TELLURIDE – With the likes of Alison Krauss, John Prine, Bruce Hornsby, K.D. Lang, and John Fogerty taking the Town Park stage this weekend – just a fraction of what the 39th Telluride Bluegrass Festival has in store – the one word that comes to Festival Director Craig Ferguson’s mind: Classic.
The Telluride Bluegrass Festival is once again bringing its classic formula of big-name headliners, Telluride bluegrass favorites, up-and-coming artists, and, as always, a few surprises. And it’s all framed in the classic setting of Telluride’s Town Park under the heat of the summer sun.
“I am really excited about Fogerty. I hear he’s been killing it,” Ferguson says. “K.D. Lang is someone we have been trying to get since day one. She’s so classy.”
“We are hearing that John Fogerty is in his best form,” adds Steve Szymanski, vice-president of Planet Bluegrass. “He’s been playing a lot of the Credence stuff, he has a killer band and has the best drummer in the business with Kenny Aronoff. There’s going to be some good time rock-and-roll this year.”
While the familiar sounds of yesterday’s favorites will be a part of this year’s festival, Planet Bluegrass Marketing Director Brian Eyster says there will be plenty of new sounds for festivarians to discover as well.
“There are all kinds of musical threats this year,” Eyster says. “Glen Hansard, I know he is going to knock everyone out – talk about a performer who connects with people. I’m a huge fan of Dan Mangan. He’s a Canadian singer-songwriter and plays with a four-piece band. It’s edgy music and he has a way of connecting with the audience.”
“I’m really excited about the performers I haven’t seen yet,” Ferguson says, “like Dan Mangan. I really love him. And Laura Marling, I know the world loves her. She’s played for some huge audiences and she’s really excited to be here.”
“We know festivarians are accustomed to discovering new music and there will be a lot of new music this year,” Eyster says. “It will be interesting to see what this year’s surprise discoveries will be.”
Of course, we can expect the musicians that make up what is the Telluride Bluegrass Festival family, including Sam Bush, Tim O’Brien, Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, John Cowan, Edgar Meyer, Bruce Hornsby, Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Del McCoury, Yonder Mountain String Band and a triumphant return of Leftover Salmon.
“One of the blessings of this festival is so many artists want to come back,” Eyster says. “Béla calls and says, ‘Here’s what I want to do this year. What do you think?’ We definitely have a family of musicians and we always look to them to bring it on. They get carte blanche to bring their creativity.”
For example, this year’s opening act features a duo performance by Chris Thile and Fleck.
“This will only be heard here,” Eyster says. “They only set one ground rule for the set and that is to come up with a name for it. Otherwise, it’s going to be a total improvisation for 75 minutes. I wouldn’t miss it.”
“I always look forward to Sam Bush’s set and I always love the Telluride House Band,” Ferguson says. “With the passing of Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs, I know they will bend that set to whatever they want. The House Band set is a set you can write a book about. Once a year they are all on stage together. For people that come to the festival every year, the set can be easy to overlook, but it happens here and it doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
Eyster says Planet Bluegrass continues to apply the philosophy of investing its funds in the festival experience and musical performers, rather than in advertising and marketing. He said that’s one of the reasons why the bluegrass festival has remained one of the best in the nation year after year, and is inevitably successful.
For the first time in its 39 years of existence, the entire festival sold out in early February, and four-day passes were gone by Dec. 25 last year. Eyster, Ferguson and Szymanski all admit they were taken a bit by surprise by this year’s quick sellout, much of which took place before the lineup was even announced. Why did tickets sell out so quickly this year? All three pointed to a number of possibilities, but came to the general conclusion that word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising, and the word on the street this year is that the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is not to be missed.
“A lot of people tell me that the number of big festivals out there with 50,000-plus people attending and multiple stages are really frenetic experiences,” Szymanski says. “When people come to Telluride, they have one stage to worry about, the crowd is the right size, the infrastructure is balanced well, the weather is perfect….We hear that this festival gives people an overall better experience.
“And, of course,” he continues, “Telluride is still one of the most beautiful venues around.”
New Cups, New Brew Highlight This Year’s Festival
Now in its sixth year of being completely carbon neutral, the 39th Telluride Bluegrass Festival will feature a new green innovation as well as a new brew from New Belgium Brewing Company.
This year’s festival will feature the world’s first reusable “event” cup made from post-consumer recycled content. The cup, made by Eco-Products, is made from 25 percent post consumer polypropylene.
“The potential for reuse is everywhere, and we’re always looking for smart solutions to lessen the impacts at our events,” Szymanski says. “We’re excited that Eco-Products wanted us to showcase this new cup at Telluride. I think it’s a great product to encourage reuse and then, ultimately, closed-loop recycling. I will say that many in our audience tend to hold onto the cups indefinitely as collectables, though.”
To fill those cups this year, New Belgium Brewing Company will bring 100 kegs of its newest creation, Planet Bluegrass Summer Bliss Beer. It’s the first time in New Belgium Brewing’s 21-year existence that they have created a beer for an outside company event.
According to New Belgium Brewer Andrew Hagdorn, Planet Bluegrass Bliss has a yellow straw color and is a German-inspired pale lager that features pronounced malt character, light body and a duo of Hallertau and Tettnang hops. He intends this beer to be easy to drink but not lacking in flavor, balance and complexity.