Telluride Bluegrass Festival coming in June |

Telluride Bluegrass Festival coming in June

Wren Wertin
The Telluride Bluegrass Festival draws more than 11,000 people per day for the four-day event.

Planet Bluegrass is a small organization that is responsible for several of the multi-day, outdoor musicfests in Colorado, including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. This year, the four-day festival runs June 20-23.

Being invited to play at the festival is often a dream-come-true for acoustic musicians, due in part to the big names associated with the event. Peter Rowan, Pat Flynn, Sam Bush and Bela Fleck are all Festival mainstays.

Though called the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, it’s never been a bluegrass-only event.

“It was founded by a very open-minded bunch of folks in a group called Possum,” said Steve Szymanski, vice president of Planet Bluegrass. “When they looked around for people to play, New Grass Revival accepted. It was exciting, because they were a nationally recognized group, a real band. They became the cornerstone of the festival – (members) Pat Flynn, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush. They were the traditional band, and band members played with everyone before starting the trend into experimentation with other styles. Eventually, it created its own kind of style. It’s bluegrass plus whatever else you throw at it.”

“The bluegrass really speaks for itself,” he added.

This year’s lineup also includes alternative rock with Cake and Ben Harper; country-folk with Nanci Griffith and Emmylou Harris; newgrass with Leftover Salmon and Railroad Earth; and traditional bluegrass with Tim O’Brien and David Grisman.

Every year, festival organizers are inundated with correspondence from musicians hopeful to participate. Because there are so many interested parties, they often have to turn down quality acts.

“It’s a big balancing act, because we’ve established a legacy,” said Szymanski. “Everyone expects to come back. I guess the thing that works for us is they (the standard musicians) find different ways to play together, new combinations. You might hear the same songs every year, but they are totally different. I remember one particular moment, when Shawn Colvin, Bela Fleck and Mary Chapin Carpenter all took the stage together.”

The festival isn’t just about the music, though. It’s also the community around it. Festivarians (the people who attend every year) go for the whole experience. Most people camp in one of the designated campgrounds, and pickin’ parties last late into the night around several campfires. Vendors set up shop, selling everything from hula hoops to blankets to food. Many a band was created out of a campfire collaboration.

“The experience of playing at Telluride is like no other because the beauty of the place lifts you up and infuses you with the spirit of one of the

most loveliest places on earth,” said John Skehan of Railroad Earth. “My favorite moment was hearing our banjo player, Andy Goessling, walk up to Peter Rowan and say, “You realize, of course, this is all your fault.'”

Rowan described it as “a home festival where creativity is stressed, as there’s not a big pressure to be limited by a certain kind of music.”

The Telluride Bluegrass Festival is only the first in the festival line-up for Planet Bluegrass. They also organize The RockyGrass Academy (July 22 through 25), RockyGrass (July 26-28), The Song School (Aug. 12-15), The Folks Festival (Aug. 16-18) and Festival of the Mabon (Sept. 21), all of which are in Lyons.

“Each festival has its own direction, musical style and feeling, and have created their own identities,” said Szymanski.

Szymanski is one of the founders of Planet Bluegrass. A guitar and mandolin player, he got out of real estate in New York and headed for Colorado’s music scene. From 1996 to 2000, total attendance at all of Planet Bluegrass’ festivals increased from 54,000 to 67,000.

The RockyGrass Academy brings some of the most recognized bluegrass musicians at the Planet Bluegrass Ranch for four days of instructional workshops in fiddle, mandolin, guitar, banjo, dobro, voica dna bass, as well as mandolin/mandola-building seminars. Directly following the Academy is Rockygrass, an elite traditional bluegrass festival in a high plains meadow surrounded by moss-covered sandstone cliffs on the Saint Vrain River.

The song School brings songwriters from around the country together for a week of intensive workshop on the art, craft and business of songwriting.

The Folks Festival appeals to singer/songwriters who want to take part in the “Summit on the Song.”

The newest addition is the Festival of the Mabon. In the works for three years, this year marks its debut. It’s a Celtic festival held on the autumn equinox, and will celebrate Celtic lore, music, food, arts and crafts.

Package deals have been on sale for a few months, but single-day tickets just went on sale for Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Single-day tickets for RockyGrass will be on sale soon. More information on all of the festivals, camping details and ticket sales can be found at Planet Bluegrass’ web-site,, or by calling (303) 823-0848.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.

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