"We're really excited about this year," says Brian Eyster, director of communications for Planet Bluegrass. As well they should be, with bluegrass legends and crowd favorites returning to the Town Park stage.
The preliminary lineup, announced Friday, includes such familiar and illustrious names as Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Emmylou Harris, Béla Fleck, Chris Thile and many more. Eyster estimates two-thirds of the lineup is set, with more acts (but few hints) to be confirmed.
"It's like a big family reunion every year," said Eyster. "The festival staff and the musicians say the same thing. It's the place. They know they're going to come back and hear their same favorite performers. It feeds on itself, and there are certainly years of tradition with it."
The return of so many bluegrass icons means there will be plenty of mix-and-match play with "really cool collaborations," says Eyster. Alison Krauss and Union Station, in addition to performing with Jerry Douglas, will do a set with Tony Rice. The versatile Béla Fleck will of course be here with the Flecktones, but will also collaborate with jazz piano master Chick Corea. "He's done a bunch of Latin jazz music as well," says Eyster of Corea's musical-genre jumping. His performance at Bluegrass is a "different direction for him. Béla does the same thing they explore such a wealth of musical styles."
Fleck will also perform with the new quartet formed by Abigail Washburn, the Chinese-influenced Sparrow Quartet. The group is rounded out by Ben Sollee on cello and Casey Driessen on fiddle.
"She's a great singer/songwriter, banjo/instrumentalist," Eyster says of Washburn, who was the banjo player for Uncle Earl. She studied Chinese in college and is fluent in Mandarin. "She has a really gorgeous sound," Eyster says of her solo record, Song of the Traveling Daughter. The Sparrow Quartet recently returned from a tour in China and Tibet; clips of their performances there are available at www.youtube.com. "They add something different to the mix," Eyster adds.
Adding another something different are the Avett Brothers, who "bring a punk intensity to acoustic music," says Eyster. "Watch them play and they break a string every song. The stand up bass player will lift the thing over his head. They can't control the intensity coming out."
Chris Thile returns with his How to Grow a Band. His latest release, How to Grow a Woman From the Ground, covers a variety of "indie-rockish type songs in bluegrass style," says Eyster, "but in a musically sensitive way there was big buzz about the album." Rock covers included on the CD are "Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground" by the White Stripes and "Heart in a Cage" by the Strokes.
Jazz, Chinese fusion music, punk and indie rock? Is this really a bluegrass festival?
"No Depression magazine wrote a review of last year's festival and called it 'the most incompletely named music festival west of the Mississippi,'" says Eyster. "That captures it." While dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass fans may grumble about the eclectic mix of musicians the festival brings in, TBF stalwarts understand that's been the festival's roots since its inception in the 1970s, says Eyster. "My response is this is the history of Telluride Bluegrass Festival to be rebellious, to expand the boundaries of acoustic music."
The complete lineup for TBF (to date) is as follows: Alison Krauss & Union Station; Sam Bush Band; Chick Corea and Béla Fleck; Emmylou Harris; Telluride House Band featuring Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, and Bryan Sutton; Tony Rice and Alison Krauss & Union Station; Yonder Mountain String Band; Béla Fleck & the Flecktones; Chris Thile & How to Grow a Band featuring Bryan Sutton; Jerry Douglas Band; Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile; John Cowan Band; Peter Rowan & Crucial Country; Dougie MacLean Band; Jackie Green; Mike Marshall & Hamilton de Holanda; Sparrow Quartet; Crooked Still; Infamous Stringdusters; Avett Brothers; and Greensky Bluegrass.
Multi-day passes for the 2007 Telluride Bluegrass Festival go on sale Wednesday, Dec. 6, through www.planetbluegrass.com. Single day passes will go on sale in the spring. Town Park camping, which is determined through a lottery system, is already sold out. TBF received more than 1,500 entries to the camping lottery before the lineup was even announced, a good indication that this year's festival will be as jam-packed with fans as it is with talented bluegrass pickers.
RockyGrass Ready to Roll
Telluride's slightly older and more traditional bluegrass-focused cousin, RockyGrass, welcomes many of the most lauded bands in bluegrass to Lyons, Colo., July 27-29. The 35th annual festival will feature Grammy-winners Marty Stuart, Del McCoury Band, Tony Rice, Nickel Creek (giving a special farewell performance), and Sam Bush.
Individually, the RockyGrass lineup boasts 13 International Bluegrass Music Association instrument/vocalists of the year. Eleven-time IBMA winners Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver contribute their gospel vocal blend, while recent IBMA Entertainers of the Year, Cherryholmes, make their first appearance at the festival. Several of the festival headliners including Nickel Creek, Del McCoury Band, Kruger Brothers, Claire Lynch Band, Bearfoot Bluegrass will spend the week leading up to the festival teaching at the RockyGrass Academy in Lyons.
The 2006 RockyGrass festival sold-out two months in advance. On-site camping is currently being sold through an online lottery. Exact single-day schedules will be published in the spring.
For more information on the Telluride Bluegrass Festival or RockyGrass, visit www.planetbluegrass.com.