Monday, June 23, 2008

TBF Festival Notebook

By Donald Frazier

Coming down out of the workaday world into any four-day festival in a remote resort location is bound to be more than a change in scenery. But in the case of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, it’s an especially long, strange trip.

Festivarian Nation. More, perhaps, than any music event in America, this one positions itself as a sort of gathering of the clans. The festival website overtly says this is an annual reunion of a basically-cohesive group of music fans bonded by the culture of the festival. In the old days that meant lots of tie-dye and Indian bedspreads; now we can add dreadlocks and all-over tat’s. On the upside, it means this is an especially friendly event to attend, with sharing, caring, and narely a contrary word. On the downside, it means ‘most everybody here is already with a largish group of friends and family. Town Park, the site near the stage, is full of large emplacements comprising several tents, covered communal areas, and lots of loving if sometimes-silly décor (see photos). These groups come here every year, sometimes for decades.

Tent City. You can’t just show up in this tiny and tightly-controlled town, ticket in hand – it takes a good amount of foresight and planning. Forget about a hotel room – the few here are quite expensive, booked a year in advance and, besides, you miss out on the Festivarian vibe of it all. But finding a plot big enough for your tent in Town Park means arriving much earlier in the week. One Festivarian reports making the seven-hour drive from Denver after work on Monday, staking his claim, then driving back all night in time to be back at his law firm in time to start on Tuesday morning (”Good we have showers!”). Most parties will delegate one member to come here early and hold down the fort while the others plod through their day jobs until they can arrive on Thursday.

As for the others, refugees often have it better. There’s a large, grim commercial campground several miles down the road where you almost expect UN peacekeeping forces. We also saw more than a hundred people bedded out
in the open, in 40-degree weather on chaise lounges and such near the main gate. No, they weren’t on line for tickets. This is where they were, uh, ‘sleeping’.

Baby, you can drive my car. But not here. All of the friendliness of this event evaporates when it comes to parking your vehicle. A handful snare car camping passes. But the town bans all nonresident parking for the duration of the event, complete with a smiling but stern checkpoint on the one entrance to Telluride where they grant you enough time to unload and get out. Get out where? They say there is parking available off site. They do not say it is many miles away. Do not try for the ‘Carhenge’ lot – though closer, the lines for the shuttle bus are truly daunting. Better is Mountain Village – much farther away, but you get a fun ride to town center on the ski gondola, awesome by night.

Don’t bogart that air. Even the veterans on the Festival preview staff were amazed at the continual, thick wafting of herbal celebration over the festival grounds. No need to bring you own stash – just breathe deeply. In the campgrounds, however, serious alcohol is the party aid of choice, as we learned when a neighboring Festivarian offered up a solid belt of Jameson’s Irish – before breakfast.

Up the Creek. The finale of Sam Bush’s set on Saturday night featured everybody on the Festival program they could squeeze onto the main stage for a long, shoulder-to-shoulder version of Cripple Creek. The song has a distinct feel of a navigable body of water about it, like some murky Appalachian tributary of the Ohio. Perhaps Festival Preview is being cantankerous about this. But the real Cripple Creek in southern Colorado is a rocky gulch with, much of the year, not enough water to float a soapdish let alone a moonshiner’s rowboat. Just pointing this out.

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