Telluride Bluegrass Festival Day 3
Another great day in Town Park. There is so much to write about, and here are a few highlights.
Front Country, band contest winners from 2013, set a high bar for all future band contest winners. From their first downbeat it was apparent they had been working hard. Their arrangement of Rock Salt and Nails, highly arranged and infused with counterpoint and verve, was notable. This band, with the powerhouse Melody Walker singing, just delivers the goods, especially with the great Leif Karlstrom on fiddle. And they were one of the best sounding acoustic bands using pickups on their instruments at the festival.
There is much lavish praise that has been poured on Punch Brothers since their inception, and yet many that prefer the pop-infused style of Nickel Creek to this quintet. This ensemble is much more where my heart lies (I play adventurous music for string band as well). I want to acknowledge what a coup it is that they get to travel with the great Dave Sinko engineering their live shows. The band sounds phenomenal from the first note to the last; Sinko knows the music as well as the band, boosting certain chords, counterpoints that are more quietly played, riding solos and much more. For the band to be able to confidently relax into their stage sound to that degree is quite special, and a significant part of what makes them come across as well as they do. I was sitting next to the great engineer James Tuttle (who mixed my first album), and both of us reveled in what an extraordinary job he does.
There are countless things of note within this extremely diligent and hard-working band. And even if I don’t get behind all of their material, I am continually fascinated with their process. And watching them on stage offers a whole other level to how they sound so good. If you look behind Chris Thile’s gyrations, you see guitarist Chris “Critter” Eldridge and bassist Paul “Arco” Kowert facing each other and focusing wholly and consistently on the groove. And what a groove this band has. It is obviously felt by all 5 of them in the same exact way, and now they can even play with that group sense. This is very high-level music, and to be playing it within this strong collective sense of time brings it to a whole other place. This is just one of the many aspects of Punch Brothers that proves what an extraordinary treat it is for us all to be witnessing this amazing collective of musicians.
Punch Brothers played several new tunes from their upcoming album (due out in January, 2015), including a great tune called Magnet, and the beautiful Passepied by Debussy arranged for string band, and the beautiful Aoife O’Donovan came out to sing Here and Heaven from the Goat Rodeo Sessions (I love the orchestration of that song).
For those not in on the latest news with Yonder Mountain String Band, they have parted ways with their original lead singer Jeff Austin, and this was their big Colorado debut as Yonder 2.0. They are playing dates this year with a variety of mandolinists and fiddlers, and this set had the indomitable Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter from the Del McCoury Band. There was some obvious traffic-copping of solos amongst the three Yonder guys with Ronnie and Jason, but they were obviously having a blast in this new dynamic, even amongst the crazy (and distracting) marshmallow war.
This was Sam Bush’s 40th straight Saturday night performance at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Just think about THAT for a minute. It is an extraordinary achievement in every respect as a performer and human being. And as Pastor Mustard said, Sam has never failed to deliver. With a 10-mandolin interlude playing Russian Rag (yes, 10!), a rockin’ version of One Night in Old Galway with Béla Fleck, and culminating two hours later with the blazing Stingray, this night proved no different. Sam is my hero.
If you read this in time, set your alarms for 845pm MDT tonight for the Telluride House Band. Always good listening and click here to hear it www.koto.org.
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Jake Schepps is a five-string banjo player whose most recent album, An Evening in the Village: The Music of Béla Bartók bridges Bartok’s Eastern European folk melodies with the realm of American roots music. He’s been hailed by Bluegrass Unlimited magazine as making music that “intrigues, entertains and reveals more of itself with each play.” He’ll be reporting from Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2014 for No Depression. (Check out his report from Telluride Day One.) Hear his music at JakeSchepps.com.