For the 40th time, the gates of Telluride’s Town Park opened to a stream of tarps rushed in by a group of dedicated festivalgoers, or “festivarians” as they are called here. Many of them have been running this race for decades and a handful have been jockeying for a space at the foot of the stage since the first Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 1973. They had all spent the entire night in line, sleeping by the babbling creek that runs through the park.
The annual running of the tarps is just one of the many traditions that have made the Telluride Bluegrass Festival so special over its 40-year history. Arguably the premier gathering of bluegrass artists in the world, TBF brings out the best and the brightest for four days of string bendin’ bliss on one of the world’s most scenic stages.
Highlights of Thursday included Colorado folkies Elephant Revival who delivered a well played set of their rhythmically complex, yet rootsy folk tunes — driven by singer Bonnie Paine’s electric washboard and percussion. Greensky Bluegrass cemented their positions as one of the most exciting young bands on the bluegrass scene, mixing long, complex instrumental jams with songwriting of a quality rarely seen among groups of their ilk. Sam Bush sat in with them on fiddle for an extended and impassioned workout of the tune “All Four,” in what is surely to be the first of many appearances by the unofficial “King of Telluride.”
The best performance of the day came when the Steep Canyon Rangers, who had entertained earlier with a set of their own, returned to the stage with Steve Martin, filling in last minute for Mumford & Sons. Their set demonstrated the Rangers’ vocal and instrumental virtuosity and Martin’s genial goofball humor in equal parts. They were also joined for a number of songs by singer Edie Brickel, with whom Martin recently collaborated on the excellent album “Love Has Come for You.”
After the final set, many festivarians returned to their campsites, their condos, or their hotel rooms to rest up for another big day. Others stumbled off into the town to check out the late night shows or continue the party at the packed bars. The most dedicated of the bunch, however, took their place in the line along the creek, settling in for the night and waiting, tarps ready, for the gates to open tomorrow.
Jonathan Gang is a regular contributor to Reverb.
Dylan Langille is a Fort Collins-based photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his photos here.