I’m honored to be returning to Bluegrass Today as a guest blogger in highlighting events throughout the 2014 Durango Bluegrass Meltdown. As I did with the 2013 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, I’ll attempt to gain a bit of “behind the scenes” perspective and respective video of offshoot performances. Please look for these posts come mid-April.
I grew up with the Meltdown. That isn’t to say that I was coddled and rocked to sleep to the sounds of bluegrass. No, I learned those valuable lessons of life from being a teenager to age 36 during the first 18 years of the festival. Moving to Durango, Colorado from Virginia in 1993, I knew a little bit about bluegrass and even less about life. Upon moving from Durango 18 years later, having attending each and every one of the festivals (as a fan, sometimes volunteering, performing, or being on the board of directors), I left with a strong schooling in bluegrass, a maturity that comes with the responsibilities in helping to run a festival, and a liver that could handle any late-night pick thrown my way.
The Meltdown is unique in Colorado. It came about years before every town up and down the Rockies started bluegrass festivals and it’s stuck to its guns in true Old West fashion: the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown was contrived as a traditional bluegrass festival and a tradition bluegrass festival it has stayed. There are longtime locals and past residents too numerous to name that made this true. But in continuing the “growing up with the festival” metaphor, I can say that Durangoans Michael Burke, Pat Dressen, Elwin Johnston, Steve Williams, and others were like questionable uncles that raised me (reaching the elevations of “father-figures” every now and then). Though I knew and enjoyed bluegrass growing up in Virginia, it was these fellas that showed me that a song about the San Juan River can be just as emotional as one about the Cumberland; that a three-part harmony can be more powerful than a Fender through a Marshall stack; that learning of the legends should come before breaching out; and that traditional bluegrass music is an amazing American voice that should be embraced.
These are the lessons of the Meltdown that formed my attitudes on bluegrass at an impressionable time in life. As they continue to this day, I hope and trust that today’s 20-year-olds are planning their weekends in Durango, April 11th through the 13th. Perhaps it’ll be my turn at the “questionable uncle” role in singing an old Stanley Brothers number in a circle of young pickers and waxing of the high lonesome that can be found in the foothills of the Rockies as easily as in the hollows of Appalachia.
For the 20th Anniversary of the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown I’ll be returning and sitting front and center as Rob Ickes kicks off, The Game and as Robert Greer croons, Leave the Bottle. What a treat it will be to see Blue Highway (a 1996 past Meltdown performer) and Town Mountain (a 2010 past Meltdown performer) returning as the 2014 headliners. Joining the “old guard” and the “young guns” will be outlaw talents of The Earl Brothers, favorites of the Centennial State, Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, the allusive songwriter, Benny “Burle” Galloway, Durango stalwarts, The Badly Bent, and many local and regional bands.
A full lineup and additional information on the festival can be found online.