Telluride Bluegrass: A Line At Dawn
Telluride, Town Park
I’m half asleep, disorganized and rummaging blind at the outer margins of the tent, trying not to wake Sharon. Everything I touch seems to be some variation on a pile of clothing, some piles damper than others. I finally manage to find pants and a sweat shirt and lumber out of the broken zippered tent flap, ragged and shivering. All last night I’d faded in and out of sleep, subliminally aware of the steady miniature thumping of a string band mingled with the gurglings of the San Miguel River. It was a muted sound, battened by the starry night and grounded by the alpine forest floor. At intervals an eerie “whooooo” had risen from the faithful in tireless reverie. I had correctly surmised that the music I was hearing was coming from somewhere in Town Park. Now, walking by the community shower house with sleeping bag and folding chair in hand, I see where the jam had taken place. The musicians are gone, but you can still feel the heat of their shredding emanating from the spot where they’d stood, like campfire coals still not entirely extinguished. I tip my hat to youth and sleepily trudge on.
Each morning of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival a line forms, beginning on the corner of the family camping area and coiling around a sandy volleyball court. It would be easy to walk past it in its somnolence; none of the hubbub usually associated with a line of eager concert goers applies at this hour. It consists exclusively of Town Park campers like myself, waiting for a numbered ticket which will grant us priority access to the ritual stage rush which happens several hours later in the main stage area. At its head are a phalanx of the hard core, equipped with cots and lying motionless under piles of down; they’ve been here since last night. Further down the queue are the slightly less fanatic sitters, in folding chairs, legs stretched, semi-conscious, covered with coats and blankets. Five thirty in the morning would seem to constitute early arrival, but in fact, its late. I’m guessing our draw will be in the 100’s and they only go up as far as 200. I’m groggily aware that my brother Brad is already in line a few spots ahead of me. I attempt to start a conversation with him, but my voice is husky with sleep and it makes unspoken sense to just sit quietly for a while.
I unfold my beach chair and settle in, pulling my sleeping bag up under my chin. These first quiet moments of waiting would seem to be an ideal opportunity for the mind to wander, but in fact all thought is stilled. You can’t make time slow down, but at this hour you don’t need to. My eyes close for a few seconds, a glancing doze, but when I open them I can track those seconds on a continuum of gaining light. Our motley line is pulled gradually into focus and is ennobled as it gains the context of the San Juan Mountain canyon that cradles Telluride. The sunlight, though still too weak to tease the lighter green aspen from the darker pine, is just now able to articulate the border between reddish rock cliffs and brightening sky off to the east. Bridal Veil Falls fades in, tracing a white line down the eastern end of the canyon. Fingers of warmth begin to knead the thin air. A whoosh of color settles from above. Blood begins to circulate.
Someone next to Brad has committed the cardinal sin of setting up an empty chair, under cover of darkness, as a place holder for it’s occupant who hasn’t yet arrived. We’re not the only ones who have noticed this breach in etiquette and there is a general affective rumble of disapproval, although no one says a word. Yesterday morning at about this time a guy who looked like he might be in charge of something had showed up at the head of the line and loudly offered up swigs from his one third empty gallon of Jack Daniels and 30 bagels cut in half and loaded up with cream cheese. I had approached him and tried to strike up a conversation about line etiquette, but quickly realized that he may have been personally responsible for the missing third of Jack. Recognizing my need for a more substantial foothold in coherence, I steered the conversation to more general topics and then rappelled back to my place in line, taking a bagel with me. A few minutes later the empty chair has been cast into the out-of-bounds area of the volley ball court and the line mends itself at the gap as if it had never broken.
Now without announcement, a man appears at the head of the line with a sheaf of laminated numbers. He hands them to those standing and sprinkles them down onto the sleeping bags of the not-yet-risen. On contact with each coveted ticket, the line dissolves into the now indisputable morning. Its too late to go back to bed so Brad and I decide to walk into town to get coffee. It will be three hours until the next phase of this ritual of claiming turf:The Running Of The Tarps.