen Hansard, felt like a bit of a comedown following Bush's blistering set. They were out of tune for their first song, a slow and pensive number, and they didn't really find their legs until later in the set. The crowd thinned for this one, though fans of the band declared it to be a moving performance.

The much-anticipated Sunday set by The Swell Season was a reflection of what can happen in Telluride when everyone starts feeling giddy. Glen Hansard was back onstage, this time with his Once co-star, Marketa Irglova, to revisit some of the stirring music from their romantic film, including the Oscar winning "Falling Slowly." A marshmallow war broke out during their performance that saw thousands of soft white confections bouncing through the air and off the stage. These quirky moments seem to come one after the other in Telluride.

The Duhks' version of Zep's "Whole Lotta Love" (which was also covered by Sam Bush) was a lesson in genre cross-over.

Hot Rize, and its honky-tonk counterpart Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, performed their 30th anniversary reunion shows on Sunday. As always, the boys from Boulder delivered it hot. Opening up with "Blue Night" and lifting off from there, it's a shame they didn't play longer, though Waldo Otto, aka Pete Wernick, later made a colorful appearance during the Telluride House Band's festival closing set to mutter some Vince Herman-like gibberish ("Think about the Children!").

Nathan Moore
2008 Telluride Troubadour Winner
JamBase favorite Nathan Moore was named the 2008 Telluride Troubadour. Although he's a star to some through his solo work and as part of Surprise Me Mr. Davis, when he took the stage with his brand new custom-made guitar he was awarded, he wowed the largest crowd he'd ever seen with a bunch of older material as well as a song he wrote the night before at the campground. While Moore took down the Troubadour award, the Blue Canyon Boys won the Band competition and they will be performing on the main stage next year at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

It's always comforting to know that the core artists upon whose shoulders the festival was established are present and ready to give it their usual all – pickers and pluckers such as Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Pete Wernick, Vince Herman, Drew Emmitt, John Cowan and Tim O'Brien, to name a few. These Telluride stalwarts returned to the Fred Shellman Memorial Stage with their trademark virtuosity and banter (anyone for some more "polk-ass" music?), and Sunday's festival closing show by the House Band including Bush, Douglas, Bryan Sutton, Edgar Meyer, fiddler Luke Bulla and Fleck brought things to a typically sweet close with a version of "Molly and Tenbrooks."

Once the action on the main stage was over each day, many festivarians chose to wander down Main Street, with a variety of venues (Fly Me To The Moon Saloon, Los Montanas and The Sheridan) featuring official late night jams by some of the festival acts, and local watering holes hosting more down home gigs by up-and-coming groups, of which there appears to be no shortage. With 10,000 music addicts filling up Telluride around the time of the Summer Solstice, the town teemed with possibilities with the new moon illuminating it all.

The incredible workshops in Elk's Town Park drew a lot of notice this year as well, with the Swell Season putting on an inspired session on the little stage off of Main Street, and Bela Fleck screening his latest documentary about the banjo, Throw Down Your Heart, at the Nugget Theatre. Just when you think the Telluride Bluegrass Festival can't get any better it pulls off a 35th Anniversary like this!

Ani DiFranco
Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn giving a workshop
Bela Fleck & Jerry Douglas
Blue Canyon Boys
Solomon Burke
Sam Bush
Sam Bush introducing Jerry Douglas
Darrell Scott & Tift Merritt
Emmitt-Nershi Band :: NightGrass
Emmitt-Nershi Band
The Frames
The Punch Brothers
Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers
Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers
Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder with Bruce Hornsby
Steep Canyon Rangers :: NightGrass
Uncle Earl
Ani DiFranco
Arlo Guthrie
Arlo Guthrie
Darrell Scott
Darrell Scott & John Cowan
Brett Dennen
Jerry Douglas
The Duhks' Sarah Dugas with Abigail Washburn
The Duhks in a hail storm
Glen Hansard
The Swell Season - Marketa Irglova & Glen Hansard
Hot Rize - Tim O'Brien & Nick Forster
Leftover Salmon
Billy Nershi
Paolo Nutini
Jeff Austin - Yonder Mountain String Band
Abigail Washburn

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[Published on: 7/2/08]

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joolzen1 Wed 7/2/2008 09:54AM
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dang...just looked amazing

cart Wed 7/2/2008 09:59AM
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Some more Ryan Adams pics would be nice. Still, nice!

uncljohnsband5 Wed 7/2/2008 10:46AM
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not too sure if im going to any other festival again, all was good in t-ride

gmoo Wed 7/2/2008 11:09AM
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That picture with Arlo Guthrie and the crowd is awesome. I gotta get there.

psogator43 Wed 7/2/2008 11:14AM
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jeeez now thats an amazing background

nwb starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/2/2008 11:19AM
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Cart, to be honest with you, Ryan Adams sent the crowd heading for the gates. Sorry Planet Bluegrass, but you blew that decision to bring Ryan Adams on board. You did the late night show a favor by sending everyone there early. What were they thinking bringing him to Telluride. He sucked!! Worst or 2nd worst show of the weekend, hands down, no question. Unfortunately for the town of Telluride, his concert echoed throughout the whole town. They pretty much got everything else right, though.

dispatch24 Wed 7/2/2008 11:24AM
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Does that picture of Darrell Scott leaning over playing his electric look like what Jeff Austin from YMSB will look life in about 20 years?

jjwood starstarstarstar Wed 7/2/2008 11:31AM
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Nice article. I am in agreement with nwb, as I listened to some of the Ryan Adams set from my Town Park campsite, and it *easily* warranted my decision to catch the killer McCoury Brothers and Friends show at the Sheridan. I am also in disagreement with "Best Lineup Ever", as after five Tellurides, the 2005 lineup was easily superior (Gillian Welch, David Bromberg, Alison Krauss, etc.). I found Paulo Natuni and Brett Dennen to be nothing more than filler, and the Swell Season was too overwrought to these ears. Key acts of Telluride 2008: Telluride House Band, Hot Rize, Solomon Burke, Skaggs & Hornsby, Bela Fleck duets with friends, Leftover Salmon, Emmitt-Nershi @ the Sheridan, Arlo, Uncle Earl, Spring Creek, and Leftover Salmon.

tb Wed 7/2/2008 12:04PM
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man billy let his hair down!

cart Wed 7/2/2008 12:05PM
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I always like a little diversity to my festivals. Just the way I work. I love bluegrass but come on, one show of may being a little different is not a bad thing. Just have to open your mind and give a conscious listen. Like Metallica at Bonnarroo this year. Metal is not my music but I gave it a chance and enjoyed parts for sure. Just my opinion of course.

MarkBC starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/2/2008 01:42PM
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Anyone who was there have anything to say about the Punch Brothers? A great bluegrass band with lots of energy and great story telling I bet they rocked this place!

Treetophigh Wed 7/2/2008 02:06PM
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^^^ i dug it

as well as the john cowen band

benthebeeler83 starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/2/2008 04:29PM
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Ryan Adams?!? Amen nwb, preach on..

tourfan starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/2/2008 05:34PM
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As a "festivarian" - way to coin a term nick - myself, it is my most sincere intention to make it to Telluride one day. Thanks for sharing the love with those of us who couldn't make it. Great pics. Love the last shot of Abby on the stairs.

Weezer starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/2/2008 05:35PM
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Yes. Saw Puch Bros. They were good. Noam adds a lot. Good new Thile outfit.

bold99 Thu 7/3/2008 05:47AM
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I'm assuming they broguht RA & the Cards there to do an acoustic set which I've seen him do with the full band in the past year and it was excellent. I can see people at festival like this not appreciating the full electric show. Although after seeing him solo acoustic and full band acoustic I cannot wait to see the full electric show this sept. He also used to play with people like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings and has a lot of respect in that kind of music, it is just not what he's playing these days.

PatrickQ Thu 7/3/2008 06:06AM
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A one page article for such an amazing festival, that's terrible. No mention of Yonder anywhere, who wrote this?

willn Thu 7/3/2008 07:50AM
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Great festival!! I enjoyed everything. I am going back next year.

One correction - Bruce Hornsby & Ricky Skaggs did not play 'Rainbow's Cadillac'.

wsp13 starstarstarstar Thu 7/3/2008 08:28AM
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Great photos. Have to agree with nwb on Brian Adams. I don't really get why the folks who run Telluride feel the crowd needs anything other than SWEET TRUE BLUEGRASS, and the best in the world for that matter.

Telluride is by far the best place to have a festival. It sure is a hard place to get to, but there is a major reward and lots of incredible scenery and hiking nearby. The whole town is awe inspiring, and the weather is typically stellar in June. Stay classic Telluride!

acomma Thu 7/3/2008 12:55PM
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Someday I will make it to this festival

Jukebox Hero Thu 7/3/2008 01:31PM
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Jukebox Hero

wsp13: Telluride is about anything but "sweet true bluegrass." The festival has been about "newgrass" and branching out into all kinds of roots music since its inception. I can't say anything about this Ryan Adams show as I was not there, but he is an incredible musician who is capable of putting on an excellent show (He is certainly capable of putting on a shitty show as well). I'm all for the diversity. If you want "sweet true bluegrass," go to Bill Monroe's Bean Blossom in Indiana. It's a whole different kind of festival.

entitilitis Fri 7/4/2008 10:02AM
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Weezer Fri 7/4/2008 11:53AM
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Telluride is a great music fest - be it bluegrass, newgrass or whatever. Most people familiar with the fest know that it's not going to be sraight-up oldtime bluegrass. And there's always room for dancing and gettin' down - just watch the crowd during Salmon, Yonder or whoever happens to be lighting it up.

entitilitis Fri 7/4/2008 08:11PM
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OWNED? You don't own shit, probably living in your parents big ass house, drive their wonderful status symbols, and buy elbows of dank w/ their cash. I will say that I envy all those in MI right now; def one of the best fests of the summer. And as far as Bluegrass goes, it's been around for about 150 years(probably way longer), trance music won't last the next 10 years. And anyway, who the hell smokes heady shit using blunts. Un-less you schwag it up bluntsnbisco. Yay swisher sweets and Bisco!

achalsey Sat 7/5/2008 11:58AM
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I have to say I hate to contribute to his petty argument but that comment really got me. First of all anyone using the term newb has got to have very little credibility to begin with, and second bluegrass is some of the most authentic incredible music around. I hate to use the word "jam" band but a lot of these newgrass bands certainly improvise a lot. Sam Bush, Leftover, Bela all explore some amazingly interesting sounds and places with so much more precision than most "jam" bands do. I hate jamtronica garbage which is not music just beats put on beats put on beats which should be left to clubs and raves where bisco heads with all their E can be contained without interfering with the rest of the world. If you want to see some real true music watch and listen to some of these guys pick their mandolins, guitars, fiddles or whatever they may be pickin' and wait for your mind to be blown.

Brad&Steve Sat 7/5/2008 02:55PM
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Why was there no mention of Spring Creek Bluegrass band. They killed it and hopefully will remain a mainstay of this festival. How can anyone hate on true acoustic music, it's the purest form.

helenfromlondon Sat 7/5/2008 03:44PM
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I loved Telluride - one of the awesomest festivals ever - reading this review made me feel like I was back in the most beautiful box canyon in the world listening to the music bounce off the mountains!

One little thing though - my experience of Ryan Adams and The Frames was obviously totally different to that of the reviewer... I think Ryan let himself down as an artist; he could have done so much better. He was out of time with his own songs, and mumbled through pretty much all the words.

On the other hand, The Frames... had some tuning problems, but I can't say I noticed them being OUT of tune... they just seemed to lose momentum in their set. Despite that, when they were playing... it was awesome. They gave it their all.

I love the different spectrums of music at Telluride this year, I think it's great to compliment the ever wonderful bluegrass with some new sounds, and especially new, young, talented artists.

That's my penny's worth anyway ;-)

jackiesoup starstarstarstarstar Sat 7/5/2008 09:06PM
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I'm sure that Ryan Adams & The Cardinals were outstanding at worst.

Can't wait to hear the recording.

I wish I was there for the whole fest.

DAMONCORY starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/7/2008 11:43AM
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If you ever get lucky enough to go to this fest dont miss out. I went in 2006 and had a ball. What a beautiful place! I liked the 06' addition of the Drive By Truckers & Sharon Jones. All the pickin is great, but its nice to mix it up a bit.

MyFavBandIsTheBestYoursSucks starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/7/2008 12:49PM
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Everyone needs to experience this festival at least once in their lives.

bluntsnbisco420 is obviously not for real, nobody is that ignorant are they?? if they are for real im concerned about them breeding.

Jambase.... please just delete this fool.

bubbajohn starstarstarstar Tue 7/8/2008 09:12AM
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This sounded like one onf the best festis of the summer, i hope to go one day but living on the east coast is a bitch sometimes. I'm also sick and tired of everyone putting bisco kids all together. i love em and the whole jam-trance scene (even though it can be sketchy), just as much as i love bluegrass and all grassroots music. so if you want to bash bisco go ahead but just know that everyone has their own taste in music so stop hatin' just because you have nothing else to do with day.

MyFavBandIsTheBestYoursSucks starstarstar Tue 7/8/2008 09:36AM
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bubbajohn >im in the same boat as you. I do like Bisco & have had a great time at many of their shows. I love all types of music. My problem is with the poster & posters like: bluntsnbisco420, As you can tell by his last post he's an arrogant, elitist, who stereotypes the fans of music he does not like. Peace.

moonnug Tue 7/8/2008 11:40AM
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I don't post very often to Jambase and generally avoid stupid pissing matches such as the one this thread is turning into. Though I think that a lot of the popular bands out there right now are absolute crap I don't bother to post my opinions on threads about bands like DMB and Bisco. Personally, I just don't see the point of logging on to a story about a bluegrass festival to trash bluegrass?

Newbfest you say? Telluride is one of the most beautiful festival sites in the world and has been bringing fantastic lineups for 35 years. The audience at TBF are some of the nicest, most professional partiers that you could ever meet and we really don't want your kind there anyhow.

Since you brought it up I feel impelled to share my views on your favorite band. Personally, I think Bisco is one of the worst bands that I have ever heard. From their repetitive/pointless jams to their stupid lyrics to their shady, drugged out, trustafarian wook audience, truly a band that has it all. Honestly, I don't get electonic jam music in general and think that it is ruining the live music scene, why form a band to imitates computer music? To me, electronica is just like a Jazzercize tape; you can move your body to it but it has NO SOUL and doesn't move you on the inside.

Pribilof starstarstar Tue 7/8/2008 05:26PM
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Ryan Adams - Terrible! The Frames - Terrible. I thought all the headliners were garbage other than the House Band. I signed up to go to Telluride BLUEGRASS festival. Not the Telluride Bluegrass and Folk Music Festival or anything else. The best part of the headliners - nobody wanted to hear them so nobody had to choose between a great headliner and a great Nightgrass show. I will be skipping TBGF next year and heading to String Summit instead.

Also, no mention of any of the Yonder shows? Was the author of this article even at the festival?

battfist starstar Tue 7/8/2008 07:50PM
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Moonnug is right...Ive been to All Good, Gathering of the Vibes, Bonnaroo, Rocky Grass, Haymaker and One World Festival(s)...the people of Telluride are the professionals and are fun to party with. Telluride is my favorite place to see a festival. I hate to say it-but the author of this article doesn't give Telluride its justice. Bluntsnbisco needs to practice what he preaches-he has no clue what he is missing all spaced out...Laquer head!

moonnug Tue 7/8/2008 08:12PM
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That's right, I don't get it. Not because I have no clue about it but because it is crappy music. I have actually seen Bisco 3-4 times, besides the cover of Jane's Addictions "Three Days" at the first one I saw there was not a single redeeming moment. Oh yeah, I met your hero Brownie at a Les Claypool show, I told him to his face that his band sucked.

montra1 starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/9/2008 01:28PM
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with a name like bluntsnbisco420, you're obviously a custy newb yourself. I've been seeing the biscuits for 8 years and they're one of my fav bands. I've also been to Telluride Fest 5 times since '88 and it's incredible just being there. You are an ignorant fuck with a span of appreciation narrower than your cock. Fuck off custifarian

montra1 starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/9/2008 01:30PM
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and you just joined jambase this year. What are you like 16?

JibmastaJ Wed 7/9/2008 10:15PM
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ok so i have never commented before and to tell you the truth never wanted to but i cannot believe how stupid and ignorant bisco 420 is. i dont care if you like bisco i dont care if you hate bluegrass. thats youre own taste and opinion. but to go into a thread and put down bluegrass because you cant get spun to it?seriously?

mmuutts Thu 7/10/2008 09:30AM
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Peace! --loved the diversity! xo

mmuutts Thu 7/10/2008 09:50AM
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And - bought 6 amazing RA-Card CD's. Thanks!!!!

MyFavBandIsTheBestYoursSucks starstarstar Thu 7/10/2008 10:03AM
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It would be nice if bluntbisco added some favorites to his profile, then we will all know what good music is.

Daddyphatsacks Thu 7/10/2008 05:57PM
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Best Festival I've ever been to. Cleanest, best music period! A real MUSIC FESTIVAL from start to finish. And by the way, Ryan Adams and Cards KILLED IT!

chuxen Fri 7/11/2008 12:40PM
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This was our third TBF and it truely is an institution. Most of the folks at this fest have been going for years and years and I have never encountered a more friendly, giving, knowledgeable and peaceful crowd in my life. Also, it makes an excellent family environment with many of our friends in our early 30s having kids and things for them to do. But the combination of music, nature and people make this festival a must and I know we wont miss it again. If you want to pick a fest to meet up with a group of friends/family once a year, this is THE place to do it.

PLEASE bring back Railroad Earth...

montra1 star Tue 7/15/2008 12:00PM
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How arrogant we are??? really bisco420? let me remind you...

"Or did some alcoholic inbred hick named entitilitis flame me out of jealousy due the wealthy family I was born in, the Ivy league school I was legacy'd into, and my healthy quarterly harvest of the most potent mary kwana you'll never get your hands on" -bluntsnbisco420

you suck.....