TELLURIDE – Twenty-five bands, 46 sets, seven venues, five days and 20 years in the making describe this year’s Telluride Blues & Brews Festival. Always coming as the highly anticipated bookend to a packed festival and live music summer schedule on the Western Slope, this year’s stout top-to-bottom lineup could arguably be one of the best yet. While I could write about the momentous Gary Clark Jr. appearance, or how important it is that Jim James ends a historical festival season at 8,750 feet, instead I’ll ignore the overtly stacked Main Stage lineup and take a look at the long list of the often-overlooked things going on this weekend.
If you’re like me you started things early in the week by taking the gondola up for Wednesday night’s free Sunset Blues Concert in Mountain Village featuring The Congress. The Denver-based rock‘n’roll band will also bring its gritty tunes to Telluride’s Fly Me to the Moon Saloon tonight.
The only way to enhance a three-day music-and-beer festival centered around some of the best bands and breweries in the country is to make it a four-day event. What no-one could have expected is that Blues & Brews team would offer the fourth day of music completely free to the public. Even more surprising is how strong the bonus day lineup turned out. Before you take it to the Moon late tonight, be sure to hit the 20th Annual Celebration Show starting at 4 p.m. in Town Park. Electric blues organist Booker T. Jones will headline, and psych-blues stringsmith Otis Taylor, Austin blue rockers Bright Light Social Hour and Charlie Weathers will offer support for what should prove to be a packed night in Town Park.
Fast-forward to Saturday morning, when the Grammy Award-winning horn ensemble The Rebirth Brass Band parades down Colorado Ave. Over two decades of honing their craft in New Orleans has turned their sound into its own institution, but they will also incorporate hip-hop and Latin tones to keep their sound relevant. If you’re up by 11:15 a.m., this will be the place to get your dancing in the street on.
Campers with the appropriate wristband will find something new going on in the Zone 1 area, next to Lower Bear Creek Falls. A stage will be erected and feature 30 minute sets from James Bay, Low Volts and Kim Churchill throughout the weekend. If you need a breather from the nonstop Main Stage lineup, these special intimate performances will do the trick.
Speaking of intimate venues, the always popular Juke Joints return in the form of four local venues transformed into late night hot spots. The only problem you’ll have this year is trying to decide which one to go to each night. Booker T. Jones and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Jim James and Karl Denson claim the Telluride Conference Center. A revamped Fly Me to the Moon Saloon sees The Rebirth Brass Band and The New Mastersounds. The intimate Elks Lodge houses Bright Light Social Hour and Selwyn Birchwood Band. The historic Sheridan Opera House hosts an Allen Stone and ZZ Ward co-bill, Anders Osborne and then Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe for the Fais do do closing celebration.
If that somehow isn’t enough for you, the entire festival lineup in the park will be streaming on at tellurideblues.com, but why stay home when you can join me on the front lines? Here’s to 20 more years of these shenanigans at Blues & Brews.