Telluride Bluegrass Festival Releases a Collectible ‘Family Album’

06/18/14 | By | More

TBF40_Book-CoverForty Years of Festivation

With its text by Pastor Mustard, a foreword from Sam Bush, an afterword from Chris Thile, and lush photos of Telluride Bluegrass Festival high points since its 1973 inception, this elegant leather-bound volume with an intriguing debossed lenticular of festival stalwart Sam Bush gleaming in its center goes on sale Thursday, at the TBF country store, for $50.

Interspersed with photos and memorable quotes are essays by Adam Aijala, Alison Brown, John Cowan, Chris Daniels, Durfee Day, Jerry Douglas, Jane Dunham, Craig Ferguson, Bela Fleck, Nick Forster, Emmylou Harris, Vince Herman, Sarah Jarosz, Dave Lamb, Winston Marshall, Willy Matthews, Kooster McAllister, Del McCoury, Edgar Meyer, Billy Nershi, Tim O’Brien, Peter Rowan, Marikay Shellman, Dan Sherman, Steve Szymanski, Sally Truitt, Sara Watkins and Pete Wernick.


A few highlights:

“I celebrate three holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Telluride.”

- Chris Thile


“All of today’s bands should be made to play before the Telluride crowd if they want to prove they still have it. I have never seen an audience more knowledgeable of the music they are listening to.”

- Bill Graham


“I worry about not hitting the high notes. For an East Coast city guy like me, this altitude and dry air is really tough on my singing. Someon needs to open up a can of smog.”

- Seldom Scene’s John Duffey, in 1986


“Willie Nelson, a chart-topper at the time, seriously put TBF on the industry radar (in 1982). A few years later outlaw country legend Merle Haggard rolled in to see just what Telluride as all about.”

- Pastor Mustard


In the book’s introduction, “A View From the Pulpit,” Dan Sadowsky, better-known as his alter ego, Pastor Mustard, writes: “My major artistic achievement was never once saying, “Hey! How’s everybody doin’ out there!”

“Even though it was never a purist’s festival, you’ll hear from many sources that the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is the premier, the top, the best in the world….Your happy place may be a beach, or forest, or that one special yoni maybe, that you visit in your mind when the world goes wrong. Mine are the delicious moments when I, me Pastor Mustard alone and uniquely, could slip behind the Telluride audience, expectant as a new bride, and some massive musical talent, up there on stage itching to pitch forward toward their people, and feel the tension coming from both directions. Oh yes, oh yes, it’s so good. It’s the ceremony in ‘Master of Ceremonies.’”


Early in the book, Fred Shellman’s widow, Marikay, reveals: “What set Telluride apart was the relaxed atmosphere Fred created. He modeled it after Hee Haw, the television series where corny backwoods jokes and skits were woven with country and bluegrass music. Fred used to hide in the basement and watch the show in secret for fear of being ridiculed. But he got the same famous performers and up-and-coming musical talents intermingled onstage at Telluride!

“We go every year; it’s our family reunion. It has been a pleasure to watch the festival evolve, selling out and going stronger than ever. Fred called it his baby, and it really was. He would be so, so proud.”

And in the book’s afterword, Chris Thile reports, “Sometimes people forget Nickel Creek had existed long before anyone had ever heard of the band. Sara Watkins and I were 8; her brother Sean was 12; and my dad was the bass player when we started playing in 1989. Four years later, after hearing so much about the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, even out there in southern California, we sent in our little promotional package, and the festival actually asked if we would play the children’s tent. We were so excited, because we thought it meant we were going to get tickets – we were stylin’!

“So we played on the children’s stage, and Craig and Steve from Planet Bluegrass came and watched and then offered us a little slot on the main stage. And that started some confusion, because people were used to the Band Contest winner getting a slot, but all of a sudden ehre were these little kids who got to do 15 minutes. Ever since, people have been saying, ‘I was there when Nickel Creek won the band contest and played on the main stage!’ At first I would go, ‘Well, actually, we never entered the band contest so we couldn’t have won it.’ Now, I don’t want to steal their thunder, so I just say, ‘Oh, thanks!’

“That also marked the first and only time I got to see Bill Monroe play live and the first time I got to meet him. We were backstage and someone told Bill, who was getting up in years, “Hey, there’s this little kid you gotta hear play mandolin; hes pretty good.” But I didn’t have my mandolin. Sam Bush was about to sit in with someone and was asked if he had a spare. And he said, “Oh, I now Chris – yeah, give him the backup.” So at 12 years old, I got to play Sam Bush’s backup mandolin for Bill Monroe – an incredible experience. I asked my dad, ‘What should I play?’ and he said, ‘Play one of Bill’s songs.’ So I started playing ‘Kentucky Mandolin,’ and Bill was into it. I got done, and he asked, ‘What song is that?’ I said, ‘Bill that’s “Kentucky Mandolin.” I think you wrote that song.’ And he said, ‘Oh, that’s right. I love that song!’ Bill had had a rough childhood – he was crosseyed – which embarrassed his parents – so he always had a soft spot for little kids. He wanted to brighten their day and was famous for always having a pocketful of quarters and giving one to any little kid he met. And after I played him the song, he gave me a quarter. It was awesome….Playing the festival’s opening set is a serious responsibility I don’t take lightly at all. It’s an amazing thing to see the first big land rush as people sail through the field with their tarps. And you can’t really see the sun yet but it’s still kind of light? I love that. You get to make the first sound on that stage. You’re setting the tone. You introduce the idea of music into that setting, which is a hallowed thing. It’s a combination of church and a yearly reunion for a lot of us, and there’s something spiritual about it. You can have serious friends, but you don’t totally know them until you share Telluride with them. Seeing my girlfriend Claire interact with Telluride for the first time was such an important development in our relationship. I don’t think it’s any less of a huge event for the colleagues who have been doing it for a lot longer than I have. It’s the same way most people think of Thanksgiving, only with three more days. This big family gathering where musical friends come together. For us, music is as thick as blood. The 2012 festival commenced with me and Béla improvising a set of mandolin and banjo duets. It was dubbed Thelma and Louise because of our penchant for driving off a cliff – musically speaking, of course….

“Every now and then, I feel a little sorry for the town of Telluride. The people open their homes to acoustic music-loving America for that weekend. They get super-excited about the festival, and they’re so sweet. I wanted to do something just for them. Morning coffee at the Steaming Bean is a part of my ritual, so, in 2011, I did a little set there on Tuesday night. The idea was, you guys come on out if you don’t have anything going on and have a show on me….”


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