Photos by Josh Elioseff
Review by Andrew Martin
“There’s something magical about this festival.” My friends and I kept repeating this phrase over and over all weekend long. While “magical” isn’t exactly the first word you typically associate with a music festival, it is probably the perfect way to depict Telluride Bluegrass.
The dramatic beauty of the box canyon, the world class musicianship, and the 40 years of tradition all contribute to the magical moments captured every summer. But it is the people that truly make Telluride Bluegrass so special. Long-time Festivarians return year after year to watch a core of musicians reunite and collaborate on stage, creating a community unlike any I’ve ever experienced at a music festival.
It is impossible to understand the magic of Telluride Bluegrass without hearing stories of the people involved. Therefore, my discussions of the music will be framed by the people who made my week so unforgettable – old friends who reconnect every summer, new friends who will one day become “old friends,” and chance encounters with people I may never see again. These particular stories may be unique to me, but many Festivarians in attendance have similar experiences fueled by the individuals they meet throughout the week.
Yonder Mountain String Band NightGrass Kickoff Show
For the last 12 years, Yonder Mountain String Band has kicked off the festival with a Wednesday NightGrass pre-party at the Telluride Conference Center. After a long day of driving and a few celebratory cocktails at our condo in town, I boarded the gondola to Mountain Village with my friends Kara, Pavel, and Josh for the opening show of the weekend.
Yonder brought a tremendous amount of energy, playing a spirited set that kept people dancing from start to finish. In fact, the thumping groove of the music inspired a bluegrass dance circle right in front of me. Regardless of the form of expression, the energy and excitement in the crowd was undeniable.
Of course, no discussion of a Yonder show would be complete without a rundown of Jeff Austin’s goofy facial expressions during his mandolin solos. My favorites of the night were “Riding the Gravitron and about to Vomit”, “Corky” (Life Goes On), and “Catatonic Patient in a Psychiatric Ward.”
Chris Thile opened the festival Thursday morning to a packed crowd. He had the entire audience rapt in attention from start to finish. Thile played a good mix of traditional tunes, classical pieces and even an old Civil War song called “Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel.”
One of the highpoints of the set was a cover of Fiona Apple’s “Fast as You Can” which featured a very percussive intro highlighting Thile’s strengths as a rhythm player as well as a ripping mandolin solo in the middle.As always, Thile demonstrated a tremendous control over dynamics. The music would segue from subtle, intricate passages that were barely above a whisper to blazing runs and melodies which would get punctuated by massive crescendos. He earned a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of his set.
Flying Kites with Pavel (Milk Carton Kids)
My friend Pavel is a kite aficionado. He often brings one to festivals and flies them when the wind is right. On this day, the wind was a bit inconsistent for sustaining a kite in the sky, but that wasn’t going to stop Pavel from trying.As fast as the kite left the ground, it would nose dive once the wind died down, wreaking havoc on unsuspecting Festivarians before finally crashing into the grass.
The Milk Carton Kids were playing while I watched Pavel fly his kite. They are a mellow, folky duo. From the back of the festival grounds, I couldn’t really hear all the intricacies of their music. From what I did hear, their songwriting was decent, but not overly exciting. However, they provided great background music as I watched Pavel’s kite flutter among jagged, ashen-gray mountain peaks dotted by patches of snow leftover from winter. It fit my mood perfectly.