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Three Things About Telluride Bluegrass That Chap My Ass

Most of us consider Bluegrass a music genre, but let’s not forget it’s also a form of ground-cover vegetation. As in lawns. As in “You kids get off my lawn!” Because that’s how I sometimes see the Telluride Bluegrass Festival… through the eyes of a curmudgeon. Telluride Bluegrass brings almost 10,000 people to my little mountain town every June, and lots of them should put their shirts back on. Or take a shower. I love the Bluegrass Festival, but there are a few things I’d terminate. For instance…

Local Hero: Rob Story (A.K.A. Lint Man) is Telluride distilled. Photo: Courtesy Rob Story

#1 Clouds
Sometimes, hovering masses of water vapor have the nerve to show up here in June. We’re accustomed to afternoon rains in July and August, but June is famously sunny in Telluride. Last year’s Bluegrass, it didn’t rain a drop. We spent the entire festival marveling at cerulean skies and bright sunshine. It was a far cry from 1999, when cold downpours saturated every dreadlock and hemp tee shirt. People were miserable, and there’s nothing sadder than a wet hippie. (Which reminds me: that was the year I lost my Grateful Dead dancing bears backpack.) Then there was 2002, the notorious drought year in the Southwest. The drought induced a couple sick pyromaniacs to start fires that torched vast acreages. The sun tried to shine that Bluegrass, but clouds of smoke muted the views and made everything smell like charcoal. Thanks.

#2 Serial Water Sprayers
They show up every year, but that doesn’t make them any easier to accept. I’m talking, of course, about the jamokes who bring a Super Soaker squirt gun to the festival and then proceed to firehose cold liquid at strangers for hours at a time.

In the white-hot blast furnace of noon, I can sorta kinda accept serial water sprayers. But not after cocktail hour. I want to ask the dork idly shooting ice water in a huge circle, “Are you a teenager? Or, more likely, a tourist? Because you don’t act like you live here. And if you do, you don’t have any friends.

“Do you have any freaking idea how few sunny 80-degree perfect days we get at 8,750 feet above sea level? Well, nimrod, there’s about 25 of them all year. We locals crave the hot, sunny, dryness, alright? We want to roast our flesh the whole spectrum between brown and red. We get way fewer opportunities than you Arizonans or Texans for lizard-like sun worshipping. We sure as hell don’t want your Super Soaker effluvium, OK? So keep your personal liquids to yourself.”

#3 Righteous Hillbillies with Banjos
The success of Telluride Bluegrass has overloaded town with southern harmonies and banjo picking. A lot of bluegrass fans live here, and unfortunately they’re all DJs for the local radio station. There’s even a Gospel Bluegrass show on KOTO. Which forces listeners to suffer not just old-timey folk music, but also guilt.

It’s just too much. So I applaud the festival promoters for adding bands without banjos. Man, you should have been there when Los Lobos opened with a face-melting cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.” Or when Cake’s clever lyrics and irresistible melodies echoed off the walls of Telluride’s box canyon. Rock ‘n’ roll is why I revisit Bluegrass each and every year. David Byrne’s act, in 2009, is universally considered the best performance to ever grace the Town Park stage. That’s what the festival needs: fewer hillbillies, more Psycho Killers.

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