I made it to Telluride .. (A Telluride Contest blog)
I’m not a musician, people tell me I can’t sing, and that I’m tone deaf, and I come from the UK, not exactly the hotbed of country music, bluegrass or the like but for as long as I can recall the existence of the Telluride Festival I had wanted to go. It did not particularly matter to me who was on the programme because you could be sure of finding a fair number of artists to satisfy the music lust. I’d been collecting country music and bluegrass albums for the best part of 25 years.
In 2003 I contracted prostate cancer and initially was given not much more than a year or so to live – just goes to show what some of these so-called expert consultants know. As time went on and my treatment progressed I got to thinking that before my radiotherapy sessions I would get to the festival, in case things didn’t pan out afterwards.
So, in 2004, I took my wife, met up with our best friends from California, and drove from Denver to Telluride, one of the most beautiful places on earth.
And when I walked onto the field on that first day of the festival, the emotion got too much for me and tears streamed down my face at having made it. And as we settled down and the first act was announced who should it be but Jorma Kaukonen who I had seen 36 years previously as part of Jefferson Airplane at the Isle of Wight Festival
I already had Blue Country Heart, one of the great acoustic country blues albums of all time. I stood in awe. And it just went on and on, a succession of simply outstanding and astounding musicians (trying to miss as little as possible) for four days of musical bliss – Emmylou Harris (unscheduled), Steve Earle, Guy Clark/Lyle Lovett/John Hiatt and Joe Ely at the songwriters session, Darrell Scott, Sam Bush, the phenomenal Jake Shimbarakura, Tim O’Brien, Rodney Crowell and my personal favourite instrumentalist, Jerry Douglas – to name just a few. And there was Mavis Staples on the Sunday morning gospel session.
The sun shone for the most part and although I did not have the strength to climb up to the waterfall, I sat overlooking the festival site as the others explored, and just gave thanks for the opportunity to be there – I thought I had already died and gone to heaven.
And I look back, and I want to go again. I have most of my strength back, I am in remission and I have seen this year’s line-up – there’s Jerry and Sam and Emmylou and new favourites such as the Greencards and the Steeldrivers, and the wondrous Kasey Chambers.
This event truly is THE highlight of the musical year, and it doesn’t just cover bluegrass, it pushes envelopes, it demonstrates in a way that individual concerts cannot do, just how extraordinarily talented some of these guys are, appearing to coast through apparently unrehearsed songs in various line-ups playing a variety of musical styles, and without missing a beat, or a note. An awesome experience!