Day one of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is all about getting your bearings: figuring out where your friends have laid their tarps, finding the best path to the beer tent, the prime angle to view the stage and the optimum balance of water, alcohol and food to keep from passing out before the headliner hits the stage. By day two you have your game plan worked out. Having the festival figured out by day two is key, as Friday featured what was arguably the most stacked single day lineup, with some of the biggest names in bluegrass and roots music in every slot from open to close.
Highlights included Trampled by Turtles, who played a set marked by their mixture of bluegrass instrumentation with tempos more often reserved for punk rock and speed metal, along with some surprisingly sweet balladry. Fiddle player Ryan Young was particularly impressive, making his instrument sound as powerful as any electric guitar with his impassioned, screeching leads.
Chris Thile returned to the stage with his band the Punch Brothers for a mind-bending assortment of fleet fingered tunes in non-traditional time signatures. Their chops were on full display in set that that owed an equal debt to Radiohead and modern classical music as it did to Bill Monroe.
Jamgrass titans the String Cheese Incident further expanded on the possibilities of a bluegrass beat, working in influences as diverse as African highlife, electronica and Grateful Dead-style jamming into their show. Although their set sagged early with some downtempo numbers that lazily attempted to incorporate reggae and salsa rhythms, things quickly picked up, culminating in an extended jam on the appropriately named “Colorado Bluebird Sky” that had the entire audience on their feet and grooving.
After witnessing so many bands that stretched the definitions of the genre, it was a bit of a relief when the Masters of Bluegrass took the stage. Featuring luminaries Del McCoury, Bobby Osbourne, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Hicks and Jerry McCoury, the band played a set steeped in tradition and tasteful professionalism. Their presence on the tail end of the day was a great reminder of this festival’s unique ability to simultaneously celebrate innovation and tradition in the bluegrass world.
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.