Christmas Comes Early for Telluride Bluegrass Festival
by Peter Kenworthy
Dec 01, 2005 | 633 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
You may be humming carols, or trying not to, but the tunes in Craig Ferguson's head are bluegrass year-round. Ferguson is excited, not about current prospects for snow or the coming holidays, but because three headline acts have signed on for the 33rd annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival scheduled for June 15-18.

Bonnie Raitt, John Prine and Barenaked Ladies have all given an early nod to join the 2006 festival line-up.

Ferguson, who promotes Telluride's main summertime event, says that Barenaked Ladies and Prine have wanted to play in Telluride for several years, but scheduling conflicts have always stood in the way. This year "they just really wanted to make it happen," he says, and so they have locked in early. For Raitt, who last played here seven years ago with Jackson Brown and Bruce Hornsby, Telluride will mark the first date on a summer tour after a long hiatus from playing concerts.

Ferguson says that he has also been helped in his scheduling efforts this year by working cooperatively with Bonnaroo, a 100,000-person festival in Tennessee that attracts many of the same acts as Telluride's festival and shares common calendar dates.

According to Ferguson, several factors drive artists' desire to play Telluride, with the most important being the freedom they enjoy here.

"They know that what they want to play is what we want them to play and what the audience wants," he says. "There are none of the limits or boundaries here that they find at other festivals. We're known for being more committed to the music than the bottom line."

Also critical is the caliber of the Telluride customers. "Within the genre, our audience has a lot to do with our success. If you play good music, they're there for you," Ferguson says, adding that that is not always the case with other festivals where a stricter adherence to genre is expected.

Known for its eclecticism, with traditional banjo picking cheek-by-jowl with jam bands and reggae, Ferguson acknowledges that his festival takes an intentional "bust the boundary" approach. "Telluride Bluegrass is the festival with the greatest artistic integrity," he says.

Artists are also attracted to Telluride by the rest of the lineup, which Ferguson says has more Grammy winners than any other.

He cites Jerry Douglas, recently named Country Musician of the Year, as an example and points to sucy year-to-year stalwarts as Bela Fleck, Sam Bush and Emmy Lou Harris. "Everyone wants to play with Sam Bush," Ferguson declares. "He's just one of the best musicians in the world. And if Emmy Lou Harris is here year after year, other musicians know it must be a good thing."

Finally, there is the venue itself. "It's the most spectacular setting anywhere," he asserts. "There probably isn't anywhere better to be on summer solstice than Telluride."

Although delighted with the early success in booking name acts, Ferguson says the biggest news is till pending. "I'm hoping to announce the biggest news of the bunch anytime. It's not the biggest name, but it has been the most difficult band to get together."
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