Words by Nick Hutchinson :: Images by Tobin Voggesser
Telluride Bluegrass Festival :: 06.15-18.06 :: Telluride, CO
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.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
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.
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.
Shupe and the RubberBand
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.
Case :: Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
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.
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.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
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 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
Bonnie Raitt :: Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
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 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).
The Greencards:: Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006
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.
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.
Fleck :: Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2006