Once upon a time there was a magical mountain town. This town was tucked way, way back into the San Juan Mountain range, surrounded on all sides by a box canyon, and scattered throughout it were cascading waterfalls. One day, the town decided to host a four day Bluegrass Festival. The festival would be made up of mouthwatering food stands, casual mountain-town vibes, and epic music lineups.
This town is Telluride, CO, and for the past 43 years, the magical story that is the Telluride Bluegrass Festival has been happening every summer in the land that often leaves festival-goers wondering whether they’re at a four-day music event, or whether they’ve been transported to the wonderful world C.S. Lewis’ Narnia.
One of the best parts about this festival is the diverse range of activities you can take part in throughout the day and night. Festival goers can break up the day by taking a dip in the beautiful river that runs near the fest, or start the morning off with a two mile hike to the famous Bridal Veil Falls. Not the outdoors type? No problem. You can still feel the magic of the place by taking a walk down Main Street and popping into all the fun mountain stores, bars, and restaurants.
Strolling through the festival grounds you’ll see people of all ages smiling, basking in the sun, and toe tappin’ to twangy guitar pickin’ tunes. And everyone has some sort of costume, whether it’s a group of girls adorned in badass sun hats or an eclectic gathering of people in Hawaiian shirts, overalls, or American flag everythang. Kids run around spraying people down with squirt guns, while adults head to purchase wine in sippy cups. All of these are part of the magical vibes that you will find at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
And then there’s the music. Whoever locked down the lineup for this year’s fest was born to crush. Bluegrass legends like John Prine and Dave Rawlings Machine shared the stage with amazing newcomers like Houndmouth and The Oh Hellos. Every band involved in the fest brought a new energy to the stage as the lineup throughout the four days flowed flawlessly from traditional bluegrass, to folk rock, to Americana and indie rock.
Eighty-degree bluebird days quickly turned into fifty-degree moonlit nights. The first evening of the fest, David Rowling Machine kept it somewhat mellow with haunting traditional bluegrass melodies. The following night, Greensky Bluegrass ripped up the stage, mixing controlled bluegrass roots with new chaotic punk rock sounds. The third night was a straight jam sesh, brought by Leftover Salmon. And finally, to close out the fest, we watched an incredible collaboration of artists sharing the stage, including Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer, Bryan Sutton, and Stuart Duncan. Other special performances of note include when Ryan Adams was backed by The Infamous Stringdusters, and when Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek joined John Prine for a beautiful duet.
All in all, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival was a mystical amalgamation of nature, amazing music, and good times spent with friends. So was it Narnia? They might just be one in the same…
All photos per Sam Skinner. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.