“The lineup is so cool,” he said, rattling off a list of performers including festival royalty like Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Peter Rowan (who celebrates his 30th festival anniversary this year) who have clocked something like a zillion years performing at Bluegrass between them.
The incomparable Alison Krauss, who made her first appearance at Bluegrass some 20 years ago years ago and, with 27 Grammy Awards (more than any other woman in history), multiple Country Music Association Awards and International Bluegrass Music Awards to her credit, has since become one of the most acclaimed women in modern music, also returns to the stage with Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas.
“She’s just an impeccable artist, and her band is just awesome,” Ferguson said.
Lyle Lovett, a festival regular in the 1980s who has appeared here on and off in subsequent years also returns with his large backup band.
“He’s just an awesome writer and fun show to watch,” Ferguson said.
In addition to beloved festival stalwarts there’s also newer talent rocking Ferguson’s world, including some that U.S. audiences are just beginning to get to know.
The first band in that category to roll off Ferguson’s lips is Mumford and Sons out of London’s punk folk scene, and he’s pretty sure they’ll soon be standard on iPods everywhere if they aren’t already.
“They’re the best thing I’ve heard in 20 years, and I mean it,” he said.
He’s also certain that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros will get the crowd on its feet with the band’s catchy brand of hippie tribal rock, as will relative newcomer (new to Bluegrass, not to Telluride) Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band.
“Josh Ritter is the happiest guy I’ve ever seen in show business; he’s infectious,” said Ferguson.
Americana Music Award New/Emerging Artist of the Year nominee, Sarah Jarosz, who was featured during this year’s Second Annual Firstgrass Concert in Mountain Village and opens this year’s festival is another not-to-be-missed act, as are the “outrageous singer and performer” Brandi Carlile and Dublin, Ireland’s rockabilly babe Imelda May, who makes her Bluegrass debut.
Returning to Bluegrass for the first time since 1991 are the Drepung Loseling Monks from Tibet who will perform their famed multiphonic “throat” singing during the annual Sunday morning “gospel” slot.
“They’re a little something different” from the rest of the festival, Ferguson said, adding that the Buddhist monks will also leaded guided mediation sessions in Elks Park on Friday and Saturday.
“When they are in the States we just love having them; they’re lovely people to have around, they bring a nice vibe,” he said.
Finally, don’t miss Leftover Salmon – the embodiment of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
“They were kind of created in the Town Park campground,” said Ferguson.
“They’re definitely a highlight for festivarians.”
And not only is Ferguson thrilled about this year’s artist lineup, he’s also excited about some major infrastructure improvements that will make the shows better than ever.
Returning festivarians may notice a brand new set of speaker towers on either side of the Town Park stage have replaced the scaffolding of old.
Designed to better fit the aesthetics and ambience of the setting, “They look cooler than the scaffolding,” said Festival Manager Big Jon Eaton.
Eaton added that the new towers are much safer and quicker to build than scaffolding, and, because they are owned by the festival and will be stored in nearby Montrose, will be easier on the environment than trucking in materials from Denver or beyond.
The Town of Telluride also recently invested an estimated $75,000 to $80,000 in Town Park festival infrastructure improvements funded by a tax levied on ticket sales that, by ordinance, must be used for law enforcement or park operations and improvements, according to Town Parks and Recreation Director Rick Herrington.
“We’d been talking about it for years and finally decided to go ahead and do this,” he said.
The money paid to run additional power to the backstage, backstage catering and Country Store areas, a special transformer designed to improve sound quality, and concrete pads that can accommodate multiple speaker configurations, Herrington said.
As a result, large events like Bluegrass and the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival that previously had to rely on multiple diesel-powered generators to run their sound and lighting systems and backstage catering operations because the existing service was inadequate have now been liberated from the machines that actually interfered with sound quality.
While Bluegrass will keep one generator onsite as a backup, “We no longer require diesel to produce the show,” Ferguson explained.
“We just feel really in love with the town right now.”