More highlights from the 50th Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Alison Krauss joins the Telluride House Band – photo by Jen Hughes

While the 50th Telluride Bluegrass Festival has come to a close, the memories will live on for decades to come. Those lucky enough to have made the trek to the box canyon for the anniversary celebration were treated to four days of stunning scenery, stellar musicianship, and splendid people. Below, are just a few more lil peeks into TBF50 so you can share in the fun and whet your appetite for TBF51. 

The King, the Legends, and a God of Rock and Roll

Saturday sun finally seeped through to a grateful, cheering crowd just in time for the day’s line-up of legends and the King.  Smiley, supermando superman Sam Bush, rightly dubbed the King of Telluride years yore, put on a spectacular show befitting of the festival’s commemoration and his 49th Telluride Bluegrass Festival. He and his gifted band delivered several tracks from his most recent Radio John album, while also digging deeper into his vast catalog to present fan faves such as Souvenir Bottles and Circles Around Me, which always has the TBF-goers belting out the lyrics about Telluride arm-in-arm with their friends. In true Sam and Telluride Bluegrass form, Sam invited pals up on stage to sit in for a tune or two. One of the striking collabs was with Emmylou Harris for a digging The River’s Gonna Run. Wow, their voices sound so good together! He brought New Grass bud, Béla Fleck, out for some New Grass tunes, including When the Storm is Over. Other guests included Del McCoury, Tim O’Brien, Drew Emmitt, Anders Beck, and Pastor Mustard before closing out with a major party on Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie, which is always way too much fun. The King reigned over Telluride during the pinnacle of the festival as he always does, and the Kingdom cheered and begged for more.

Before the King of Telluride took center stage, legends graced it with brilliant sets of music. How absolutely awesome it was to have Mary Chapin Carpenter back at the festival after a twenty-year hiatus on that sunny Saturday afternoon. Spry and strong, her potent voice powered through the valley with heaps of her hits, including Shut Up and Kiss Me, I Take My Chances, and Down at the Twist and Shout, getting the peeps boogying to that cool Cajun beat. So great as well to have the Earls of Leicester legends, dressed to the nines, picking it and singing it true, reminding us of the origins and how Lester and Earl did it way back when. What a fresh performance: one we hope is a mainstay of center stage in all years to come. Legend Tim O’Brien, once of the Ophelia String Band of decades past, lit up the crowd with his expert musicality, songwriting, and pitch-perfect voice. Hard not to have perma-grin when Tim plays.

The lovely icon Emmylou Harris teamed up with Watchhouse to wow the assembled with wonderful harmonies on the last day of TBF50. Such a delight, as always, to have our souls grabbed by her sweet chords and vocals, and striking, unique beauty as she rules center stage.  

Robert Plant, people! Just too cool. In fact, so cool that the temps dip and the heavens open each time he is in the box canyon. In 2011, he made it snow. This year, he with preeminent bluegrasser Alison again, had the festival facing chilly and extreme weather: a testament to his coolness. The Plant-Krauss pairing is now known as nothing short of genius. Their sound together and their song mashups of grass and rock simply blew us away. Fists punching the air, smiles darting between friends, jumping up and down, wondering if the stage speakers were going to drop from the decibels of bass beating through, the feeling that you were witnessing the coolest thing in the world. We were. Staring entranced with Please Read the Letter, enthralled with the Fortune Teller, pleased with The Price of Love, grateful for Gallows Pole, and absolutely floored with Led Zeppelin’s The Battle of Evermore. Plant/Krauss: Thank you! What an unbelievable way to close out the TBF50 main stage!

There is No Place Like Home

Hearing the first few notes of the humbly-named Telluride House Band ensures us that we are home: exactly where we are supposed to be in the world. Bluegrass Shangri-La. But, it is real. As real as it gets, really.

The boys. The best of the best. Sam, Béla, Jerry, Stuart, Edgar, and Bryan gather once a year to form the one-and-only Telluride House Band to shower the gathered with the greatest set of notes and songs. For TBF50, they pulled out all the stops and threw down a thoroughly enjoyable show. They kicked it off with traditional Tom Dooley before rolling into Hartford’s Natural to Be Gone, then Freeborn Man, where they grassed it up big time complete with Stuart’s and Edgar’s train sounds.

Their Doghouse Blues actually had Béla making his banjo bark. Incredible! A twin fiddle tune with sit-in Alison Krauss and Stuart both sawing on a string was remarkable. And, their rendition of a new tune by Béla was just breath-taking; shades of the divine Overgrown Waltz, and when Stuart dropped in on fiddle our jaws dropped to the floor. They slayed us with an on-purpose horribly played Border Ride, which sounded more like a carnival ride. Tears of laughter rolled down everyone’s cheeks after we all figured out the joke with Sam pretending to get more angry with each screechy note. Hilarious. This A-Team finished it out with a wonderful Blue Moon of Kentucky reggae-style — just to show they can actually play anything, and keep us singing that tune well into the evening. Go, House Band, go. 

There are Many Ways to Pray

The Infamous Stringdusters played the Gospel Set and the pews were crowded Sunday morning, especially in the front rows.  For TBF50, the Dusters played three full sets in about twenty-hours. Herculean! And, rumor has it that Jeremy Garrett played Camp Run-A-Muck post their Nightgrass show. Whoa! Somehow, they delivered in top fashion on Sunday morning, praising the Lord and giving thanks for being in the canyon with friends and sun. They delivered some customaries such as Swing Low Sweet Chariot, but they really got us going with their own spirituals Rise Sun and Let It Go. They also gave us a wonderfully wild Not Fade Away with Andy Hall on the harmonica and closed by having us all stand and sing along that we had peace like a river. What a soul-fulfilling service!

Into the Punchy Wee Hours

The Punch Brothers delivered their last Sunday Sheridan Opera House Nightgrass show with fiddler Gabe Witcher. Punch at the Sheridan has been the official last show of TBF for years now. Midnight and the place was packed. No sign of fatigue by anyone. Everyone’s thoughts: don’t let it end. Ultimately, it had to, but before it did, the Punch Brothers delivered solid hours of aural elegance. They kicked it off with an impeccable Church Street Blues before delivering gems such as All Ashore, Heart in a Cage, an epic Pride of Man, and a moving Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, with everyone singing along. And, if we thought it could not get anymore gallant and great, the Punch Brothers performed their entire album The Phosphorescent Blues for their second set. Wow. 


Hailing from Lyons, Colorado, The Fretliners took home the 50th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Contest win. With their quick-picking, drive, uninhibited vocals, and deep coming-from-the-holler sound, these boys have a bright future ahead. “There were so many incredible bands in the competition this year. The competition was stiff, and we’re just honored that we were a part of all of it, and grateful for all the support of friends and family that came out to support us,” said Tom Knowlton (guitar) when asked what winning the TBF Band Contest felt like. Answering what it felt like to look out from the TBF stage during the contest, Dan Andree (fiddle) explained, “When we were on the main stage being able to play, looking out at that scenery, we had already won.” Taylor Shuck (upright bass) said, “I’m just over the moon,” and  Sam Parks (mandolin) expressed being proud of his “brethren in the band.”

We are proud of you all. Keep up the good work, and see you on the main stage at TBF51!

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About the Author

Jen Hughes

Jen Hughes is a devoted bluegrass enthusiast. An Upstate New York native who resides in Washington, D.C., Jen attends shows in and around the Nation’s capital, a bluegrass haven. She also makes the trek to as many festivals as possible each year. The sweet sounds of New Grass Revival took hold of her in high school and she has studied up on the genre backwards and forwards since then. Her hope is to get even more people hooked as she is on bluegrass music and its extraordinary artists and community.