Telluride Bluegrass Festival : The high peaks of acoustic music, a historic crucible, and a time for healing.
The Telluride Bluegrass festival is the most highly regarded festival in the U.S. While Bean Blossom is older, Merlefest and new kid Hardly Strictly have more artists, Telluride always stands above and apart. Perhaps because of it’s mystique, a long and storied history, and a jaw dropping alpine location, T Ride is as close to a pinnacle as you can get. Combine that with the Summer Solstice and a big waxing moon and this year’s gathering is sure to be outstanding.
This year’s lineup showcases the veterans and cherished longtime performers while taking daring new steps into uncharted territory. The 4 day, 30 act lineup demonstrates the care and thought that permeate every part of this event.
The core group that anchors Telluride year after year is the House Band. This group of musicians; Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas, and Sam Bush invented the new acoustic sound. Their paradigm shifting release Strength in Numbers Telluride Sessions (which included Mark O’Connor) broke the American string band scene wide open when it was released in 1989. Built on a solid foundation of west coast Dawg music, the sound represented an incredible renaissance in American roots music. Their tunes sent countless young players to practice with fewer inhibitions about what notes, chords and time signatures were compatible.
The festival could easily call up Keith Case Booking every year and sign a roster of of topflight bluegrass acts from the south east and rest on its laurels. But the folks in charge seem relentless in stretching the boundaries of a bluegrass festival.
Case in point: the Drepung Buddhist Monks who will perform devotional multiphonic singing on the final morning. This touring group from the 600 year old Drepung Loselin Monastery in Tibet has performed with artists ranging from Phillip Glass to the Beastie Boys. Tibetan throat singing in the Rocky Mountains on a Sunday morning? That’s the Telluride spirit in a nutshell.
Also booked this year for the first time is Sweden’s phenomenal string band Vasen. This 20 year old trio has astounded listeners around the world with their highly advanced string interplay. Olov Johansson plays the nyckelharpa (aka “what is that thing?) a keyed fiddle which produces otherworldly sounds and is unique to sweden.
This years’ festival comes on the heals of Nashville’s devastating floods which claimed lives, homes, businesses, and countless rare musical instruments. A high number of TBG performers are from that area and their gathering to play music this year is sure to act as a salve on tender souls.
Attending Telluride is a peak experience for all involved. And given the extremely high quality and variety of musicians playing, this year’s audience is sure to be exposed to new and wonderful sounds each day.