Saturday, the third day of the 2012 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, felt like part of a comfortable routine. While the previous two days seemed like people were adjusting to the rhythms of festival life, Saturday felt like everything was as it should be.
Well, almost everything. The Weber wildfire just south of Mancos, Colo. filled the canyon with smoke. Small bits of ash continuously fell out of the sky the sun was reduced to a glowing red circle. There was also an unrelenting cloud of dust raised by any suggestion of dancing across the field that was once mostly green grass, but with the lack of water and thousands of people plodding across, it has been mostly reduced to a bed of dry and defeated hay.
In spite of the smoke and dust, Saturday witnessed some incredibly strong performances. By most reports, the Devil Makes Three got the crowd dancing in the early afternoon. Yonder Mountain String Band predictably attracted the largest crowd of any other set I have seen. From the front of the stage, the sea of people up and out of their seats went as far back as the eye could see.
K.D. Lang & the Siss Boom Bang was a delightful surprise. Lang took an absolutely commanding position over the crowd. At one point she remarked that if any women found the irresistible urge to move towards the stage, to not panic, because she had recently discovered that the banjo was a real “chick magnet.” Granted, Lang played the banjo in ways that one does not normally see, but it was truly difficult to turn away. She played three encores, the second two of which were part of the band’s homage to the festival. The members of the Siss Boom Bang, with Lang at their center, crowded around a single microphone with acoustic instruments for some classic bluegrass-inspired music with a K.D. Lang twist.
Every year, I want to discount Sam Bush because I have seen him every year prior. However, his set with the Sam Bush Band made it clear that he is an incredible musician and an even better showman. No one brings more guests on stage than Bush. In two waves, Bush first brought out pickers that included Jeff Austin, Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Jonathan Edwards. Bush finished with a “bass jam” to Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom” which included Yonder’s Ben Kaufmann, Edgar Meyer, Fleck on electric banjo and even Bush played an electric bass. Another unique Telluride experience.
Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers were a great end to a long Saturday. Hornsby’s incredible piano skills and terrific voice took a hold over the audience. Sam Bush, Béla Fleck and Chris Thile came out to join him.
Nathan Rist is a freelance photographer and a regular Reverb contributor. He hails from the mountains of Telluride, but he’s currently studying at the University of Colorado at Boulder.