Sunday, June 24, 2007

More on Saturday in Telluride

By Saturday the momentum of the Festival schedule is fully charged and aimed at one target - maximum enjoyment.

I started off with a visit to Elk's Park for one of the many workshops organized by Planet Bluegrass. This session, on songwriting, featured Ron Block (of Alison Krauss' Union Station), Emmylou Harris, and Peter Rowan presenting an hour of chat and performances. It's a small setup at the bottom of a natural slope. Although the soundman was having issues, the intimacy of the setting more than made up for it.

Emmylou Harris

The Elk's Park audience. Stage is under white shelter at right.

I cut my stay a little short in order to hoof it up the street for Festival Preview favorite Sarah Jarosz. She's one of the many young talents Planet Bluegrass is so successful at finding. A multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, the teenaged Sarah has played on the main stage with Tim O'Brian as a 'tweener, short performances to take up the time between acts. Today was her debut as a full-fledged artist on the main stage. Accompanied by mandolinist Mike Marshall and cellist Ben Sollee, Sarah once again wowed the crowd with her mature-beyond-her-years instrumental, vocal and songwriting chops. According to her MySpace page, Sarah hasn't got a record deal. After her impressive performance today, that's bound to change.

Sarah Jarosz and Ben Sollee

There's a stratospheric talent level at TBF represented by the certified genius Edgar Meyer. Not content to redefine double bass in acoustic string music as the timekeeper for Strength in Numbers, he's active in classical and jazz circles, too. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between genres, as in the classical CD "A Short Trip Home", that features classical violinist Joshua Bell and bluegrass mando legend Sam Bush. Add to that list Chris Thile, who joined Meyer for an acoustic duet that explored lots of new harmonic and melodic territory. It may have been a little abstract for the early afternoon crowd (an completely out of reach for the dancers, but for those who listened it was an engaging experience.

Edgar Meyer - maybe the best bass player alive

Next up - the John Cowan Band. Johnny has been a part of the Telluride experience since the very early years as part of the legendary New Grass Revival. A capable bassist with a world class tenor, Cowan has gradually emerged from the shadow of New Grass to become a band leader with the confidence and gravitas to arrange a ten-member "clusterpluck" in mid set by inviting the Infamous String Dusters on stage for a long, loose rendition of the Louis Jordan classic, "Caledonia".

John Cowan

Jeff Austin & Ben Kaufmann of Yonder Mountain String Band

Colorado jamgrass favorites Yonder Mountain String Band followed John Cowan to close the afternoon's schedule with their brand of eclectic covers and straight up, rocking originals. Spiced up with new tunes, the YMSB setlist still clung to their tried-and-true formula of attacking acoustic standards with post-punk sensibilities. The addition of guest fiddler Darol Anger is always a stimulus for excellence from the Yonder boys, and they responded to the adoration of the crowd with a maturity they didn't have a few years ago. Even frontman Jeff Austin's histrionics have calmed, making me wonder if someone found a cure for what I think of as "Austinette's Syndrome", although someone once suggested Austin as a poster child for "spazmatic bluegrass".

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