Telluride Bluegrass Festival

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Telluride Bluegrass Festival
Telluride BLuegrass 2009 - main stage.jpg
Main stage of the festival, 2009
Dates Third Weekend of June
Location(s) Telluride, Colorado, United States
Years active 1973–present

Telluride Bluegrass Festival is an annual music festival in Telluride, Colorado hosted by Planet Bluegrass. Although traditionally the festival focuses on bluegrass music,[1] it often features music from a variety of related genres.


The first Telluride Bluegrass Festival was held in Telluride in 1974. It was founded by John Herndon, J.B. & Helen Matiotti, Kooster McAllister, and Fred Shellman, who played in a local Bluegrass band called the Fall Creek Boys.

The idea for the festival came from the Telluride Fourth of July Celebration in 1973. Scott Brown organized the traditional Fourth of July Celebration which had its roots in the early mining days of Telluride when miners would come from many miles for a rendezvous. Scott Brown, George Greenbank, Davy Greever, Burk Thompson, and Ralph Parker built the original stage at Town Park and designated an area for dancing and listening, and a concession area.[2]

According to Scott Brown who organized the Fourth of July Celebration in 1973, the story was that the Telluride Fourth of July Celebration was a traditional gathering which started back in the early mining days of Telluride. It was a opportunity for all the miners from up in the mountains to come to town to celebrate our country's birthday, but also to party and meet up with old friends and meet some girls. With the start up of the Telluride Ski Resort in 1972, the Town of Telluride decided to really expand the Fourth of July Celebration and advertised the celebration in all the surrounding states. The results were that lots of people came that year and there was trouble which included bad behavior by a number of visitors which caused fights and other problems. In response, the Town decided to call off the celebration for 1973. Brown and a small group decided that "calling off the 4th of July" was just unacceptable and after a meeting with the Town and another with the Fire Department who had put on the event and shot off the fireworks for a hundred years, it was decided "Let Brown do it."

Brown ordered the fireworks and organized a group of locals and the local parade was reorganized to do away with the water fights, tug of war, and other rowdy traditional events and replace them with family fun events which included games in the park for children, a picnic and barbeque with family and friends. Brown and Kimball Hobbs, George Greenbank, Burk Thompson, Ralph Parker, Davy Greever scavenged some material from construction sites and built the stage in the Town Park and it was located as far away from the picnic area as the length of the extension cords could get for electrical power.

The day of the event was beautiful and clear and was kicked off with the parade, followed by kid and family games in the park and at about 5 PM the Fall Creek Boys who had driven to Denver over night to purchase sound equipment and microphones started up and everyone danced in the dirt and smiled and laughed. People brought drinks and food and Dick Unruh brought a pickup load of watermelons packed in snow from the high country and it was the best of days.

The stage although it has been remodeled several times is still in exactly the same spot and the concessions are also exactly where Dick Unruh parked his pickup truck and handed out free snow cold watermelon.

It was about this time that Gary Bennett, Francis Goldsworthy, Francis Warner, Les Smith, Shorty Faye, George Cappis, and other firemen came over and told us that they were just "joshing us" about having us shoot off the fireworks and that we could just relax and they would do it like that had been for so many years which was great news since these were real fireworks and had to be shot out of mortar like pipes that were up to five inches in diameter.

There really were no bad incidents during the party and the shooting of the fireworks and everyone went home smiling with a new feeling in the community that transcended the old moniker of "oldtimer and newcomer" and we were more than a town, we were a community for the first time with the understanding that Telluride was now mining "white gold" and we were all in it together.

The success of the 1973 celebration is credited as the beginning of American Bluegrass music in the Rocky Mountains and over the years and it is credited with starting the festival culture of Telluride..[citation needed]

The ownership of the Bluegrass Festival has been passed down five times since its inception and is now owned and run by Craig Ferguson of Planet Bluegrass.

In 1974, its first official year, the festival attracted approximately 1000 participants. The festival's attendance was capped at 10,000. Since at least 2013, capacity has been set at 12,000 per day (48,000 total over the four days of the festival).[3] According to the Library of Congress, the 1980 performance was filmed by Boulder public television and two CDs were made available.


Notable performers have included Johnny Cash, Sam Bush, Elvis Costello, David Byrne, John Fogerty, Chris Daniels & The Kings, Bill Monroe, Nanci Griffith, Mark O'Conner, Dixie Chicks, String Cheese Incident, New Monsoon, Sharon Gilchrist, Railroad Earth, New Grass Revival, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, John Prine, Nickel Creek, Yonder Mountain String Band, Mumford & Sons, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Peter Rowan, Leftover Salmon, Béla Fleck, Chris Thile, Noam Pikelny, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Tim O'Brien, Counting Crows, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Lyle Lovett, to name a few. The Telluride house band consists of Sam Bush on mandolin, Béla Fleck on banjo, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Jerry Douglas on Dobro, Edgar Meyer on upright Bass, and Bryan Sutton on guitar. The 2007 Michelle Shocked gospel CD, ToHeavenURide was recorded live at the Festival.

Band contest[edit]

One of the features of the festival is a band contest. Twelve bands are given slots in the competition. Judges rate the bands and the top four go to the main stage to compete before the crowd.

Past winners include:

  • 1985 - Blitz Creek
  • 1986 - Loose Ties (Runners-up Blue Plate Special)
  • 1988 - Titan Valley Warheads
  • 1989 - Powder Ridge
  • Ryan Shupe & the Rubberband
  • Pagosa Hot Strings
  • The Badly Bent
  • Greensky Bluegrass
  • Spring Creek
  • Blue Canyon Boys
  • Wild Sage (Third Place - 2000)
  • Nora Jane Struthers & the Bootleggers
  • Dixie Chicks
  • 2011 - Run Boy Run
  • 2012 - BlueBilly Grit
  • 2013 - Front Country
  • 2014 - Trout Steak Revival
  • 2015 - The Lil' Smokies


Dan Sandowsky, Teluride's emcee for twenty nine years, has written a book about the festival. It is entitled Telluride Bluegrass Festival — 40 Years of Festivation.[4]


  1. ^ Herbert, Kiran. "Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2014". Relix, 3 July 2014.
  2. ^ "Telluride Bluegrass Festival ". US News: Travel".
  3. ^ Slosson, Mary. Telluride Daily Planet, Oct. 29, 2104
  4. ^ Miller, Matt. "Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2014: Adding to four decades of stories". The Denver Post.

External links[edit]

See also[edit]