Close this search box.

The Riffs of Summer

The best way to catch that cool Rocky Mountain high this summer? Cap off a week in the backcountry with a weekend at the Telluride Jazz Festival.


fter living and playing in the state of Colorado for just shy of a decade, there is one thing I’ve come to know for certain: Nothing cleanses the soul quite like the Colorado-only combination of a week in the backcountry followed by a music festival in Telluride. It’s the best of nature, followed by a slow return to the best civilization has to offer, followed by a reluctant but refreshed return to the everyday routine.

I discovered this ideal combination in 2014, when I was given the opportunity to cover the Telluride Jazz Festival for The Denver Post’s now defunct music blog Reverb. Enlisting the help of a photographer friend, we decided to link up the festival with a multi-day backpacking trip into the Ice Lakes region west of Silverton. It was perfect: three days and two nights on wildflower-laced, single-track trails smashed up against the bluest set of alpine lakes you’ll ever come across.

By the time we got to Telluride, spirits were sky high and we walked into one of the better operated, better booked musical festivals in the country. It was my first introduction to Snarky Puppy, one of my favorite and most listened to bands ever since. As a drummer, it was where I first got to see my two biggest heroes play live, Stanton Moore and Adam Deitch. In short, it was an unforgettable trip, and the start of a pilgrimage going strong to this day. 

As the years passed, the scale and difficulty of our annual “Backpack  Telluride” trip increased. There was the Elk Park-Needleton loop in the Weminuche Wilderness, ending in the majestic Chicago Basin, surrounded by fourteeners; the Four Pass Loop into the Telluride Bluegrass Festival with a crew of five people; and the Capitol Peak loop with six more.

This year, we will celebrate a five-year anniversary with a plan to return to Chicago Basin, perhaps the most magical place in all of Colorado, followed by the Telluride Jazz Festival Aug 9-11. I have six people on board, from an ultra-running Boulderite training for the Olympics to the saxophone player in my band who has never been on an overnight hike. Things are bound to go wrong, but it’s not the perfection that has brought me back year after year. It’s the unpredictability, the camaraderie and the rugged beauty of sitting back in the San Juans in summer as music fills the air.

Don’t Muss

Tune in to these five must-see acts that will take the stage at Telluride Jazz this month.


This color-coordinated, nine-piece Brooklyn funk outfit is the real deal. Fresh off a Red Rocks performance with Umphrey’s McGee and led by Denver-based powerhouse drummer Michelangelo Carubba, they bring a party few bands can, and their horn section is off the charts.


Another act that leans more funk than jazz, Lettuce is on the top of their game this summer after the release of their newest album, “Elevate.” Expect a set heavy on these new cuts, a tight pocket of psychedelic horns, trap-inspired beats, and booming basslines from Erick “Jesus” Coomes.

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio

Moving away from the headliners, this up-and-coming organ trio from Seattle plays music that just makes you smile. Delvon Lamarr leads the way on the timeless Hammond B-3, but guitarist Colin Higgins and drummer David McGraw are both as tasteful as they come, playing a mix of choice covers and instrumental soul.

Victor Wooten Band

Always on the short list of “best bassist in the world,” Victor Wooten is a legend. A five-time Grammy winner and founding member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, with Wooten you are guaranteed to be mesmerized, entertained and educated. To my point, he’ll host a nature walk to Bear Creek waterfall on Friday at the festival called “Music of Nature and the Nature of Music” in addition to his band’s set.


A jazz festival might be the last place you’d expect to find Aron Magner, founding member of the trance jamband The Disco Biscuits, but classical and jazz music are where his roots lie. Stepping away from the jam world, Magner has enlisted fellow Philly musicians Jason Fraticelli on upright bass and Matt Scarano on drums for a project that explores improvisation through an avant-garde jazz lens. •

Share this post:

Discover more in the Rockies: