Summer in the Rocky Mountains is a magical time - the emerald forests fingering toward glaciered peaks, the rivers cascading through valleys in an eternal roar, the epidemic of brilliant wild flowers.
And then there's the music. Summer in the Rockies means it is time again for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the granddaddy of western music festivals that not only draws folks from all over the nation but preserves a tradition of acoustic music matched by few other festivals anywhere.This year's event - to be held June 20-23 - marks a return of sorts to the festival's bluegrass roots. As well as "contemporary folk" artists like Michelle Shocked, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle, the event also features a who's who of contemporary bluegrass virtuosos: Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Jerry Douglas, David Grisman and Alison Krauss and Union Station.
"We think the lineup is as rootsy as it's been in awhile, and we're psyched about that," said Giovanna Gioffre, publicity and marketing specialist with the festival. "It's a bluegrass festival again. It's a pretty acoustic, pretty bluesy lineup."
As festival fans have come to expect, there's something for just about everybody. How about a Cajun bluegrass band from Colorado? Might want to catch Left-over Salmon. And, of course, there's there jazz fusion-funk-bluegrass of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones - a band that has evolved into festival favorites at recent Telluride festivals.
If you're not crazy about bluegrass, despite the various mutations offered up, you might want to catch the guitar wizardry of David Lindley or the bluesy insight of Joan Armatrading. Emmylou Harris is producing the finest material of her career, Michelle Shocked is one of the best singer-songwriters in the business today, and Steve Earle is nothing short of the quintessential songwriter.
"We really like the lineup this year," Gioffre said. But then again, they say that every year as the festival somehow manages to become better and better.
Utah festivalgoers might want to get their tickets now. As in recent years, attendance is being limited to 10,000 people, and tickets are moving fast (Utahns can buy tickets at Salt City CDs, 878 E. 900 South, or by calling Planet Bluegrass at 1-800-6242422).
Four-day passes will ding you $120 each. Individual-day passes are $30 for Thursday and $40 a day for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Lodging is still available in Telluride (Planet Bluegrass officials can put you in touch with the right people), but a word of warning: It can be very pricey this time of year.
The best option is still camping, although that isn't as easy as in past years. Because of heavy impact by festivalgoers, the National Forest campgrounds will be closed during the festival, "and if you try to camp there they will run you off," Gioffre said.
In response, the festival has leased some additional open space reasonably close to downtown to accommodate campers. The camp-spots will costs you $25 per person for the week, and Gioffre encourages advance reservations inasmuch as there is room for only 2,000 to 2,500 campers. "It seems like a lot of money, but it's still your best bet," she said.
As in past years, the festival is much more than the music - which in itself is reason enough to go. There will be songwriting workshops, music contests, art exhibits, a smorgasbord of food booths and plenty of shops to spend your money. If you get tired of the festival grounds, there are scores of trendy shops and restaurants downtown. Bicycles are welcome.
Collectively, it constitutes "the magic of the greatest music festival on the planet," Gioffre maintains.
The folks at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival might beg to differ, but without question it is the greatest festival anywhere in the West. And it is only a six-hour drive from Salt Lake.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival schedule
Thursday, June 20:
Noon - McGraw Gap
1:15 p.m. - Loose Ties
2:45 p.m. - String Cheese Incident
4:15 p.m. - Horseflies
6:30 p.m. - Martin Sexton
8 p.m. - Joan Armatrading
10 p.m. - 16 Horsepower
Friday, June 21:
10:30 a.m. - Big Wooden Radio
Noon - Front Range
1:45 p.m. - June Rich
3:30 p.m. - David Lindley and Hani Naser
5:15 p.m. - Tim and Mollie O'Brien and the O'Boys
7:15 p.m. - Barenberg, Douglas and Meyer
9 p.m. - Emmylou Harris
11 p.m. - Leftover Salmon
Saturday, June 22:
9 a.m. - Band contest finals
10:30 a.m. - The Grass Is Greener
Noon - Maura O'Connell
1:30 - Peter Rowan and Jerry Douglas
3 p.m. - David Grisman Quintet
4:30 p.m. - Shawn Colvin
6 p.m. - Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
8 p.m. - Michelle Shocked
9:45 p.m. - Sam Bush for President Campaign Party
Sunday, June 23:
10:30 a.m. - Zion Harmonizers
Noon - Claire Lynch and the Front Porch String Band
1:30 p.m. - Norman Blake
2:30 p.m. - The Osborne Brothers
4 p.m. - The Nields
5:45 p.m. - Steve Earle
7:15 p.m. - Alison Krauss and Union Station
9 p.m. - Reunion featuring David Grisman, Peter Rowan, Vassar Clements, Herb Pederson and Roy Husky Jr.