Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2014
Peter Rowan’s Twang an’ Groove with Yungchen Lhamo was an incredible way to recover from such a long night. Among the world’s leading Tibetan vocalists, Lhamo’s sound is spine chilling, an eriee reverberation that makes for the perfect accompaniment to Rowan’s own yodel.
Yungchen Lhamo and Peter Rowan
I spent a good deal of the festival hanging out with Fruition’s Mimi Naja, a longtime Bluegrass attendee who comes to play and usually ends up working. She sat in on John Prine’s “Glory of True Love” during Leftover Salmon’s Thursday late night show, and on Saturday, Greensky’s Dave Bruzza and Paul Hoffman asked her to sit in during their workshop set at the Elks Park stage, the highlight of which was “Mountain Annie” that saw most of the park singing along.
Mimi Naja on the Elks Park stage
The Punch Brothers, heartthrobs of the bluegrass world, killed their main stage show. The quintet moves easily between traditional string music, classical, jazz, pop, you name it. If there’s one band in the past ten years that really embodies the Telluride Bluegrass genre, they’re it. They encored with an a cappella version of “The Auld Triangle,” which they recorded with T Bone Burnett for the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack.
The Yonder Mountain String Band has been switching their lineup around since Jeff Austin left the band, and though Jerry Douglas wasn’t there to recreate their Delfest set, Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter rounded out the lineup and then some. By the time Sam Bush, Alan Bartram and John Frazier joined the group on stage, it was shaping up to be on of the most fun Yonder sets I’d seen in years; the “Kentucky Mandolin” was borderline ridiculous.
Andrew Bird’s set was, for me, the highlight of the weekend. Familiar with his name, but not his music, I was literally blown away by the sound one man could make. Once the Hands of Glory (featuring the fabulous Tift Merritt) joined him the set really got going. I’ve seen artists like Phish and Sound Tribe Sector 9 soundscape—or play music that utilizes the surrounding landscape, typically in places like the Gorge in George, Washington, or Red Rocks outside of Denver—but nothing compares to the way Bird played off that box canyon, whistling between the San Juans, making the whole place seem at once intimate and infinite.
Sam Bush Band never disappoints, and considering it was Bush’s 40th year playing the fest, it’s amazing he still finds ways to innovate and up the ante. Claiming inspiration from Fleck’s symphony set, he brought literally every mandolin player who was around—including Sarah Jaroz, Drew Emitt, Hoffman, Thile, and McCoury—out on stage with him to create his own mandolin orchestra. They played “Russian Rag,” a wild ride between Bush classics like “Circles Around Me” and his take on the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Leftover Salmon closed out the main stage set with Little Feat’s Bill Payne sitting in the whole time, which meant the audience was treated to a poly-ethnic Cajun rendition of “Oh Atlanta.” Bush joined the band towards the end for New Grass Revival’s “Reach,” a exceptional moment for anyone who loves Bush’s early work but was born a decade or so too late. I left early, as Leftover was playing The Band’s “Rag Mama Rag,” because one of my best friends surprised with last minute late night tickets to Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott’s Sheridan Opera House show. The Sheridan is one of the most cozy and storied venues in Telluride, and the show was the ideal way to end a long day of dancing in the sun. Jaroz joined the duo for pretty much the whole show, as well as for a hushed and ethereal a cappella encore: Bill Monroe’s “Get Down on Your Knees and Pray.”