Few towns know how to throw a festival like Telluride. Tucked away in a box canyon in the heart of the San Juan range, the quaint mountain town holds weekend events all summer long celebrating the likes of bluegrass, film, yoga, blues and this past weekend, jazz. The 38th Annual Telluride Jazz Festival featured an increasingly diverse lineup this year, highlighting traditional jazz acts alongside Latin and modern funk staples.
Though the forecast called for rain all weekend and ominous clouds loomed most afternoons, the weather held out except for a brief downpour Sunday evening. The Poncho Sanchez Main Stage in Town Park was a mellow, family-oriented affair–much of the festival grounds were peppered with blankets, canopy tents and lawn chairs. In addition to the music, there were multiple tastings where patrons received drink tickets to sample offerings from Colorado-based distilleries and wineries.
Friday was highlighted by the soul of the Nigel Hall Band, whose frontman was the most prolific musician of the weekend (by the time he stepped on stage for his sixth appearance on Sunday, Nigel jokingly nominated himself the MVP of the festival). Legendary Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander and his Harlem-Kingston Express blended jazz composition with roots reggae before the Latin orchestra Groupo Fantasma closed out the night. Mixing Latin styles old and new with an animated stage show led by vocalist Jose Galeano, it was clear why the Grammy winning band is one of the most sought after acts in the genre.
For the funk lovers in attendance, Saturday was the night. Fresh off a Grammy win for Best R&B Performance, Brooklyn-based Snarky Puppy was perhaps the best set of the weekend. Driven by the creative rhythm section of drummer Robert “Sput” Searight and percussionist Nate Werth, the band’s blend of intricate jazz with hip-hop and glitch influence is a truly unique sound. Funk veterans Lettuce then headlined the night. Despite the absence of founding members Eric Krasno and Neil Evans of Soulive (Neil was replaced on keys by, who else, Nigel Hall,) Lettuce fueled the largest dance floor of the weekend with a flurry of tight horn arrangements over the chops of drummer Adam Deitch.
World-renowned conga player Poncho Sanchez was the Guest of Honor for the festival, and he sure didn’t’ disappoint. Sanchez played three sets: an intimate seated performance at the Sheridan Opera House, an upbeat set on the main stage that bared his name and a guest appearance with Caleb Chapman’s Crescent Super Band–a talented collective of young jazz musicians from Salt Lake City.
Sunday was “New Orleans Day,” complete with a second-line parade through main street and a slew of the Big Easy’s most prominent jazz musicians. Jon Cleary entertained with his ragtag brand of piano and the festival ended with an excellent set by the New Orlean’s supergroup Dragon Smoke. Backed by the rhythm section of Galactic and the soulful Hammond B3 of Ivan Neville, it was the smooth guitar work of Eric Lindell that brought the band together through grooving originals and covers like Amy Winehouse’s version of “Valerie.”
When the music ended on the main stage, Jazz After Dark kept the party going with multiple late nights across town each night. The underground saloon Fly Me To The Moon hosted the most ambitious of these performances, often featuring unplanned sit-ins and collaborations between artists. Red Baraat’s Bhangra influence and eccentric stage presence of five horn players (including soprano saxophone and sousaphone) and three drummers had the bar raging Saturday night before an all-improv set led by DJ Logic and Deitch.
It’s easy to see what has kept music-lovers coming back to the Telluride Jazz Festival decade after decade. From the lineup to the landscape, there is little not to love.
Nate Etter is a Boulder-based musician and a regular contributor to Reverb. You can reach him at Nate12Etter@gmail.com.
Dominic Palazzolo is a Boulder-based photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.