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Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2014

by Kiran Herbert on July 03, 2014

Sunday went by too fast, as it always does. Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers were welcomed into the Telluride family early on in the day; she’s now another voice among all the beautiful (and talented) women we hope to see at Telluride every year. There was a little rain early in the day, but it was short-lived and followed soon after by sun. Willie Watson’s Elks Park set—titled Sea Shanties, Work Songs & Sing-Alongs—was one of the best of the entire weekend and I’m adamant it played a part in turning the weather around. Watson is an expert on Americana music and one of our nation’s big talents, so when he’s joined by the rest of the Dave Rawlings Machine, plus Sara Watkins, a few drifting Punch Brothers, and a captivated audience, it makes for a one of a kind show.

Nicki Bluhm

Jerry Douglas is the world’s best dobro player, and in an ideal world he would sit in everyday of Telluride for almost every set. This year we only got him on Sunday, but he wasted no time, first presenting the Earls of Leicester, a tribute to legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and then later on as a core member of the Telluride House Band. Before they took the stage, however, we were treated to our third Greensky Bluegrass show of the weekend (they also played a late night set at the Palms Theater and Thursday happy hour on the Elks Park stage). John Hartford’s “Steam Powered Aereo Plane,” “I’d Probably Kill You,” and Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” (with Sam Bush) were standouts.

Greensky at the Elks Park stage during their Happy Hour set

Ray Lamontagne—one of the big name draws I’d heard of and was looking forward to seeing live—played a mesmerizing set, but he came off as a tad temperamental. The Bluegrass crowd doesn’t take well to being compared to folk festivals (that Lamontagne claimed to hate), or being called zombies who don’t dance (his music is probably the slowest tempo we heard all weekend). Nonetheless, he redeemed himself by calling the crowd “beautiful in their strung-outedness,” admitting he loved us, and playing my two favorite tracks off of his latest album Supernova (the title track and “Ojai,” which could easily be about Telluride).

The last act and main draw of the festival for many is the House Band, featuring Bush, Fleck, Douglas, bassist Edgar Meyer, Bryan Sutton on guitar, and fiddler Stuart Duncan. Del McCoury and Alison Krauss joined the band at various points throughout, but (as always) I wish Krauss could have sung on every single number. More so than any individual song played, the big draw of the House Band is the level of musicianship they bring to the stage, their familiarity with each other’s styles (all have been playing together for decades), and the band’s ability to embody the spirit of Telluride in one single set. Their encore is always a bittersweet moment.

I spent my last night in town rambling around with my friends, and ended up at the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon to watch Mimi Naja and Vince Herman play with Gypsy Moon. At one point I heard an angelic voice singing along to Naja’s rendition of Bill Wither’s “Use Me,” and turned around to find Nicki and Tim Bluhm dancing behind me. They eventually joined the rest of the musicians on stage and stayed until the encore, when Vince led the entire bar out into the streets. It seemed like the perfect ending, until I ran into friends who had made it into the Punch Brother’s late night, where the entire Dave Rawlings Machine ended up joining them on stage. That’s the thing about Telluride though: there are just too many talented folks playing at all times to catch everything. There are no perfect endings and you will always leave wanting more. It’s what keeps the crowds coming back year-to-year.

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Authors: Kiran Herbert