A whole 96 hours can be a lot of bluegrass to take. At least that’s how it feels at the start of day four of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. After three long days in Town Park of just about non-stop banjos, guitars, mandolins and fiddles, a certain musical fatigue can begin to set in. It’s part of the reason that Town Park seems a little emptier every year on Sunday than on any of the past three days.
However, there were serious rewards for those who stuck around until the bitter end and opened their ears to just a little bit more high-lonesome music. The organizers don’t exactly save the best for last, but they certainly made sure Sunday had its fair share of heavy hitters to entertain the faithful who stuck around.
After an early morning set of traditional Tibetan music from the Drepung Monks, banjo player Béla Fleck kicked things off with a solo performance. Fleck has been one of the most virtuosic and diverse musicians of the bluegrass world for decades, as attested to the set list Sunday morning. Included were excerpts from his recently debuted symphony for banjo and 80-piece orchestra, a medley of classic Earl Scruggs tunes, an instrumental cover of the first half of the second side of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and an assortment of traditional Malian music played on the massive, deep sounding cello-banjo.
The Infamous Stringdusters, another exciting up-and-coming young band, followed with a high-energy set that put their Nashville-pro chops and rowdy, fast paced songwriting on full display.
The day culminated in Telluride House Band, a supergroup featuring Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Bryan Sutton, Edgar Meyer and Stuart Duncan on banjo, dobro, mandolin, guitar, bass and fiddle respectively. Each one of these men represents the best in the business at their instruments, with chops more common among classical or jazz players. Their set was a rollicking good time, with guests including Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, Peter Rowan, Chris Thile and Jackson Browne, who had previously invited many of these same players on stage for his own performance earlier that day.
The House Band, much like the festival itself, is as much fun for the musicians on stage as it is for their audience. Old friends, peers, bandmates, you could see decades of camaraderie on the musicians’ faces just as you could hear it in the classic tunes they were jamming. The amazing thing about the TBF, and the reason it tends to see such great performances year after year is that, despite even the great beauty of its location and consistently impressive lineup, it is at its heart a gathering of friends. Many of them have been coming here for much of the last 40 years, and many will be coming for much of the next 40.
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.