Sam Bush, Jon Randall, and Dierks Bentley with The Travelin’ McCourys at Telluride 2018 – photo by Jen Hughes
Thousands of lucky souls made their way to the striking San Juan Mountains to get hugged by the beautiful box canyon of Telluride, Colorado, as they annually do for the Summer Solstice, and to witness the best bluegrass musicianship on the planet. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival, now in its 45th year, stands among the most revered bluegrass festival in the land. Legends have been made beneath the majestic Bridal Veil Falls, as they continue to be year after year. Whether it is your first Telluride, your tenth or your 45th, the Telluride Festival is a positive, life-changing event. It is the stuff of myth and lore, but somehow actually as true as it can get.
Those of us fortunate to make the trek and participate in this gathering of goodness grab tickets seven months prior without knowing what the lineup is. We just know Planet Bluegrass will take care of us. We trust it will expand our hearts, replenish our spirits, and inspire us to do great things by showing us the best of the best and providing us the perfect vibe to soak in all that matters. Planet Bluegrass never disappoints.
Leading Up: The Giddiness Factor
The official music kicks off on Wednesday night with the fantastical FirstGrass. The fun for many, however, begins weeks prior with the Town Park land grab. Folks roll in from miles around to convert Town Park campground into a festival unto itself. Camp setups are as intricate as any home: full-purpose kitchens, furniture, charging and heating stations, communal areas. The creativity is inspiring, and the Town Park traditions are something to behold.
You might find yourself in the Fashion Show or Goddess Walk, and you best get yourself to Rumballs to hear the year’s proclamation. No doubt, you’ll find yourself joyfully wincing down a mysterious crunchy frog before an official festival note has even been played. But notes have been played. Many notes! By super-talented pickers under tents and tarps throughout the campground, well into the morning hours night after night.
Those who live in the woods leading up to the Festival’s kickoff have a distinct positive and contagious vibe. They have been an integral part of creating the TBF uniqueness and they welcome all fellow festival-goers with bear hugs as the days get closer to kick-off. We are well in the midst of Planet Bluegrass magic and the first show has not even started.
FirstGrass is here!
Nothing like hopping a ski lift gondola for a gorgeous ride through aspens to Mountain Village for FirstGrass. Just giddy with excitement as we fly through the air, chatting with fellow passengers about Tellurides past, and anticipations for Telluride present. We practically run from the gondola’s landing pad up over the hill to the plaza. It is a glorious site: a sea of music-lovers surrounding a stage, sun at perfect height, mountains you can practically reach out and touch. So high up that we believers in the crowd simply tilt our head back and whisper a thank you, knowing we’re just inches from heaven’s floor, and will be heard.
As for the music? Here we thought the fire warning signs and strategically placed fire extinguishers throughout the area had to do with forest fires. Little did we know it was for the red hot sets Planet Bluegrass lined up for us for our long-awaited Firstgrass!
Billy Strings, the 25 year old phenom, ignited the crowd with his blistering picking. Hordes of his rightfully rabid fans rode the rail upfront to catch sight of the smoke coming off his flying fingers. All there had mouths agape as this young one pulled off unending incredible feats on the guitar. Check him out as soon as you can! Lil Smokies, the 2015 TBF Band Competition Winners, kept the blaze going with their lightning quick playing and engaging, jammy style. Their set of exceptional originals and sing-along Always Something There to Remind Me kept the crowd heated up as the sun went down.
The herd moved to the first NightGrass show of 2018, which became a show of a lifetime. Dierks Bentley and the Travelin’ McCourys blew the roof off the Conference Center. Fire alarms be damned. The hot talent from each and every one of those musicians sent out a torrent of sparks, causing brush fires all over the audience floor. Festival-goers didn’t know what to do: should we put the flames out? No way! This is one type of fire welcome here. Let’s keep this burning going!! And, they did. It was an absolute, unbelievable, wonderful inferno in there.
They served up several of Dierks’ hits in grassified fashion, including Up on the Ridge, and I Hold On. The bluegrass accompaniment was, of course, spot on by the expert McCoury crew. John Randall joined them for The Mountain, an apt song for the setting, which blew all of us away. Then, the King of Telluride himself, Mr. Sam Bush, came out for the incredible You Can’t Bring Me Down. What a treat! Like throwing more logs on the fire. He stayed for a few ripping more, including Roll On Buddy with none other than legend, Del McCoury. When Del took the stage, the crowd roared and that bonfire flared. Their rendition together of Good Man Like Me was to die for. The Travelin’ McCourys threw down a breath-taking set of their tunes before Dierks re-joined them to finish out the show, which no one wanted to end.
Throngs of us were up on that mountain realizing we were already in the time of our lives. We ecstatically made our way to the gondola, knowing we could leave the Festival now and we would be happy. Of course, we’re not going to leave! We are lucky to be here for the next four days! Let’s do this, TBF 2018!!