Road Trip Report: Telluride Blues & Brews Festival
Special to The Aspen Times
How can you go wrong with beers, blues and beautiful mountain landscapes? You can’t. And last weekend, the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival delivered all three.
In its 21st year, the festival did nothing but impress, from the great camping experience to the beer flowing from 56 microbreweries to the sound of the blues coming from every direction.
I’d never been to Telluride before, and as a first-time attendee, I had no idea what to expect. A local buddy of mine, when I told him I was heading to Telluride, asked me “Do you like beer and music?” “Of course,” I answered. “Is that even a question?”
The Blues & Brews Festival fully delivered for both the beer lovers and the music junkies. If you are looking for great people and vibes, and music from both newcomers and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, Telluride in mid-September is the place to be.
But enough rambling — let’s get to the music, who made an impact and who was somewhat disappointing.
The act of the festival, hands down, was the guy from Chicago holding the polka-dot guitar: the one and only Buddy Guy. A direct influence on such legends as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, it is said that he played the guitar with his teeth before Jimi Hendrix ever did. His stage presence made you forget about everything in life — the way music should. The things he did with the guitar are a must-see, and the way he is able to speed up and slow down throughout a song conveys both drama and emotion. At one point, he even spun his guitar around and played some chords with his lower region — I won’t even try to explain how sounds were coming from the instrument. So if you only remember one thing from this article, Buddy Guy is a can’t-miss act and will truly take you on a musical journey with his electric blues.
Other notable acts from the festival that you need to know:
The Slide Brothers are a band brought to the mainstream straight out of the Church of God by none other than Robert Randolph. I have a soft spot for the steel guitar (but who doesn’t?). So, when I watched this act set up and play two slides next to each other, let’s just say I now know what heaven sounds like.
Dragondeer, an act from Denver, won a spot on the newly added Blues Stage by winning a Battle of the Bands. During its set, it was playing a song about Broadway Avenue in Denver, and all that went through my mind is that white guys aren’t supposed to sound like this. Their new-age take on blues is a must-see, and they look to be bound for big things. You can tell your friends at the bar, “I saw them way back when.”
Charles Bradley is a true working man who has come from the hard streets to the big stage. His stage performance was like nothing else at the festival — with his hip-thrusting and his tailored suits, he was one bad man when he sang into the mic. Speaking of love and soul, he truly showed the people at Telluride what blues means.
Last but not least, Robert Cray, a man whose Stratocaster licks are instantly recognizable from inside the venue or in the nearby campground at Telluride. He and his newly formed band truly came together to give one of the best sets of the festival.
Unfortunately, along with all of these great acts, no festival is complete without some disappointments. The Violent Femmes, the headlining act I was looking forward to most, decided not to really show up. I would be lying if I said I didn’t see this coming. In the Aspen Times office last week, reporter Michael McLaughlin shared a story about telling the band’s drummer’s brother how terrible the band was without realizing whom he was talking to. I thought the story was pretty funny but knew in my heart that Michael had to be wrong and the Violent Femmes were going to kill it in Telluride. I hate saying this, but he was right. The newly reunited Femmes, sadly, should have stayed in retirement. Their sound was off, and about halfway in they decided to play bluegrass. Femmes and bluegrass — why would they do that? I wish I knew the answer. I do know the crowd started leaving Telluride Town Park as if a tsunami were coming for them. Femmes, I hope the rest of your tour improves. If not, I still have your records, which always sound good.
If you’re reading this story and have never been to Telluride Blues & Brews, I hope you’ll bring your tents, lawn chairs and love for beers and good soul music and join me next year. Thanks for a great weekend, Telluride.
William Gross is a music junkie and an account manager at The Aspen Times.