TELLURIDE — Day two of the 38th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival wasn’t as eventful as the fest’s first day. Festivarians were less frenetic. The bands were more polished, at ease. The weather was a jacket-defying mixture of sunny-warm and overcast-chilly.
But the day’s highlights — the dove-like voice of country legend Emmylou Harris and the sharp wit and ridiculous talent of Chris Thile — made it easy to forget about the sleep deprivation, the hangovers, the cloudy skies.
Playing an early morning slot on the Town Park stage was Thile and his bandmate, Michael Daves. With Thile leading the show — delivering punchy stories, introducing songs and railing his mandolin into unthinkable places — he was as likeable a figure as you’ll find in Telluride this weekend. Funny. Handsome. Talented. Devilish and mischievous, in a way.
As he said between songs, Thile was just a kid when he first played Telluride. And while he’s still something of a youngster among the kings of Telluride — Thile is 30 — he’s one of bluegrass’ most valuable statesmen. His former group, Nickel Creek, made very real crossover inroads. And he’s continuing that work with Punch Brothers, his new band that plays Telluride on Sunday, by spreading the good word of roots music.
Thile and Daves had a blast with “My Little Girl in Tennessee,” with Thile joking that he wrote the song — and then remembering, “Oh, I forgot. I didn’t write that song.” Daves is a virtuoso on the guitar, and it’s a pleasure seeing the two of them fly through a set, calling multiple “Fiddle Tune Request Times” throughout their 75 minutes.
“Now it’s time for a gospel tune,” said Thile late in the set, introducing their “Man in the Middle,” which they just released as a 45 RPM record on Jack White’s Third Man Records. The song resonated with the early-day crowd via a harmonic chorus that shouted, “The man in the middle was Jesus/He died for you and me.”
Trampled by Turtles played a fast and furious set that was impassioned and wild. (We caught their Nightgrass show the previous evening at the Palm Theater.) And Bela Fleck’s original Flecktones line-up also threw down a jammy set of songs that explored spacey, vibey, funky territories.
But Harris’ quiet, focused set of music was the night’s most memorable. She’s a national treasure, and we weren’t surprised to look into the VIP area and see Mumford & Sons frontman Marcus Mumford watching her intently.
Harris was modest as she told a story about how Buddy Miller put electrical tape on her acoustic guitar because he was tired of her going to the wrong chord before playing a moving “Prayer in Open D.” And her set-closing cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Old Five and Dimers” was sweet, especially with her introduction: “Folks, there are some songs that only old people can sing.” —Ricardo Baca
Pickin’ on Telluride: Reverb editor John Hendrickson sounds off
Cover songs are a rich part of the Americana tradition — from the Gourds’ now-infamous take on Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” to Old Crow Medicine Show making it big on the never-recorded Dylan tune “Wagon Wheel.” The band Iron Horse has a catalog of tounge-in-cheek, though soulful bluegrass covers of Metallica, Ozzy Osborne, Guns ‘N Roses, Modest Mouse and more.
Friday at Telluride saw unique covers at both the main festival and after-hours bar shows. Trampled by Turtles had one of the best receptions of the day, bringing the camping-chair-and-blanket crowd to its feet for most of their set, particularly on their rousing cover of the Faces’ “Oh La La” (thinking closing credits of “Rushmore.”)
Later, Emmylou Harris played a stirring cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” Harris, a Telluride vet who first played the festival as a headliner in 1985, joked about her own elementary guitar skills, though the baby boomer portion of the crowd was more than sated with Harris’ peaceful wail of a voice.
After-hours on main street saw Denver bluegrass band Oakhurst in its second of four nights at the Floradora Saloon. The quintet, which doesn’t necessarily identify itself as a bluegrass band (live drummer, among other things), played its first few songs with members of the Infamous Stringdusters before a unique take on Wilco’s “Heavy Metal Drummer.” —John Hendrickson
It’s 10 a.m., and I’m catching up on Twitter. Last night, we hit a few shows around town. We caught Oakhurst’s first set at the Floradora Saloon, and they killed it. After that we were walking back to the hotel when we heard Crystal Castles’ “Baptism” blaring from a coffee shop.
“Whoa,” we collectively said. After two straight days of bluegrass, it was a treat to hear the harsh, angular electro sounds of Crystal Castles. And so we paid the cover and joined the sweaty dance party.
I bailed at 1:30 a.m., but my friends — including Reverb photographer Joe McCabe — lasted longer. And judging from Twitter, things got crazy.
From @thingsjoewontdo, just after 4 a.m.: “Ever been to a rave in a Telluride coffee shop until 4 a.m.? #GirlsDancingOnBars #Nakedness #PunchingAlongToCrystalCastles”
Me: So, Joe, what happened after I left?
Joe: They stopped serving alcohol around 2. They put out tons of water. And then the bartender started dancing on the bar itself. And … were you there when everybody started taking their clothes off?
Me: Ha, no.
Joe: The DJ played this song and started yelling at everyone to take their clothes off, and everybody did. So they’re all dancing in their underwear. Random hippie B.O. dude came in and stunk up the place. The girls were dancing on the bar. People were dancing on couches. And people were doing in behind the curtain on the stage.
Me: Full-on nudity?
Joe: Behind the curtain, maybe, but everybody else, just underwear. Everybody in their underwear.
Me: What was the song?
Joe: I don’t even know. It was a random moment.
Me: Did you and Giselle take off your clothes?
Joe: No, we just danced. It was pretty much a local thing. Almost everyone was from Telluride and they all knew each other? I even got yelled at.
Me: For what?
Joe: At one point, I asked why they were mixing Adele with a horrible techno beat. And a girl heard me and said, “You’re not from here, are you?”
Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.