Telluride Bluegrass Fest | 06.21 – 06.24 | CO

Words by: Nick Hutchinson :: Images by: Tobin Voggesser

Telluride Bluegrass Festival :: 06.21.07 – 06.24.07 :: Telluride, CO

Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2007
This year’s festival began on the Summer Solstice. According to its history, the founders of the event consulted 100 years worth of Farmer’s Almanacs to arrive at the conclusion that the weekend closest to June 21 is always the best for the fest since it’s the time when the chance of rain is the slimmest. And sure enough, the only sign of precipitation was a smattering of cool Colorado wet stuff early on opening day – just enough to cool down the incoming crowd before a long weekend of deep blue sky, blistering jams, musical cross-pollination, workshops by legends including Peter Rowan and Emmylou Harris, fun in the family tent, the never-ending quest for premium tarp space (a personal obsession) and general high times in one of the planet’s most beautiful spots.

Absent this year, reportedly due to an artistic disagreement with management, was longtime emcee Pastor Mustard (aka Dan Sadowsky). Anyone who’s been to Telluride or RockyGrass over the years is familiar with his free-associative patter. Who can forget “heen?” Yet despite the Pastor’s absence the show managed to go on.

Avett Brothers :: Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2007
If there was one musician noticeably missing it was Tim O’Brien, who decided to take the summer off to recharge his batteries and ratchet down on some new work. O’Brien’s traditional opening slot on Thursday was filled by next generation instrumental virtuoso and songsmith Chris Thile, who cobbled together a kick-off set of bluegrass, newgrass, pop and Bach before passing the stage to first timers at Telluride Crooked Still. Thile and Darol Anger joined the innovative Boston-based group for a classically tinged reinterpretation of bluegrass and Americana, not to mention the genre-expanding stage garb worn by Rushad Eggleston.

Crooked Still was followed by the Avett Brothers of North Carolina, a fast rising act that puts an indie/punk edge on its old-timey feel, including drums and noir-ish titles like “Die, Die, Die” and “Paranoia in B flat Major.” The brothers segued into the bluesy rock of Jackie Greene, who put on a soulful set that provided a departure from the festival’s prevailing straight-up acoustic sound.

Bush & Douglas – Tride House Band
These diverse artists all loosened up the first-day crowd for the much anticipated Telluride House Band, which was introduced by Emmylou Harris. The house band – comprised of Bela Fleck (banjo), Sam Bush (mandolin and vocals), Jerry Douglas (dobro), Edgar Meyer (bass), Darol Anger (fiddle), and Bryan Sutton (guitar) – settled comfortably into its revered role as resident virtuoso ensemble and stretched out on a variety of material including some Strength In Numbers compositions, such as the quirky “Futureman,” (a tune from 1989’s Telluride Sessions that was named after that member of the Flecktones who happened to be in the audience), before tearing up a version of John Hartford’s “Up on the Hill Where They do the Boogie,” a festival favorite that stoked the crowd and set a musical precedent for the weekend. This acoustic super group (plus or minus a few past members, such as violinist Mark O’Connor), which has assembled under other names, including “The Telluride Allstars,” is acoustic music’s finest letting it all hang down – something readily manifested by the mind-boggling solos as well as the overall band sound. Listening to the soaring strains of this collective as clouds move lazily over the mountains can put you in a space where you don’t mind staying. The set also took in versions of “Polka on the Banjo,” “The Green Slime,” “Ride the Wild Turkey,” “The White House Blues” and closer “Duke and Cookie,” another Strength In Numbers chestnut.

Emmylou Harris – Tride 2007
As usual, most of the festival was aired live on Telluride’s public radio station KOTO, 91.7 FM. The local station even streamed Thursday night’s performance by the Counting Crows on The station’s staff works hard to get the music on the airwaves, and listeners throughout Telluride and beyond always appreciate it. It’s nice to hear the fest being cranked on radios in town if you leave the festival grounds.

Emmylou Harris took the stage on Thursday along with John Starling and Carolina Star, a group of musicians who founded Washington DC’s The Seldom Scene and whose association with Harris dates back to the ’70s. Harris has become a Telluride regular who seamlessly blends her superstar presence and acclaimed vocals with the festival’s pickers and grinners. Her countrified crooning fits nicely with bluegrass and she clearly enjoys her time in the high country as she keeps coming back to participate on many levels – from performances with her own group to sit-ins, band intros and more. Her act delivered a balanced set of traditionals (“Cold Jordan” and “If I Be Lifted Up”), tasteful covers (including James Taylor’s “Millworker,” Lucinda Williams‘ “Sweet Old World” and Creedence’s “Lodi”) and her own material (such as her early ’80s hit “Roses in the Snow” and “One of These Days”). She closed her set with a version of Bill Monroe’s “John the Baptist” with Sam Bush assisting on mandolin and harmony vocals.

Counting Crows :: Tride 2007
Thursday evening’s closing act was the somewhat unlikely radio rockers Counting Crows, who did their best to unplug and do it up bluegrass style. The festival has played host to genre-pushing bands in the past, and like those earlier groups (last year’s fest included Toronto’s Barenaked Ladies), the Crows rose to the occasion and pleased with a set featuring some welcome covers including a duet with Emmylou Harris on Gram Parsons’ “20,000 Roads,” a fun pass through the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,” Bob Dylan‘s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and a unique take on Madonna’s classic “Borderline.” Naturally, the band mixed in its own pop-oriented hits such as “Mr. Jones” and “Rain King.” Overall, the Crows impressed some critics of “non-bluegrass” and blended into the Telluride scene on their own terms.

Friday Highlights

Andy Hall – Infamous Stringdusters :: Tride 2007
Friday included a hot set by up-and-coming progressive bluegrass artists The Infamous Stringdusters, whose members seemed to pop up everywhere over the course of the weekend. In holding with the TBF tradition of playing on various stages in town and sitting in with other outfits, the group put on a rousing Nightgrass show on Friday at the Fly Me To The Moon Saloon, with a clusterpluck that could barely be contained by the saloon stage (Sam Grisman, Casey Driesen, Dominick Leslie and others pickers all piled on). Dusters guitarist Chris Eldridge joined Bryan Sutton on Saturday for a ‘tweener that featured a few nicely rendered Tony Rice compositions. And members of the band appeared as guests of John Cowan and Drew Emmitt at the Sheridan Opera House on Saturday night and earlier that day on the main stage, where the entire group joined Cowan’s band for an elongated foot stompin’ version of Louis Jordan’s famed ditty “Caledonia.” Duster dobroist Andy Hall got down on many a jam over the course of the weekend, earning some new fans in the process and starting a buzz – “He’s a young Jerry Douglas!” Check out The Infamous Stringdusters’ recent release, Fork in the Road for a taste of what they do.

Jerry Douglas – Tride 2007
Mike Marshall and Brazilian choro master Hamilton de Holanda raised the cultural bar a few notches. The two prodigies dexterously fused the rich musical traditions of North and South America as they engagingly traded rhythm, melodies and runs before reaching “derrubada” or the moment when it is no longer possible to follow another player’s riffs, kind of like the famous banjo scene in the movie Deliverance.

The Jerry Douglas Band is always a huge treat and its Friday set was as pleasing as the band’s impressive performance at last year’s fest. The blazing electric guitar work of Nashville session man Guthrie Trapp continues to add a tonal counterbalance to Douglas’s dobro, taking the group from bluegrass, country and newgrass to more rock-oriented zones, much to the delight of the audience. Douglas’ band also includes gifted musicians Doug Belote on drums, Luke Bulla on violin and Todd Parks on bass.

Chris Thile and The How to Grow a Band set featuring Bryan Sutton was a nice surprise. With the help of Leftover Salmon alum Noam Pickelny (banjo) and Greg Garrison (bass) along with Gabe Witcher on fiddle and Bryan Sutton on guitar, the act featured solid progressive bluegrass jams and strong vocal work by Thile, whose singing sounded more seasoned and mature than in years past. The group is slated to tour, so catch them if you can. Check out the recent release How to Grow a Woman From the Ground to hear the band in action.

Bela Fleck :: Tride 2007
Guster joined the party to challenge audience expectations with its catchy acoustic pop. The group invited Bela Fleck up for a tune and even tried its hand at jockeying around a single microphone for the encore. That’s how bluegrass rubs off on folks in Telluride. No matter a band’s style of music, they’re bound to pick up a new approach or two.

Telluride stalwarts Bela Fleck and the Flecktones added their renowned virtuosity to Friday evening. As usual, the audience loved it. With Fleck, Jeff Coffin, Victor Wooten and Roy “Futureman” Wooten, the band creates a unique sound, sometimes referred to as “blu-bop,” that has garnered several Grammy Awards. Blu-bop mixes well with a gentle breeze and a gurgling creek, which suits the atmosphere in Telluride perfectly.

Los Lobos – Tride 2007
Los Lobos hit the stage Friday night, and with a little help from Jerry Douglas the band took flight. The boys from East L.A., who have been at it for 30-plus years now, gauged the crowd well by fusing their own creations – including tight versions of “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Last Night I Got Loaded” – with crowd frenzying covers of the Allmans’ “One Way Out,” a verse or two of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Lovelight,” a romp through Buddy Holly’s classic “Not Fade Away” and a blistering version of the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha,” with Jerry “Flux” Douglas burning up the fretboard on his electric mandolin. The group finished with a thundering version of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.” Their high energy set made for a satisfying Friday night closer and was one of the weekend’s high points.

Continue reading for Saturday’s and Sunday’s coverage…

Drew Emmitt & Sam Bush with Leftover Salmon – Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2007
Saturday Highlights

Saturday June 23, 2007 made history as it was officially proclaimed Colorado Bluegrass Day by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. The gubernatorial proclamation was read to the cheering audience by a member of Colorado’s Department of Energy and included the following language:

YMSB – Tride 2007
“WHEREAS, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is powered entirely by renewable energy, offsetting 100 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions created by the traveling attendees of the concert… and WHEREAS, Planet Bluegrass has exerted countless hours and immeasurable efforts to create a unique, environmentally friendly festival in a naturally beautiful location, not only for the people of Colorado, but for those that have traveled from across the country and from other nations… The State of Colorado appreciates the tireless work of Planet Bluegrass to protect and sustain the environment, while giving the people of Colorado an incredible celebration to attend.”

Sixteen-year-old mandolin and guitar player Sarah Jarosz put in her first ever performance as a main stage headliner with the help of Mike Marshall (mandolin) and cellist Ben Sollee (Otis Taylor). Jarosz, who has been a guest of David Grisman, Peter Rowan, Tim O’Brien and others, displayed her rapidly maturing songwriting abilities and instrumental prowess on a variety of tunes including a version of “Shankhill Butchers” by The Decemberists. She’ll be back.

YMSB – Tride 2007
Hot off their Wednesday and Friday Nightgrass gigs in town, the Yonder Mountain String Band took the main stage on Saturday and showed everyone what jamgrass is all about. Of particular note was a super-charged combination of “King Ebenezer” > “Peace Of Mind” > “Follow Me Down To The Riverside” > “Peace Of Mind” that launched the crowd into orbit. Tevas pounded dust, hoops twirled madly and straw hats bobbed feverishly as both band and audience plunged deep into the festival zone. The band included Darol Anger, its unofficial fifth member, and a visit from Futureman (on the cajón) during “Fingerprint.” YMSB continues to amaze and astound.

The Sam Bush Band brought it all home with a very danceable version of Bob Marley’s “Jammin'” that segued into “Stingray,” a tune of off of Bush’s 1996’s release Glamour and Grits, and hot renditions of some or his more recent work, including “Ridin’ That Bluegrass Train” and “Bringin’ in the Georgia Mail” (both from his 2006 release Laps in Severn). As usual, Bush had lots of guests onstage, from Emmylou Harris on a nice “Walls of Time” to a massive clusterpluck comprising Chris Thile, Mike Marshall, Jerry Douglas, Luke Bulla, Casey Driesen, Jeff Coffin, Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Emmylou Harris, Edgar Meyer, Darol Anger, Noam Pickelny and Rushad Eggleston that polished off the set with traditional favorite “The Wabash Cannonball.” Bush is known as the king of Telluride and year after year he continues to earn his title. Bush first appeared on stage in Telluride in 1975 when Newgrass Revival came to play at the first official version of the festival.

NOLA Social Club :: Tride 2007
The much-anticipated New Orleans Social Club, featuring Raymond Weber, George Porter Jr., Leo Nocentelli, Henry Butler and Ivan Neville, put down some seriously funky grooves, which is what you get when the band boasts members of The Meters and the Neville Brothers as well as other veteran Crescent City musicians. The set included spicy versions of “Big Chief,” “Loving You Is On My Mind,” and “Talking ‘Bout New Orleans.” The group closed the evening with a version of CCR’s “Fortunate Son” that had the Saturday night crowd whooping, hollering and enjoying the diverse musical offerings of a “bluegrass” festival. Seeing Henry Butler walking around Telluride in a very funky maroon suit and taking the time to stop and chat with his fans was yet another priceless festival moment.

Sunday Highlights

Austin & Emmitt – Leftover Salmon :: Tride 2007
Perhaps the biggest buzz of the weekend was the reunion of Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman along with Noam Pickelny, Greg Garrison and Jeff Sipe. The set was listed as Drew Emmitt, Vince Herman and Friends, but the lineup indicated otherwise. As Jeff Austin said when introducing the group, “I don’t care what the program says. I think we all know what’s going on. Without these guys we wouldn’t be here. Please welcome Leftover Salmon!” Laying into rocking versions of “Breaking Through,” “Unplug That Telephone,” “Euphoria” and other classic fish fare, the group played an inspired set that felt like the band had never been on “hiatus” at all. Clearly enjoying themselves, Herman asked the audience a rhetorical question, “Has this been the best Telluride Bluegrass Festival ever or what!?” And what would a Salmon reunion be without a little help from Sam Bush, John Cowan, Jeff Coffin, Andy Hall, Tyler Grant and Jeff Austin. The upbeat set was the perfect warm-up for the rest of Leftover Salmon’s summer shows.

The pairing of jazz-fusion pioneer Chick Corea and Bela Fleck made for perfect Sunday evening music. With Corea demonstrating decades of jazz chops on the piano and Fleck deftly manipulating the banjo, these two masters of their instruments pushed at the edges of genre and composition and beyond as audience members moved up close to get a look at the two legends at work.

Rice & Krauss :: Tride 2007
The festival closed with a performance by Alison Krauss and Union Station. What more can you say about an artist that had her first record deal at 13, has sold more than 8 million recordings and has 20 Grammy Awards to her name? Well, she puts on a damn good show. Some might call it the best show in bluegrass. With her unparalleled vocals and hit songs (“When You Say Nothing At All,” the cover of Bad Company’s “Oh Atlanta,” “Every Time You Say Goodbye”), Dan Tyminski’s vocals (remember “Man of Constant Sorrow” from the O’ Brother soundtrack?) and guitar and mandolin work, Jerry Douglas on dobro, Barry Bales on bass, Jim White on drums, Steve Cox on keys and Ron Block on banjo and guitar, the band can rip it up or bring it down, depending on the tune. They did all of the above before bringing the 34th edition of the festival to a warm close.

Some Notable ‘Tweeners

Rushad Eggleston and Ben Sollee on dueling cellos, Mike Marshall playing Bach’s “Chaconne” on mandolin and flat picking guitar rippers Bryan Sutton and Chris Eldridge taking on the music of Tony Rice.

Some Nightgrass Highlights

John Cowan, Drew Emmitt and Friends
At the Sheridan Opera House on Saturday night:

Great American Taxi with Austin :: Tride Nightgrass
This show pulled in a wide variety of talent, mixing jam rock with bluegrass. Emmitt torched up the mandolin and guitar with a little help from versatile guitarist Tyler Grant and the quiet thunder of Cowan’s bass. The evening hit its peak when Vince Herman stepped on stage towards the end of the show. Herman demonstrated how to thoroughly ignite an audience, while simultaneously creating and conducting (on his knees at one point) incredibly rocking music with assistance from the blazing horns of Flecktone Jeff Coffin and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos. Herman’s crazed visit with Emmitt and Cowan was just a preview of what was to come the following day in Town Park.

Great American Taxi at Fly Me to the Moon Saloon on Sunday Night:
For those who didn’t get enough Herman during the Salmon set, GAT, in what appears to be a new Telluride tradition, put on a high energy Sunday night show at the Moon that mixed its infectious rock and bluegrass based originals with a liberal sprinkling of funk, hip-hop, surf, reggae and ska. The Taxi shook the old saloon for a second year in a row to a frenzied audience. The band is rounded out by Jake Coffin on drums (check him out for a lesson on how to keep mad time while staying in shtick), Jefferson Hamer on guitar and Chad Staehly on keys. One of the high points of the evening was when Jeff “Marge” Austin appeared in a curly blue wig and proceeded to crank up the festival craziness by adding his crazed licks to songs including “Lumpy, Bean, Pole and Dirt.”

Bela Fleck & Chick Corea – Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2007
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