johnprinedoubletruckidea-550?v=1

Fifty Years of Festival!

Telluride’s Annual Bluegrass Festival Celebrates 50 Years This Summer

Tucked deep into a box canyon, within the San Juan range, rests one of Colorado’s most prized treasures. Telluride is known for many things; among them, jagged mountains that loom overhead, waterfalls that effortlessly cascade down ten thousand-foot rock faces and the meandering flow of the San Miguel River that dances through town. 

While these natural marvels set the visuals, the soul of Telluride is woven through the strings of banjos, mandolins, fiddles and guitars. What started as a small, community picnic and concert in 1973, has evolved into one of the longest-running and most nostalgic music festivals in the country. This Father’s Day weekend, over twelve thousand music lovers will make their pilgrimage to the 50th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival. 

As one would suspect, bluegrass music has always been the heartbeat of TBF, but the range of talent over the years has included stars from many genres, including Johnny Cash, Tenacious D, Brandi Carlile, Mumford & Sons and Emmylou Harris. Each year, there are staples like Sam Bush, who is widely considered the “unofficial” mayor of Telluride Bluegrass, and newcomers alike. Yasmin Williams is a 25-year-old acoustic fingerstyle guitarist, who will be making her first trip to TBF this June. 

“I’m hoping to take a family member or friend to Telluride," Yasmin says. "I’m so excited to soak in the experience of being there, and of course, I’ll need a hiking buddy. I’m also very excited to meet all the fans and festival attendees at Telluride Bluegrass. This will be my first time in Telluride, and my first time performing at the festival. I am honored to be a part of the 50th anniversary!”

After the event changed ownership several times in the 1970s and 1980s, Craig Ferguson purchased the festival in 1988. Zach Tucker has been the Director of Operations for Planet Bluegrass for the last six years, which is the Lyons-based production company behind TBF. “Planning this one has definitely been on our radar for a while now,” Zach says. “Craig has been curating the lineup since early 2022." 

To help commemorate the golden anniversary of TBF, Zach and the Planet Bluegrass team will have an immersive history experience set up for this year’s attendees. According to Zach, fans will be able to experience fifty years of history through video, audio and photography archives. Additionally, concert posters from all previous years will be available for purchase.

Peter Rowan is a legendary musician and songwriter who gained notoriety as a member of Jerry Garcia’s bluegrass outfit Old And In The Way in 1973.

“Sam Bush told me about Telluride Bluegrass and helped me get booked in 1976 or so,” Peter says. He has been back dozens of times throughout the years and attributes the location and the comradery amongst the musicians as to what makes TBF so special.

“The setting in the Telluride Canyon is so inspiring. It uplifts the music, and in performance, we all expand our awareness to fill the environment and to fill our lungs with clean air,” Peter exclaims.

The timing of TBF always revolves around the summer solstice, with main stage concerts in the Town Park starting on Thursday (late morning), and running daily until Sunday night. Since lodging is sparse in a town the size of Telluride, multiple parks and open spaces are utilized for camping during the event. Camping in Town Park opens a full week prior to the official start of the festival, and you better believe that there are hundreds of die-hards who eagerly wait for the gate to drop. It’s not uncommon at all to see someone like Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon) playing on the main stage, in front of 10,000 people—then catching him at 3:00 am with ten to twelve other pickers, jamming outside a tent in Town Park.

Sarah Jorosz, whose 2023 performance will be her eighth, also attended TBF as a spectator as a child.

“I have fond memories of driving up from Texas with my family. It was mind-bendingly beautiful and the lineup was a mix of all of my favorite music. I specifically remember a performance by The Decemberists circa 2005 that blew me away.”

When asked about some of the most memorable moments of her Telluride performances, Sarah notes, “There are so many touchstone moments, but it would either have to be my very first performance at the festival in 2007, which in many ways felt like the spark that lit my career.”

Telluride is also where Sarah met 10-time Grammy Award-winning producer, Gary Paczosa. The two have collaborated on numerous albums throughout her career. Additionally, I’m With Her, which is an all-star side project made up of Sarah, Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek) and Aoife O’donovan, was also born at Telluride Bluegrass, in 2014.

Another annual TBF tradition is the band competition. Bands from around the country submit applications to Planet Bluegrass, and 10-12 are selected each year to perform. The winning band receives cash and prizes, as well as an invitation to perform a full set at the following year’s festival. In 2006, Greensky Bluegrass, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, won the competition. Now, seventeen years later, the band has performed on the Main Stage thirteen times.

Paul Hoffman, mandolinist and primary songwriter for GSBG, recounts the nostalgia of Telluride.

“Telluride is a sanctuary. Driving into that valley is special, every time. I think of the band competition, and so many other memories all at once.” 

Greensky Bluegrass will headline the Friday lineup at this year’s sold-out festival. “That stage is still overwhelming. It feels like home but also seems unreal at times. There is a real blessing to playing at night because the spectacular view doesn’t distract me,” Paul adds.

Headliners for this year’s event include Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, The String Cheese Incident, Gregory Alan Isakov and The Sam Bush Band. Although tickets have been sold out since the day they went on sale in December 2022, music lovers can stream live audio, from anywhere in the world, via Koto.org website. Of course, if you believe in miracles, perhaps there is a ticket out in the universe somewhere with your name on it. To borrow a quote from the late Warren Miller, “If you don’t go now, you’ll be another year older when you do.”

For the complete lineup, as well as all things relating to Planet Bluegrass, visit Bluegrass.com.

THE “UNOFFICIAL” URBAN DICTIONARY FOR TELLURIDE BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL 

Festivarian - One who eats, sleeps, and breaths Telluride Bluegrass Festival, 365 days a year.

Tarp Run - Words will not do this justice. YouTube it!

Tarpology - The science of rigging blue tarps so that your crew has a place to hang for the day.

Poser Pit - Roped-off area in front of the stage for musicians, family, press and other festival dignitaries.

Blue Room - A more eloquent name for the portable toilet.

Schlepping - The process of hanging gear off every limb of your body as you enter the fest, similar to a pack mule.

GUI - Gondola-ing Under the Influence

Watermelon Man - Nickname for festival legend, Travis Lawson, who somehow finds himself in nearly every TBF crowd shot or video clip.

“The setting in the Telluride Canyon is so inspiring. It uplifts the music, and in performance, we all expand our awareness to fill the environment and to fill our lungs with clean air!” - PETER ROWAN  

“There are so many touchstone moments, but it would either have to be my very first performance at the festival in 2007, which in many ways felt like the spark that lit my career.” - SARAH JOROSZ 

“This will be my first time in Telluride, and my first time performing at the festival. I am honored to be a part of the 50th anniversary!” - YASMIN WILLIAMS 

“That stage is still overwhelming. It feels like home, but also seems so unreal at times.” - PAUL HOFFMAN 

Related Businesses

Powell Gardens

Botanical Gardens

Powell Gardens

Kingsville, MO

Powell Gardens, Kansas City’s botanical garden, is set on 970 acres of lush, rolling hills. Known for its contemporary...

Museum at Prairiefire

Museums + Art Galleries

Museum at Prairiefire

Overland Park, KS

The Museum at Prairiefire provides ACCESS FOR ALL to understand and celebrate natural history and science. The Museum is open...

Nashville Zoo

Botanical Gardens

Nashville Zoo

Nashville, TN

Nashville Zoo is a progressive and dynamic zoological park serving Middle Tennessee, southern Kentucky and hundreds of...

See More

Related Articles

See More