Telluride Bluegrass: Sunday Recap & A Word Or Two With Jerry Douglas
Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy is one of the biggest acts to ever play Telluride Bluegrass Festival. There was a lot of buzz about BOJ’s Sunday night show all during TBF. Even Plant’s presence backstage and in the “Poser Pit” just in front of the stage had folks talking. Aurora Sentinel writer
BOJ is full of Telluride experience. Plant told us Sunday night that bass player Byron House has been to 16 TBF’s. Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin and Darrell Scott are also Telluride veterans. While this was a first trip to Town Park for Plant and drummer, Marco Giovini, Plant knows what it means to play here. He related a conversation with John Paul Jones (“this bloke I used to play with”) before coming to Colorado. Jones told Plant that he had never envied him – you don’t play any instruments, you just try to look good. But, Jones continued, I have always wanted to play TBF, so now I do envy you. Plant told the crowd, well, maybe when we come back next year, we can let Jones play. One song.
Sunday started with a Father’s Day Gospel Hour. BOJ member Darrell Scott was the main performer and the MC of this hour of beautiful music. Highlights of the morning set included His Eye Is On The Sparrow by Abigail Washburn and With God On Our Side by BOJ member and “captain” Buddy Miller. Miller explained that when Scott asked him to do that particular song, he wasn’t sure it was appropriate for a Father’s Day set, but the more he thought about it, maybe it was. It was.
The folks on our tarp thought at Abigail Washburn & the Village played one of the best sets of the day, if not the entire festival, on Sunday afternoon. Ms. Washburn (formerly of Uncle Earl) showed her stuff, performing a song in Chinese and sharing the stage for a while with her banjo playing husband, Bela Fleck. Ms. Washburn plays the clawhammer banjo herself, and sings like an angel. Her new album, City Of Refuge, provided a lot of the material for Sunday’s show. I’ll have a copy this week – not sure what I was waiting for.
Peter Rowan showed us how it’s done, old school/newgrass, with a set that included In The Pines, Panama Red and Not Fade Away. Rowan played with Bill Monroe and Jerry Garcia during his career, and it shows as he easily moves from more classic bluegrass to newgrass to rock and roll. “I don’t do any drug, I am every drug,” he said as he introduced Panama Red.
By the time Punch Brothers had concluded their afternoon show with covers of The Strokes and The Beatles, the weather at Telluride had completely gone to hell. When Mumford & Sons took the stage, the crowd stood among soggy tarps in real and imagined rain gear as the rain/snow mix fell. Keyboardist Ben Lovett was wearing a wife beater in mid-40’s temps as we were informed that the band viewed this weather as “balmy.” Balmy it was not. It warmed up a bit as the crowd danced along to this British bluegrass band whose initial plans were to come back to Telluride this year (after a great show at last year’s TBF) and simply hang out during TBF. Planet Bluegrass had other plans, though, tapping them to play two years in a row, which is very unusual for new artists. The crowd was happy about that, in spite of the weather.
The no longer new CD Sigh No More provided most of the material for Sunday’s set, but the band played several new songs. Former Cadillac Sky fiddle player Ross Holmes was on stage for most of the show. Marcus Mumford told the crowd that the band would be taking him back to the UK to play on their new album. The group also brought Jerry Douglas on for three songs. Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn also helped out on one of those tunes.
Speaking of Jerry Douglas, I had the opportunity to visit with him on Sunday afternoon in the press tent. He is such a pleasant fellow. We talked about TBF and his upcoming tour with Alison Krauss and Union Station, among other things. On the TBF side, Douglas said he was glad that the House Band played Thursday rather than closing TBF on Sunday, as they have done the last several years. By the end of the festival the guys are “snockered” (which I took to mean tired), so Thursday is much better, in his view.
The AK/US tour starts in Phoenix on Tuesday and continues for the rest of the summer (dates are here). The association with Krauss has been great for Douglas, and the economics of the AK/US tour are good (he grinned and said with semis and buses the economics better be good). Tour life, he said, is “like Groundhog Day every day.” Douglas says they are taking bikes on this tour to get some exercise on the road. AK/US will have 30 songs for this show, without an intermission. (The band members will leave the stage during a Douglas tune while he ducks out during a ballad, but the show goes on.)
We talked about how Douglas’s association with Krauss has changed things for him. One example: he doesn’t do session work anymore. He said that it took about two years of saying no to convince people he meant it, but they’ve finally stopped asking. Still, he spends over 1/4 of the year in the studio. One of his latest projects is Punch Brothers’ banjo player Noam Pikelny’s new CD. Douglas says it is excellent.
After Douglas’s sit in, Mumford and Sons played the rain and snow away, leaving a cold and wet Town Park behind to greet Robert Plant. After a slightly longer than usual delay between acts (partly because Plant brought in his own sound board for the show), Plant kicked it off with Black Dog. Songs from all phases of his career figured into the set. At this bluegrass festival, almost all of the songs were played with a rock edge led by some strong Buddy Miller guitar and accompanied by vocals from a constantly dancing Patty Griffin. When it was all said and done we had heard a Zeppelinesque take on Please Read The Letter (go listen to the Plant/Krauss version to see how things have changed there) as well as these songs, among others: Satan You’re Kingdom Must Come Down, Houses of The Holy, Ramble On, Gallows Pole, In The Mood, Harm’s Swift Way and Down To The Sea. When the set was finally finished, I saw Jeff Austin high fiving Drew Emmitt. I wanted to go over and see if they’d join me for a group hug, but thought better of it. Maybe next year.
You can follow Mando Lines on Twitter @mando_lines. All photos taken by him.