Telluride 50th anniversary thoughts from the artists who played

Jen Hughes has shared some final thoughts on this year’s historic 50th anniversary of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, taken from brief interviews with 2023 performers Jerry Douglas, Bryan Sutton, Jeremy Garret, Stephen Mougin, and festival goer Greg Nadeau, who has been on site all 50 years!

We were able to catch up with some of the bluegrass family at the 50th Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and wanted to convey some of their reflections with you about that legendary festival in the beautiful box canyon of Telluride. We are sincerely grateful that they shared their thoughts with us.

The Dobro Master: Jerry Douglas

We asked Jerry Douglas, the dobro master, who performed at TBF50 with the Earls of Leicester and the Telluride House Band, a couple of questions about the 50th Anniversary of the festival. Here are Jerry’s reflections: touching statements imbued with his excellent sense of humor:

What does the 50th Anniversary of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival mean to you?

The first thought I have about the 50th Telluride Bluegrass Festival is Sam Bush has been there 49 times!!! Then, I remember and count up that I have been there 40 times. Isn’t that the equivalent of a full-grown adult who should know what Shinola is by this point? This festival has been a huge part of my adult life and career as a musician. It has fed me, clothed me, and filled my life with friends I can count on all the rest of my life. 

Planet Bluegrass is more than a musical event. It’s an ecosystem. We all carry thoughts about the place to different parts of the world and are considered very fortunate to have played in the shadow of those mountains. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival is revered in all the world, and through its grace, we as the stewards of the festival are guilty by a deep association. And, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Can you please share the feelings you have as you roll into the box canyon for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival?

Travel to Telluride is first affirming it is your destination, and realizing this is a sport. Acclimation is topic number one. Drink lots, not just lots, but LOTS of water before going to 8990 feet above sea level. Topic number two is what am I bringing to the audience, who know me very well, that may be new in my journey to please and challenge the Festivarians….

But really….

As soon as I turn the corner at Ridgeway I get this memory flood of past festivals and all the ways I have reinvented myself or threw myself out of my comfort zone to find out what these other folks were up to. 

When I come around the bend and see the town checkpoint, the town comes into view, and because I have been here so many times, I start checking which businesses have stayed and which ones have gone, making way for the new generation’s needs. 

I look up and see the majesty we are graced with. Those peaks and how much water is pouring over the falls will forecast the weekend and send the crowd on its path to feeding the musicians who give back to the best of their abilities.  And, so goes the first few fleeting moments of a new Telluride in sight — always hoping for the next one and the recurring thought when I hit Ridgeway the next time.

Flatpicking Genius: Bryan Sutton

We asked Bryan Sutton, renowned flatpicking genius, who performed with the Telluride House Band and put on a Bryan Sutton and Friends workshop in Elks Park, the same couple questions. We were delighted to hear his reflections, which convey the gratitude we TBF-goers all have about the event.

What does the 50th Anniversary of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival mean to you?

I know the festival is bigger than my participation in it, so to have a small part in the last 23 years along with Sam, Béla, Edgar, Jerry, Hot Rize, and others is really special. It’s special to celebrate with those folks, especially Sam, who has been there since the beginning. 

Can you please share the feelings you have as you roll into the box canyon for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival?

Every TBF I’ve been able to be a part of reminds me of the great community we have in the bluegrass world. I feel like I was invited and welcomed into this scene back in 2000 when I first played with Béla, Sam, Jerry, Stuart, and Mark Schatz. Subsequent years with Hot Rize and other pals are full of wonderful memories so, fundamentally, I’m thankful this year and every year this weekend rolls around. 

The Man with the Fiddle on Fire: Jeremy Garrett

Lo and behold, we were able to hit Jeremy with the same questions. Not sure how he found time to grace us with some reflections given he played three entire shows in less than twenty-hours, and threw down at Camp Run-A-Muck in the middle of the night in between. We sure were happy to hear from him and take in how he puts into words what we all TBF-goers feel.

What does the 50th Anniversary of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival mean to you?

Anytime something has been going on as long as the Telluride Bluegrass Festival it is more than an event, it is a tradition for sure. Over the years, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival has had so many incredible performers, the who’s who of the genre.  The exposure that bluegrass music has received from the festival has been wonderful!  

Can you please share the feelings you have as you roll into the box canyon for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival?

The feeling that you get as you roll into the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and box canyon is best described as nostalgia, real lived in the moment. Your heart skips a beat with excitement and anticipation for the event. So many great memories have been made here, and so many friendships have been forged.

Sammy’s Ever Solid Side Man for Pickin’ and a-Singing: Stephen Mougin

What a treat to be able to have an extended visit with Stephen Mougin, who knocked it out of the park at the Saturday headliner set with The Sam Bush Band. Here is a bit of our conversation with this TBF veteran.

What does the 50th Anniversary of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival mean to you?

It is a special time to celebrate all the folks that have played out here and the long history. I was thinking earlier about the culture that this festival has created. Being that long-standing, a lot of bands formed because of this festival – bands that we just identify as headliners at this point. It is a pretty cool thing to see the collaborations that always happen here and the annual gathering of all of our pals. It is just such a special place. 

Can you please share the feelings you have as you roll into the box canyon for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival?

We always come in on a bus, and it is always really early in the morning as we roll in coming from Nashville. The entire band is always sitting in front of the bus just looking at the scene, and it just never gets old. We were all commenting on the way in this year that we all have hard drives full of photos, and they are all the same photos!  Every time you come here, you whip out your phone and you take another picture of the same thing. But, it is just so special that you cannot help it. It’s so beautiful here.

What are some of the top things you look forward to every time you come to the TBF?

First and foremost, just the whole camaraderie and friends that I have here. The other bands, photographers, and media folks: we just have a relationship over all these years. It is like a homecoming in a certain way. And, I love watching certain sets. The House Band is always a thrill for me. As a kid, I heard of that event and it was a thrill to get to see them the first time. Also, of course, getting to play with Sam on Saturday night as one of the headline acts. It’s incredible. It is an amazing thing.  Terrifying and amazing all at the same time!  

The other thing I love is the Elks Park Stage with the workshops and the different interesting collaborations that are not on the main stage. I think it is pretty cool to have a festival that is so huge but there is really one stage with this little Elks Park thing, so it feels like the festival breathes a little more than some. They have fantastic vendors here too. It is always world class. Planet Bluegrass just knows how to throw a party, keep everybody safe, and do a bang-up job. It is top-notch.

You mentioned the Saturday night Sam Bush Band show. Can you describe a bit more about what it is like to walk onto the TBF stage on Saturday night?

I have vivid memories of my first time here, which was 2006, walking out on the stage.  I swear that I didn’t even see the crowd for about four or five songs because the stage is really tall and the mountains are so majestic. When you walk out on stage, it is hard to take it all in. You are simply surrounded by gorgeous views any way you look and, I swear, it was like four or five songs in before I even noticed that there was an audience there. I just wasn’t looking down because it is such a glorious, epic place. Also, it is wonderful and terrifying to see your friends and heroes sitting in the pit. It is very cool to look down and see Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, and Béla, and all those folks just sitting there hanging out watching the show. It’s amazing.

Off stage are there any annual traditions of getting together to jam or catch-up with your musician friends?

The hotel we stay at has a lot of the other musicians there too. So, there are a lot of breakfast conversations. It’s just great. You run into the same folks year after year and talk about whatever: sometimes, it’s music gear; sometimes, it’s festivals, new albums, and all that kind of stuff. And, that is pretty special. Also, for a long time, I have been invited by the Yonder Mountain guys to sit in with them at their late-night show, and I have done that whenever I can. That is fun to go hang out and play music with our buddies. And, that’s what it is all about: sharing a community of music. It is really cool.  

Anyone in particular you were really hoping to catch this TBF?

The thing I was most looking forward to was the Nickel Creek show.  I was a huge fan of theirs when they hit the scene, and, of course, they have been retired for a little bit so it was really cool to see them back in action and sounding great. And, the Flecktones. Kind of the same thing. They are back out this summer. I truly believe that it is probably because of this festival that both of those bands are back out touring and doing stuff — their reason for getting back out there. 

Do you have any traditions as you are about to leave Telluride?  

Nothing specifically as I leave, but there are some annual things I want to make sure I do. One of the things is going up the gondola and hanging out at the top of the mountain for a while. There are a couple different restaurants I like to visit. There are a few stores too. I always spend time at the Telluride Music Store. Love those guys. They always have some amazing instruments and they are a wealth of knowledge. So, there are some things I do every year here, but not necessarily as an exit.

Perfect Attendance Award: Greg Nadeau

Sam Bush always asks on Saturday night of the TBF: who has been to the festival all four days? Well, I am asking: who has been to the Festival all fifty (50) years? Greg Nadeau has! Wow. I was blessed to chat with this Festivarian hero about his TBF reflections to date. Hard to stop smiling about the fact that Greg happened upon the TBF and it changed his life for the next 50 years . . . so far. Greg attends the TBF with his wife, Gail, who has attended 45 TBFs!

You have been to every single Telluride Bluegrass Festival?


How did you discover the Telluride Bluegrass Festival?

I discovered it when a few of my friends and I were going to go hiking in the area, and there happened to be music going on in town. So, we stayed around and listened to a lot of the music. We did a little bit of hiking but we did more music than hiking.

What keeps you coming back?

Well, it is running into good friends every year there that we do not get to see throughout the rest of the year. It’s more about getting together with friends than the music . . . and the music is great.

Someone told me that even though the TBF did not go on in 2020 that you actually made your way to Telluride in June 2020 when the festival would have happened. Is that a true story?

Yes, we did. We met a few people who were camping there just to say they were in Telluride that week. We took a trip over from Durango to visit them for the day.

And, you stepped foot on the TBF Town Park Field?


Are there any particular years or moments over the years that are your favorites?

Well, I would have to say the year Johnny Cash played. And, about 10-11 years ago when Robert Plant and his band played and Mumford and Sons played. That was a big year.

Do you have any particular traditions that you look forward to every year?  Like something in particular you make a point to do each year when you’re at the TBF?

Lately, in the past 10 years or more, we’ve been coming over to camp a week before Planet Bluegrass takes over.  We hang out with our good friends the week before everything gets crazy.

What does the 50th Anniversary of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival mean to you?

It means I’m getting older! It’s another great week getting together with friends and seeing great music.

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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.