Friday, June 20, 2008

Ryan Adams and Ani DiFranco anchor Thursday night at Telluride

By Donald Frazier

As a number of high-profile commercial festivals command attention this summer, the Big Daddy of bluegrass events continues to draw thousands to its Rocky Mountain home of 35 years, the once-funky and now-tony Telluride, Colorado. More than any other event, this one positions itself as keeper of the flame for the ongoing evolution of this musical form.

Headliners include Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby, Leftover Salmon, The Yonder Mountain String Band, Hot Rize, Arlo Guthrie (!), and the artistic founder of this event, the venerable Sam Bush. But opening first night, featuring Ani DiFranco and Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, demonstrated two threads pulling bluegrass in new and different directions.

Time was, an urban and edgy artist like DiFranco would not be at the TellurideBluegrass among all of the old-timey pickers. But times change, forms evolve, and now a new generation of bluegrass fan has emerged with less loyalty to the past but an appreciation for the authenticity of experience they find here. From the looks of it, they found what they want in her terse, moody set that broke through the angst with shouts and yells of pain and passion.

Meanwhile, Ryan Adams delivered a highly proficient, even slick performance that got the crowd to its feet but would have been equally at home in a conventional rock arena.

Closer to the bone, the next morning Bela Fleck presented a series of duets with a wildly diverse set of partners, from Bryon Sutton (guitar), Sam Bush (violin) (not mandolin), Jerry Douglas (dobro), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Abigail Washburn (banjo) and Edgar Meyer, a standing bassist of extraordinary attainment in classical music as well.

Best, he then turned in a solo set inspired by his study with masters of African music such as Toumani Diabete and Baaba Maal that has been made into a new documentary, Throw Down Your Heart. Fair to say that this, also, would not happen in the old days. Same later on, when Telluride veteran Peter Rowan and the Free Mexican Airforce gave a rousing clinic of what happens when you interpret bluegrass through the prism of reggae, Tex Mex, and rockabilly. This, from a disciple of Bill Monroe.


Anonymous said...

I must be a festival journalist's groupie searching out delictible descriptions of performances and venues unseen by mine eyes. Thanks, Don for twiddling the keys with an artistry nearing that of manual ministrations to wires nowhere else so taught as there. For those who can't be there, you are truly remarkable.

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