Peeks at the 50th Telluride Bluegrass Festival – Day Two

Nickel Creek at the 50th anniversary Telluride Bluegrass Festival – photo courtesy Planet Bluegrass

The 50th Anniversary of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (TBF50) is well underway, and what a gathering it is of some of the greatest pickers on the planet, and some of happiest, hearty, bluegrass faithful. Nothing like waking up in the majestic box canyon, knowing even after a most plentiful day of superb music, there are three more whole days and nights of the bluegrass finest coming your way — all to be listened to within arms reach of your old friends and new ones just waiting to be met. Below are a few lil peeks of TBF50 – Day Two.

Another Legend Owns the Stage

Peter Rowan delivered an absolute jam for his 43rd TBF performance. This legend who actually played in the band with the Father of Bluegrass himself, Bill Monroe, had the audience rapt when singing Land of the Navajo. He spryly danced about the stage while shredding electric guitar in an all-out Dead-y jam in the midst of Midnight Moonlight.” So cool to hear his bandmate’s tenor sax in the canyon too! Rowan had the whole crowd singing a cappella for part of that tune. Then to rousing applause from the well-tie-dyed audience, he dropped into Not Fade Away. Just a few snippets to let you know that Rowan is still the master we have all known him to be for decades. Follow him wherever he goes whenever you can!

West Africa in the Canyon!

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba presented an enthralling show of the far-reaches of the ngoni instrument. Kouyate, a world-renowned Mali-born virtuoso, has stretched the universe of ngoni sounds, throwing down Hendrix-like solos and Taj Mahal covers from that tiny little wooden instrument, which in his words is the father of the banjo and the grandfather of the guitar.  The audience stared in amazement with everyone afterwards asking, how did all that wonderful music just happen? His wife, Amy Sacko, gifted us some beautiful vocals, and one of his two percussionists came forward to deliver an unbelievable bongo drum solo with fingers flying so fast we thought they were going to fly off. This set was a sight to see, and when Bassekou bellowed into the crowd, “Are you happy?”, everyone in earshot shouted back an absolute yes. Thank you, Planet Bluegrass, for always providing us a glimpse into some excellent acts outside of bluegrass for us to take in and learn about.

Mother Nature Steals the Show

Here comes the thunder. Here comes the rain. Here comes getting pelted by hail (it hurts!). Gore-Tex, ponchos, and tarps are our friends. And, while lightning is cool, it is not. Planet Bluegrass had to call it. They cleared the entire Town Park field — twice! Two evacuations? TBF veterans were murmuring that this was the first TBF evacuation in thirty years!

Mother Nature just wanted to get in on the act, I guess, showing her appreciation for 50 years of the best music ever by crying tears of joy — abundant tears of joy — at the beauty of what Planet Bluegrass has created. She forced us to slow down and soak in the scene: a chance to huddle with close friends and to meet some new ones, all the while talking about how amazing TBF is and reveling about its 50-year run thus far. Kudos to supervisors and security for keeping us safe. 

Not to be Daunted: The Music Plays On and Oh Does It Ever!

TBF Festivarians are hearty folk, especially the campers who are nothing short of bluegrass heroes. They are living in the severe elements this week. They are not daunted. Mere moments after Planet Bluegrass called the music back at 8:00 p.m., people filled a muddy Town Park once again. And, boy, they were treated to a fabulous set by Sarah Jarosz, who had everyone singing at the top of their lungs to Rocky Mountain High. Nickel Creek then blew away the crowd with a spectacular show before the beautiful mountain landscape stage art. Chris Thile, Sara Watkins, and Sean Watkins, each in their own right expert entertainers, opened their set with Where the Long Line Leads, with the apt lyric, “We’re gonna have a big time.” We sure did. 

Nickel Creek gave us treasures, including Destination, The Lighthouses Tale, When You Come Back Down, and a poppy Elephant in the Corn. The energy was so high during this show that Chris Thile actually wiped-out when crazy-dancing around the stage while delivering a scorching solo. He and his mandolin were okay. Thank goodness. He laughed it off and continued on, buoyed by an oh-so-loving crowd.  

To close out the night, Greensky Bluegrass lit up the sky with their stunning set that had the audience grooving well past midnight! Sam Bush joined them to lay down some perfect fiddle on Courage for the Road and to sing Sneaking Sally Through the Alley, which is always too fun. It was so wonderful to see the throngs of people dancing on the muddy field in the dark in about 38 degree weather. TBF is something else. The musicians are never daunted in their playing at this fest, and the crowd just dares you to try to daunt them. It will not work. TBF-goers will always rise out of the mud, the snow, and the hail to dance and celebrate the best music on earth!

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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.