The final day of Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2014 showcased a little of everything that has made the annual event so memorable throughout four decades, from traditional bluegrass to modern newgrass to rock and roll raveups to classical suites. It also brought a little afternoon rain to the Town Park festival grounds, and then brilliant sunshine that hit the high mountain peaks with golden light in the rain-cleared air.
Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent started the day off with a traditional gospel set. Béla Fleck, paired with Brooklyn Rider, a chamber music quartet from Brooklyn, N.Y., followed. They performed a concerto, “Night Flight Over Water,” that Fleck wrote for the occasion, as well as a piece written by violinist Colin Jacobsen called “Brooklesca,” which Jacobsen introduced by saying it was inspired by the food diversity in Brooklyn.
The musical smorgasbord continued with Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, who delivered twangy, loud rock and roll. Bluhm stated that it was an honor to be on the Telluride stage, even if their music might be a little different, and said, “We’re going to bring a little San Francisco to you.” The Bay Area songstress then belted out a powerful cover of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.” While Bluhm didn’t have Joplin’s grit, she met the challenges of the song well. Guitarist Deren Ney soloed dexterously on a fiery take on “Squeaky Wheel.”
Jerry Douglas’ creation, The Earls of Leicester, is a tribute to the music of bluegrass pioneers Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Fiddler Johnny Warren thanked the crowd at one point for their enthusiastic reception to songs like “Black Eyed Susie,” a showcase for Warren’s furious fiddling. Warren’s father, Paul, played with Flatt and Scruggs for many years, and Warren stated that it was an honor to be able to play what his father had. Douglas, who is perhaps the best Dobro player in the world, showcased staccato soloing on a rollicking “Big Black Train,” while banjo player Charlie Cushman showed a deep appreciation for Scruggs’ style with his solos on “Dig a Hole in the Meadow” and Scruggs’ classic “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”
Telluride favorites Greensky Bluegrass played the late afternoon set, and Dobro player Anders Beck really got things going with his solo on the John Hartford classic “Steam Powered Aereo Plane.” Beck, mandolinist Paul Hoffman, and guitarist Dave Bruzza ripped through light speed solos on “Broke Mountain Breakdown” that got the crowd dancing, and Sam Bush joined the band on a cover of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved,” on which Beck used a wah-wah pedal on his Dobro to great effect.
The dinner set headliner was Ray Lamontagne, who seemed a little prickly as he worked through a selection of new and old material. Lamontagne’s breathy vocals sounded strong in the high mountain air on his current single and the title of his new album, “Superanova.” Lamontagne was backed by a drummer, bassist, keyboard player/guitarist, and lead guitarist, and the band’s playing on “She’s the One” added weight to the tune. At one point, Lamontagne addressed the crowd in response to one woman who kept yelling, “I love you Ray!” He responded, “Folk festivals are all about lovey dovey, huggy kissy, best friend bullshit. I never dug it. Ever. But I’m here because I love you. It’s true. This is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. So many nice people too. I met a lot of nice people walking around looking for coffee today. Hung-over, strung-out, but beautiful in their strung-outedness.” Lamontagne and bassist Zachariah Hegman stripped it down to the basics for a few songs, including the ever-popular “Trouble,” but the band came back to the stage for a ripping take on “Meg White,” during which they riffed briefly on “Seven Nation Army.”
Before the final act, festival organizer Craig Ferguson, who lives in Lyons next to Planet Bluegrass, came out and talked about the challenges of the past year and how he hadn’t been sure there would be a festival season, but that they had pulled through in large part thanks to the fans. He also had a song played on the PA, “Little Rain,” written by his ex-wife Sally Truitt about the floods.
The 41st annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival closed with the Telluride House Band, which included Bush, Douglas, Fleck, bassist Edgar Meyer, fiddler Stuart Duncan, and guitarist Bryan Sutton. Duncan sang the funny “The Old Groundhog,” using the names of his bandmates in the lyrics, and Fleck shone on “Eager and Anxious.” The sextet was joined by Alison Krauss and Del McCoury at various points. Krauss sang a beautiful version of “Sawing on the Strings.”
For Sunday, there was only one “Nightgrass” show, but it was a powerful one, as the Punch Brothers headlined the Sheridan Opera House to a packed crowd. Having heard the traditional masters, this show pointed toward the future. Sara Watkins, Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz, jokingly calling themselves Ladies of the Loo, opened the night, harmonizing beautifully on “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and the Tom Waits song “Come on Up to the House.” The Punch Brothers played two long sets, going late into the evening, kicking off their show with the humorous “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and playing a few songs from their forthcoming album, including “Cherries of Fire,” which banjo player Noam Pikelny laughingly requested the audience email them new names for.
The Earls of Leicester
?, White House Blues, Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music), The Randy Lynn Ray, I Don’t Care, I’ll Go Stepping Too, ?, The Storms They’re on the Ocean, Black Eyed Susie, Get in Line Brother, Who Will Sing for Me, Big Black Train, Why Did You Wander?, Dig a Hole in the Meadow, Hot Corn Cold Corn, On My Mind, Till the End of the World Rolls Round, You’re Not a Drop in the Bucket, Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Salty Dog Blues, ?, E: Bring Back to Me, Foggy Mountain Breakdown
Dustbowl Overtures, Lose My Way, Windshield, Steam Powered Aereo Plane, Broke Mountain Breakdown -> Wings for Wheels -> Kerosene, I’d Probably Kill You, Crying Holy, Leap Year, Could You Be Loved*
*with Sam Bush
Gossip in the Grain ->Lavender -> She’s the One, For the Summer, Pick Up a Gun, Supernova, Airwaves, Ojai, Smashing, Jolene, Trouble, Like Rock and Roll Radio, Meg White -> Seven Nation Army -> Meg White, Drive-in Movies
Dylan Langille is a Fort Collins-based photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his photos here.