n the middle
of June, the small skiing town of Telluride, Colo., gears up to showcase
the greatest of Bluegrass, Folk and American Gospel music in a four-day
event, aptly titled the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The TBF has been
held annually for the past 30 years, continually building a fellowship
of fans and returning regulars who span the entire globe. These "festivarians,"
as they are known, are entirely devoted to celebrating this historic
element of American music and its continuum in one of the Mountain West's
greatest summer experiences.
Below is a guide to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a guide to becoming
a festivarian and celebrating one of the most unique and memorable experiences
Bluegrass: a genre that evokes many feelings for many different Americans.
Bluegrass is a representation of popular folk music from the historic
deep Southeast. Though its exact birthplace is difficult to determine,
both the grass and music’s main vein still pumps rigorously throughout
the musty Appalachian Mountain range.
But one of Americana's most unique values is that its music gathers
its distinction from the individual musician’s ability to jam,
improvise and duel with other musicians, making the live performance
both enjoyable and personally memorable for the audience.
To most, this music accompanies a certain economic status and carries
an insufficient stigma for its audience. Though understandable, yet
highly inaccurate, bluegrass is generally associated with the Southern
slack-jawed yokel—a hillbilly playing a banjo on a porch with
a jug of moonshine at his or her side. In reality, those qualities don't
convey the complete picture of bluegrass and American acoustic folk
Bluegrass music is a style made popular during the Civil War that is
an original American roots collection that brings together such diverse
music forms as rustic Texas country, Irish Celtic dance and Southern
Delta blues (among others).
TELLURIDE, AT A GLANCE
At an elevation well higher than 8,000 feet, Telluride is made up of
remnants from a historic mining town-turned-ski-town built at the base
of the intersecting San Miguel and San Juan Mountain ranges, which are
bound by a glacier. The winter runoff produces an active waterfall,
providing a celestial backdrop, while water flows all year long through
the heart of their town park and the small downtown (mostly comprised
of renovated historic buildings) before merging with the Colorado River.
But the town's placement, cool mountain environment and overwhelming
elegant beauty is only the beginning of why the Telluride Bluegrass
Festival is not one to be missed.
The ski town has always celebrated the culture and artistic expression
of its residents and guests. For instance, the touring band The String
Cheese Incident formed during one of the TBF events well over a decade
The amount of festival attendees has now reached into the thousands,
while Telluride's normal population barely peaks at 1,000 full-time
locals. The only possibility for viable continuation of such an enormous
attraction to such a small town depends on three things: positive and
respectful attitudes of all “festivarians,” tolerance of
all the festivarians from the townsfolk and the local need to enjoy
and join the annual music celebration. If those basic requirements were
not met, not only would TBF not be nearly as enjoyable as it is, the
event would most likely be non existent.
“Our main goal for every year’s festival is for people to
come back year after year,” states festival spokeswoman Annabel
“This festival is so important because people always leave the
four-day event ready to make plans for next year.”
Not only do the locals and the festivarians pick up on this positiveness
and generous demeanor, but the musicians pick up on it as well. We have
all been to a concert where something seems out of sync. The band is
not playing up to your expectations, and the audience and the musicians
on stage reflect that subtle, incredulous response equally.
“Everyone involved, fans and musicians alike, love Telluride because
it is a place to share history and when a spot opens up to perform,
musicians fight to get into the spot,” Lukins said.
All of the elements that make Telluride what it is ensure four days
of unbelievable music. On any given day, you could very well be buying
a stirfry platter when a headlining musician will ask you if it's any
good. Hence, over the past 30 years, such intimacy has brought bigger
and more notable bands and musicians to play this festival, while many
become annual regulars.
Past TBFs have brought acts such as Willie Nelson, Ben Harper, Cake,
Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Nickel Creek, Bruce Hornsby, Natalie
Merchant, David Crosby, Lyle Lovett, Taj Mahal, Ani DiFranco, James
Taylor, Indigo Girls, The String Cheese Incident, Bill Monroe and even
The strangest and best element of TBF is that while many show stopping
acts have graced the Fred Shellman Memorial Stage for the festival over
the years, it remains a friendly and comfortable event.
My Summer Vacation(s)
When I was a child, my dad owned a record store and he was the only
ticket distributor in the state of Utah to sell for TBF. He and my mom
would get tickets and kids at the time were free, so TBF was our family
summer vacation. I attended that festival from as young as my parents
could take me, enjoying the music, but not really caring about it.
The year that TBF truly made a profound difference in my life was 1997,
when Johnny Cash played his final live performance before his battle
with pneumonia took him off the stage. To see the living legend performing
live with my dad and 10,000 festivarians dancing along to Cash's many
classics was an event to remember.
Every year since that performance, I annually frequent the festival
and return home with a great story and an even greater memory from the
WHAT IS A FESTIVARIAN?
The cool thing about festivarians is that they differ from one another
in every way possible. They can be your dred-locked, quilt-dressed granolas,
dancing like they were kelp in the ocean. Or they can be your khaki-pant
wearing, oxford-shirt-buttoning, Starbuck’s-chugging republicans,
dancing like they were Eddie Munster in Riverdance.
Most importantly, festivarians can be anyone, at any age and dressed
any way, because for those four days, the sole focus is the music and
the enjoyment it brings the listener.
LINEUP, AT A GLANCE
So far, the lineup includes these acts:
Thursday, June 19
The String Cheese Incident: The Telluride, Colo. natives headline the
opening night of festivities with their fusion of reggae, calypso and
Friday, June 20
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones: Back for his 17th appearance at TBF,
Bela Fleck gets the crowd jumping with his bluegrass/jazz fusion music.
Saturday, June 21
The Grammy-Award winner Emmylou Harris will grace the stage with her
powerful and delicate voice. Spyboy will accompany Harris.
Sunday, June 22
Sam Bush closes out a day filled with acts like Nickel Creek, Bluegrass
pioneers Hot Rize, and Alison Krauss. The Sam Bush Band performance
will be memorable because the last performance is when everyone comes
out to jam into the night.
Other performances will include John Cowan, Yonder Mountain String Band,
Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas Band, Peter Rowan and Tony Rice, Leftover
Salmon, Alison Brown Quartet and many, many more.
to Get There and Where to Sleep
Distance from Salt Lake City: 366 miles
Approximate travel time: 8 hours
-From Salt Lake City, head South on Interstate-15 for about 50 miles,
until you reach the exit for Price via US-6/US-89 (exit #261).
-Continue on US-6 for 127 miles, through Price and Helper.
-Take the Interstate 70 East ramp, heading east.
-Take US-191 exit toward Moab (Exit #180)
-Pass through Moab or stop at Eddie McStiff's for supplies and then
continue through Moab on US-191.
-After Moab, turn Left on UT-46, heading East.
-UT 46 turns into CO-90 at the UT/CO border. Don't freak out.
-Continue on CO-90 for about 35 miles after the border.
-Then CO-90 turns into CO-141 and CO-145, which you must follow. Confusing?
Yes. Worthwhile? Absolutely.
-Continue on CO-145 for about 50 miles.
-At this point you should be seeing signs for Festival check-in and
hippies playing their banjos. And you're there, man.
LODGING, AT A GLANCE...
There are many places to stay during TBF. For the big spender, there
are luxury accommodations, from bedroom residence suites to full-service
The Inn at Lost Creek: (WRITER’S PICK!) This condo community
on top of the valley looks down to town or mountains. Enjoy pool, spa,
fireplaces and balconies with incredible views.
Package rates from $143-175 per person, per night. Includes two four-day
TBF passes, with a three night minimum required.
(888)601-5678, or check out www.innatlostcreek.com
Telluride Mountain Lodging: Hotel lodging with kitchenettes,
right by the river trail, leading to festival grounds.
$219-249 per person, per night.
(888)728-1950, or check out www.telluridemountainlodging.com
Wyndham Mountain Lodge: hotel rooms to 3-bedroom condos, with
free access to adjacent spa.
$249-349 per person, per night.
(800)789-2220, or check out www.thepeaksresort.com
Other Lodging Accommodations:
Peaks Resort and Spa (800)789 2220
The Ice House (800)544-3436
Premier Mountain Resort (800)750-8750
Alpine Lodging (800)376-9769
Telluride Mountainside Inn (888)728-1950
AT A GLANCE
Of course, not all of us are lawyers, doctors or porn stars, who can
afford such amenities. For the majority of us, there is the option of
summer camping in the Colorado valley wilderness and campsites, which
are even more of a magical experience.
TBF offers two different locations in the Ilium Valley, filled
with beautiful scenery and incredible hiking trails. Please contact
Planet Bluegrass for more information on these campsites.
MARY E: This area is located about seven miles from the festival.
Camping is $45 per person, and $45 per car (for the entire festival,
not per night). Vehicles larger than 22’ are not permitted. You
must have a four day TBF pass to camp here. Getting to and from the
festival will be easy since the site is serviced by a free shuttle.
SHEEP CORRALS: This is the smallest of their campsites, located
about 10 miles from the festival. Camping is $35 per person and is a
pedestrian-only campsite. This means you can park your car in the camp
parking lot, but not next to your tent. You must have a festival pass
to camp here.
TELECAM: This is a tents-only ball field located about three
miles away from the festival grounds. Camping is $50 per person and
only for four-day pass holders. No cars are allowed on the field, but
there is parking right next to the campsite for Telecam guests. This
site is also serviced by free shuttle.
CAMP ILIUM: A quiet family- only camping area, about six miles
from the festival. Ilium is a rustic church camp with several community
cabins, limited tent camping (no RVs or campers), a bathhouse, a gameroom
and a dining hall. It’s perfect for festivarians who want to be
with their families and enjoy modest amenities. You must have a festival
pass to camp here. This camp area is limited to 100 people and also
features free shuttle service. The cost is $100 per person for the entire
weekend, but is not available for purchase online.
For more information, call Planet Bluegrass directly (800)624-2422.
The following rules apply for all camping areas managed by Planet
1) No Dogs. No Exceptions.
2) No Charcoal fires or hibachis allowed
3) All other types of stoves must have a metal pan underneath them to
protect the grass/ground and to reduce the risk of fire.
TBF TICKET PURCHASING
You can purchase the tickets day- by-day, or the four-day pass. Check
out www.bluegrass.com, the official TBF ticket outlet for all ticket
purchasing, driving directions, suggestions and further festival information.
Planet Bluegrass can be accessed over the telephone at (800)624 2422.
Wizard Entertainment in Telluride, Colo. can be called at (970)728 4796
and Telluride Music is accessible over the phone at (970)728-9592.
Congratulations, fellow Festivarian! You are ready for the party to
begin in the bluegrass hills of Telluride, Colo.! Now, if you could
only find a ride...