Abigail Washburn, Sarah Jarosz shine at Elks Park Telluride - Reverb

Pickin’ on Telluride: Elks Park stage shines on Day 1

The crowd at the Elk's Park stage at the 2011 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Pocket photo by John Hendrickson, heyreverb.com.

The crowd at the Elk's Park stage at the 2011 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Pocket photo by John Hendrickson, heyreverb.com.

TELLURIDE — Perhaps more than any artist on the line-up, I came to Telluride anxious to see Steve Earle with the mountain backdrop in the heart of Telluride’s box canyon. His 1999 collaboration with the Del McCoury Band, aptly titled “The Mountain,” is one of my favorite bluegrass records of all time, and its title track was “must” for my Road to Telluride playlist.

Earle’s set was packed with newer material from last month’s “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” (click here to watch his in-store performance of such songs at Twist & Shout Records last month) though he reached moments of transcendence on “Galway Girl,” “Copperhead Road” and the slow, waltzy “Mountain.” Earle’s wife and bandmate Allison Moorer belted a soulful version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” though the blaring sun made the central festival grounds more of a chore than pleasure during most of the afternoon sets.

Respite came in the form of the Elks Park stage, where the still-wet-behind-the-ears Austin, Tex. prodigy Sarah Jarosz serenaded a green slope of a couple hundred loungers. Toes in the grass, cold drink at your side, swaying trees above — it’s one of the most peaceful hamlets of the country to experience live music. Following Jarosz, folk singer Abigal Washburn and her mixed-bag backing band, the Village, set up shop in the center of the crowd for an unplugged performance that was easily the day’s highlight. Her opening jazzy number, “Keys to the Kingdom,” ended with a mass sing-along of “I’ve got the keys to the kingdom, the world can’t do me no harm,” with a walking, rumbling upright bass line to soothe all woes.

Click here for a full photo gallery and recap of Telluride Day 1.

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John Hendrickson is the Managing Editor of Reverb and a multimedia journalist for The Denver Post. Follow his rants on music and more on Twitter.