TELLURIDE TURNS THIRTY-THREE

Words by Nick Hutchinson :: Images by Tobin Voggesser

Telluride Bluegrass Festival :: 06.15-18.06 :: Telluride, CO


Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
My friends and I knew we were on a classic outing when the first person we saw as we idled into Telluride was none other than Victor Wooten casually wheeling his mountain bike down Main Street. We had the radio tuned to the local listener-sponsored radio station, KOTO, and as we neared Town Park, we could hear the gathering crowd buzzing both over the airwaves and literally through the air as the talent stepped onto the Fred Shellman Memorial stage. While it's impossible to effectively relate all the inspired musical moments that made up the 33rd Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival, here's a glimpse of some highlights from the scenic box canyon southeast of Sawpit.

Thursday

After a typically quirky introduction by emcee Pastor Mustard (a.k.a. Dan Sadowsky), the now classic brother-sister duo of Tim and Mollie O'Brien kicked off the event with their flawless harmonies and timeless repertoire, a feel-good mix of old-time, gospel, folk, and traditional gems. The O'Brien siblings provided a soulful and welcome way to ease into the fest and were followed by the Western-themed tunes of The Wayword Sons from Durango, Benny Galloway's eclectic pickin' project (which includes talented Broke Mountain Bluegrassers Anders Beck on dobro and Robin Davis on guitar/mando). Next came the "post-heehaw funkadelic hip-hop newgrass" of Utah-based Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand, a drum-driven group that generated a lot of buzz and is sure to be back in the future based on the crowd response. Shupe does a better version of "Rainbow Connection" than Kermit the Frog himself.


Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand
Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
I started feeling right at home as the sweet strains of the Drew Emmitt Band began radiating from the stage. The group, which features the guitar work of flat-picking six-string champ Tyler Grant and former Leftover Salmoners Noam Pickelny (banjo), Jeff Sipe (drums), and Greg Garrison (bass), nailed a nice version of "All Night Ride" (the first track on the band's 2005 release Across the Bridge). They raised the excitement several notches by adding John Cowan and Sam Bush to the mix. The assembled talent was enough to trip the festival meter, and it push the audience straight into Telluride time. The group's lively take on the Blood On The Tracks Dylan classic "Meet Me in the Morning" hit the spot with a sweet blend of Leftover Salmon-inspired jamminess and Newgrass Revival-oriented newgrass. Other tunes from the set included "Still of the Night," "Just Another Highway Song," and a raucous "Midnight Blues," from the late '90s release The Nashville Sessions. The bubbling set provided a welcome uplift after a long road trip.


Neko Case :: Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
Neko Case brought her acclaimed vocals to the stage on Thursday, much to the pleasure of her devoted fans, and earned herself some new admirers in the process. Case, with the help of her tight backing band, paired Americana songsmithing with countrified grit to arrive at a lush sound that was no less than soothing against the gorgeous alpine backdrop. A palpable hush fell over the crowd as a rainbow appeared during her set.

The All-star Jam was solid business as Bela, Edgar, Tim, Jerry, Bryan, and Sam took the stage to dazzle and delight the crowd with their progressive bluegrass style. First incarnated in 1988 as the Telluride All-stars, this distinguished aggregation (four of whom formed the powerhouse newgrass outfit Strength in Numbers) also included the lighting-fast picking of Bryan Sutton, the sturdy and erudite bass work of Edgar Meyer, and the multifarious talent of Tim O'Brien.


Jerry Douglas
Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
On a stage of luminaries, Jerry "Flux" Douglas shined brightest while Tim and Sam schooled the crowd on how to heat up a fiddle and mando. The virtuosity was abundantly apparent. This is essentially the Telluride house band, comprised of some of the best acoustic musicians on the planet, and everyone knows it and loves it. Any single member of this band could draw a crowd by himself, but put them all together and you achieve liftoff.

From my position at the foot of the stage, I tried and failed to follow SB's fingers on the mandolin as the group ripped through renditions of "Salty Dog," "Look Down That Lonesome Road" (from TOB's Grammy-winning release Fiddler's Green), and "White Water" (aka "Lawnmower," off of Bela Fleck's landmark Drive). The stage antics during this set were typically colorful, with O'Brien contrasted against the "powdered wig" stateliness of Meyer and Bela pushing King Sammy away from the mic just in time to avoid the off-color culmination of lyrical punch lines such as:

Two old men lying in the grass
One has his finger in the other one's...
Honey let me be your salty dog!


Bonnie Raitt :: Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
Bonnie Raitt closed out the first day with a solid set packed with her favorites and then some. It was only her second time in T-ride, and she endeared herself to the crowd by saying "I can't believe I gotta follow those guys!" True words. After taking a moment to ponder that, she said "We'll play the blues, you get the grass, and let's party." That statement also went over well. She furthered the crowd's appreciation by calling up Bela, Jerry and Tim (but where was Sam Bush?) for a few tunes at the end of her show.

Friday

Austin, Texas-based The Greencards, who last year had the honor of hitting the road with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, stamped their name on the stage with a hot T-ride debut. Comprised of two Aussies, mandolin player Kym Warner, and bassist Carol Young, and British fiddle player Eamon McLoughlin, the group knocked out an inspired set of Celtic- inflected bluegrass, including sprightly versions of "The Man From Galilee," "What You Are," and a solid take on the Bill Monroe/Peter Rowan classic "The Walls Of Time." The band was also joined by Rob McCormack on guitar and vocals.


The Greencards:: Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
The Decemberists brought their clever brand of folk-rock to the high mountains, and the Jerry Douglas Band, as usual, was a big crowd favorite, laying into his signature tunes such as "We Play Hide and Seek" (the first track on the recently release DVD Bluegrass Journey, and also on Jerry's disc Slide Rule).

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones received a fantastic reception from the crowd as they put on a very strong performance, punctuated by the killer and inventive bass- playing of Victor Wooten and the inimitable grooves of Futureman. This year marked Bela's 25th Telluride, and he and the 'Tones were clearly thrilled to be there. The band's encore, "Sinister Minister" (probably the Flecktones' biggest hit) sent the festometer peaking into the red. Fittingly, Bela was presented with a live chicken in honor of his 25 consecutive years playing at Telluride. He appeared to be honored by the gift.


Bela Fleck :: Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
The Drive-By Truckers presented their brand of southern/alt-roots rock to the party, and the Friday night audience ate it up. The guitar-heavy band showed that you can be loud AND still twang right. DBT displayed agile lead playing (times three), good vocals, impressive songwriting, and great bass playing by Shonna Tucker, who along with Bryn Davies from Peter Rowan's band, is one of my favorite new bassists.

Saturday

What can you say about Tony Rice and Bryan Sutton? As the assembled audience dropped a collective jaw to the ground, these two masters of the acoustic guitar bounced their legendary lines back and forth. On tunes such as the Bill Monroe-composed "Gold Rush," they traded off lead and rhythm duties just like breathing. "We're going to noodle on this tune. That's a term I first heard from Jerry Garcia," Rice said, before playing his tune "Manzanita."


YMSB :: Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
Yonder Mountain String Band's set wasn't as impressive as its all-star-packed high-energy outing in Town Park last year, but you can't go wrong with this band and they did play their radio hit "How 'Bout You" off of the band's self-titled new release (which has hit the #1 position on the Billboard Bluegrass charts). They might have been a little tired from their blazing performance at the Sheridan on Friday night (see below), but from the smiles on the faces of the people packing the park, they more than entertained everyone and helped the audience forget about the blazing sun.

Sam Bush was happy to be back after a Friday night scare. As it turned out, Sam had not had a heart attack as rumored, but does have a heart virus for which he is now taking medication. Suffice it to say, the man was back on the stage, unbelievably, on Saturday following a trip to the hospital in nearby Montrose on Friday night.


Sam Bush
Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
"When you're 54 years old and you experience sharp pains in your chest, you wanna be sure there's nothing wrong," Bush told the Saturday crowd in an effort to quash any rumors. "Lemme tell ya, there's nothing like riding in the back of an ambulance while listening to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival on KOTO and hearing Bonnie Raitt call you on stage just as you're headed out of town." Sam also took time on Saturday to sign autographs for hundreds of fans. Everyone was thrilled to see him looking well. I know I was. And his performance was as smokin' as ever. Bush's version of the Allman Brothers classic "Whipping Post" smacked the crowd into a frenzy with banjo picker Scott Vestal reeling off his version of Duane and Dickie's signature southern-fried licks.

Australian chanteuse Missy Higgins made a big splash on Saturday with her earthy pop from Down Under. The 23-year-old Higgins' freshman release The Sound of White has been certified platinum eight times in Australia, and her appeal has now carried over to this country. Her hooky tune "Scar" was well delivered. Her band included Josh Cunningham of The Waifs, another Australian outfit that has entertained in Telluride over the years.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings showed everyone how to shake what their mommas gave 'em and put some much-needed horn-drenched funk in the weekend. The cheers during her set were as loud as I've heard in Town Park.

Sunday


Peter Rowan, Bryn Davies & Tony Rice
Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
Peter Rowan and Tony Rice took the audience to bluegrass church on Sunday with a polished set of Red's classic material and Tony's nimble-fingered fret work. And how 'bout Sharon Gilchrist and Bryn Davies?! Say no more... those ladies can play. This classic Telluride set included "Midnight Moonlight," "Panama Red," "Angel Island," "Shady Grove," "Land of the Navajo," "A Life of Sorrow," "Vassar," "The Free Mexican Airforce," and "The Walls of Time." It just doesn't get much better.

Nickel Creek stoked up the crowd with material from Why Must the Fire Die?, their most recent release. Chris Thile wowed the audience (as usual) with his wunderkind mandolin dexterity and easy personality. The group broke out some of its much appreciated staples, including "The Fox" and "The Smoothie Song." They even worked in a cover of Randy Newman's "Short People" and, believe it or not (and this is what makes them who they are), Britney Spears' "Toxic." Who woulda thunk you could tackle the Britney catalog with a mandolin, fiddle, and acoustic guitar? Nickel Creek.


Barenaked Ladies
Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
The last day of the fest remained at peak level with top-shelf sets by the Del McCoury Band, the Tim O'Brien Band (with Del Band alum Mike Bubb on bass), John Prine, and the unlikely festival closers, Barenaked Ladies, who were at once clever, funny, and musically right on top of things. Their act seems to be one long comedy bit backed by great chops. So much music, so much talent. Not enough space and time to cover it all. Shawn Camp, The Badly Bent, Mike Marshall, Linda Tillery and the Heritage Choir, Stephen Kellogg, John Cowan (Newgrass Revival, say no more), and many other talented artists who helped make this version of Telluride another classic.

Telluride Nightgrass

Nightgrass has come to be a festival unto itself, with bands heating up local venues including the Fly Me To The Moon Saloon and the historic Sheridan Opera House.


Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
Bellying up to the bar at the Moon for a late-night margarita fast became a festival ritual, as The Wayword Sons thumped it, The Sweet Sunny South stomped it, and Great American Taxi shredded the warm air into tiny bits. The dance floor at the Moon literally buckled under the pounding feet of the dancers. The high mountain looniness was such that one couldn't help but soak in a vibe capable of resonating all year long. Great American Taxi threw down perhaps the best and most spirited sets of the weekend on Sunday night, blending ska, jam, bluegrass, newgrass, cajun and a kitchen sink.

The Tim O'Brien Band and the Yonder Mountain String Band both rocked the Sheridan on separate nights. The Sweet Sunny South was on fire at the Moon on Friday, kickin' out old-timey acoustic music along the lines of the Wilders, who took the Moon by storm last year (see last year's review).

Until next year, so long.

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Comments

RoscoGirl starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/12/2006 05:37PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

RoscoGirl

Dang, there be some sexy old Dudes hang'n around there...hehe!
Nice work guys!
~Pamela
Jamtography.com

jdog27 Thu 7/13/2006 11:21AM
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telluride is a first class fest all the way. the planet rocks at putting together quality lineups for all their fests. classics, new, old. just gotta also mention the wayword sons who seemed to be playing all over the place all weekend. despite drew emmitt playing across the street, the waywords packed their latenight and went home with a TON of new fans. what a great fest, all 10 days!

Weezer starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/14/2006 10:35AM
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Indeed. The Sons ripped it up at the Moon.

SherylV starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/14/2006 08:05PM
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Wish I could have been there. The photos are great! Guess I'll go next year.

passionpresents starstarstar Mon 7/17/2006 09:48AM
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passionpresents

Not even a mention of the 2006 Band Contest winners GREENSKY BLUEGRASS? A true Cinderella story, they were added to the contest on 3 hours of van sleep and proceeded to take 1st place, securing them a spot on the main stage in 2007!! Check em out at www.greenskybluegrass.com
Theie new album is produced by Tim Carbonw (RRE)... not to be missed!!

jjwood starstarstarstar Tue 7/18/2006 10:02AM
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Nice article! That said, I felt you could have spent more
time on Nightgrass, as I did all the Sheridan shows and
every one was worthy of mention in their own right. There is always subjectivity...for example, I found Neko Case to be far too droning and one-dimensional for me. I also felt you didn't give enough space to John Prine, whose set was
among my very faves at Telluride. Otherwise...very nice work!

EVILFUNK Mon 7/31/2006 09:33AM
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EVILFUNK

drive Ophir pass to T-ride.