Saturday, June 23, 2007

Telluride Bluegrass Festival - Friday Afternoon, Friday Evening

I'm so old I remember when Alison Krauss was just a fiddlin' teen phenom in the bluegrass world making her TBF debut at a very tender age, 14? 15?. There's been others since, of course, but few with as much native genius as Chris Thile. With the Watkins siblings Sara and Shawn, a prepubescent Thile turned Nickel Creek into an acoustic force to be reckoned with. Now that he's grown he naturally wants to take his talent along another path, hence Nickel Creek's impending hiatus, hence his new release "How to Grow a Woman From the Ground Up", and hence this appearance at TBF with his new band.

Chris Thile

But even with three stellar backups, Leftover Salmon grads Noam Pickelny and Greg Garrison, and the typically superb Bryan Sutton, Thile's new direction toward the pop side seems to be more a tentative probe than a full-blown leap. I imagine it's tough to find a new voice after so many (and so important) years with the same band mates. There's clearly a major talent seeking to redefine itself, but that definition hasn't been written just yet.

Guster debuted on a hot afternoon with their brand of neo-acoustic pop, and made a pretty good impression. The band boasts competent electric and acoustic skills and solid vocal harmonies, if a little skimpy on catalog. They did have the presence of mind to invite Bela Fleck to the stage for a tune. Trying to cozen up to the crowd, Guster performed it's first ever single mic encore, and made a respectable presentation of it, too.

Guster's 1st Single Mic Encore

Another first happened after the Guster set, when Rashad Eggelston and Ben Sollee took the chairs for a dual cello 'tweener.

Rashad Eggelston and Ben Sollee

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones are the antithesis of bluegrass, and yet this audience keeps welcoming this warped quartet back into its loving arms. There's a serious range of acceptable musical styles at TBF, one that bewilders newcomers and sometimes gives oldtimers pause.

Bassist Victor Wooten from the Flecktones

The Flecktones, though, aren't everyone's cup of tea. During their set, I was taking my turn in "the line to form the line" for the next day's tarp run. this task consists mostly of huddling in a lawn chair on the banks of the San Miguel river and trying to not die of hypothermia, but it does give you a chance to hear a lot of conversations. To my right was a largish group of friends talking about Bela's set, which could be heard even over the rushing waters. Money quote, to a new arrival's question about the Flecktone's set, "Well, you know Bela. He's been playing the same tune for the past hour."

And then we were treated to the rare pleasure of a live set by Los Lobos, the tightest rock band to take a stage. Mixing up blues, rock, salsa, cumbria and throwing in stunning covers of Allman Brothers (One Way Out), Grateful Dead (Bertha) and Neil Young (Cinnamon Girl) tunes rocked the still-sizeable crowd. The closers at TBF aren't just throwaway bands for the mindless party 'round the clock element. Craig Ferguson and his staff have chosen a significant roster of talent well worth losing sleep to hear. Los Lobos is certainly a great example of that.

Los Lobos Takes the stage

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