Four days of live music at the 38th Annual Telluride BluegrassFestival reminded me again that American roots music is very muchalive and thriving even when it’s being performed by Britishers.here are some scenes from the festival held June 16-19 inTelluride’s Town Park:
- Aging Baby Boomers stole the show. from the first notes of“Black Dog,” 60-ish singer Robert Plant commanded the stage with ablues- and twang-infused recasting of Led Zeppelin hits and hisnewer material from his Band of Joy including 50-something musicalgeniuses Darrell Scott and Buddy Miller. Plant sat happily in theaudience earlier to soak up tunes by 60-something vocal iconEmmylou Harris who delivered her best set in years. And crowdfavorites Tim O’Brien, Steve Earle, Jerry Douglas and Peter Rowanaren’t exactly spring chickens either.
- the kids are alright, too, especially such musical prodigies asChris Thile and Sarah Jarosz and talented vocal-oriented bands likeThe Head and the Heart and the Decemberists. However, while thehottest band on the planet, Mumford & Sons, proved to be quitecharming, the British natives seemed too keen on delivering theirhits note for note like the album. And Trampled by Turtles was bigon the energy and noise but deficient in the virtuosity and lyricsdepartments.
- It was an only-at-Telluride moment when one the world’s greatestbassist performed a set of composed and improvised solo bass piecesand the rock-savvy band listened and applauded. to watch EdgarMayer play the bass is to witness an intimate act as he dances withhis incredibly valuable Italian bass, coaxing out anorchestra’s-worth of sound.
- the set of original progressive jazz by Bela Fleck and theFlecktones that explored the far reaches of complication was justwhat my ears needed to flush the 4/4 time and C major chords out ofmy dusty eardrums.
- I’ve seen Boulder’s Yonder Mountain String Band perform everyyear for a decade. I’ve always appreciated the bands energy andlove of bluegrass but I was never captivated enough to listen tothem in my car. after their Telluride set, I just might. the banddelivered many strong new songs, that were well played anddelivered with more authority and less commotion than in the past.Bravo — they’ve finally grown up.
- My nominee for a new state anthem: “Colorado Bluebird Sky” by theEmmitt-Nershi Band.
- Sarah McLachlan does agony really well. she also has a few frothypop confections and happy dancing songs but clearly she’s at herbest when she’s singing about heartbreak, divorce, death andemotional turmoil in tunes such as “I will Remember You” and“Angel.”
- the topical Guthrie-esque songwriter lives! Steve Earle, theinveterate rabble rouser, activist, and author began one song aboutthe Civil War by saying: “All wars are about someone else’s money.”He added that he was one Southerner who thought that conflict wasreally about slavery, not state’s rights. Earle included hisradio-friendly hits including “Copperhead Road,” his catchy ode tomining misery, moon shining and cannabis cultivation.
Read John Lehndorff’s complete blog from the 2011 TellurideBluegrass Festival at aurorasentinel.com.