Telluride Blues and Brews 2010

Jun 22, 2010 by

 Telluride Blues and Brews: A golden festival in a heavenly valley

Each year, the Heavenly Valley plays host to a golden festival. Golden because the aspen leaves are at the peak of their vibrancy, golden because that is the hue of the tasty microbrews and golden because, if there were festival medals handed out, Telluride Blues and Brews would take first place.

In addition to the wonderful alliteration that rolls off the tongue, those two “B” words conjur an interest in attending such a festival even before one ever knows the who, what, where, why or when of it. “Blues,” an ironically uplifting style of music with a 12-bar structure that lends itself to the genres of Rock, Soul, Funk and Zydeco; And “Brews,” a tasty beverage that graces the pallette with succulent flavors while instilling a happy buzz unto it’s consumers. So with 2010 headliners such as Derek Trucks and B.B. King, that winning formula of “B” words and an abnormally perfect weather forecast, the Blues and Brews Festival set up shop in Telluride’s Town Park for their 17th annual festival.

With the Meteorologists nailing the forecast, Telluride escaped the regular rain, hail and snowstorms that usually adorn the month of September and instead opened with bright sunshine and temperatures hovering around 65 degrees. As the gates opened, thousands of fans flocked into the open field to set up their tents, tarps and chairs, staking out their dancing and relaxing areas for the next three days. Per usual, first timers “oohed” and “aaahed” as they took in the breathtaking surroundings while the Blues and Brews faithful toasted old and new friends; all of them feeling at home in the friendly confines of Town Park and the San Miguel Mountains.

Inside the festival grounds, ticket holders were in store for a treat right away as a visit to the beverage tent allowed them to try Sierra Nevada’s new Back Porch Lager, a beer crafted by the Blues and Brews staff at a week-long “Beer Camp” earlier this summer. This beer lover enjoyed it immensely and would like to publicly commend the staff on concocting a beer of savory flavor without being too heavy, a winning combination necessary to endure 3 day festival. Next to the beer tent, the food court showed the return of the heralded dumplings from Boulder and some local flavor too; with Telluride Truffle selling sundaes and Fat Alley providing those slow roasted meats that go so well with said beer. The Banana Egg Rolls, a lightly fried banana smothered in powdered sugar and drizzled with a chocolate sauce, was a crowd favorite.

When the music started, the crowd got a glimpse into why Blues and Brews is in the upper class of festivals, with a great lineup that included famous and yet-to-be famous acts that blur the lines of musical genres. One of the most impressive acts of the day was Ronnie Baker Brooks, a mainstay on the Chicago Blues scene. Brooks incorporated very funny impressions of John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf into his act while working the crowd into a frenzy during songs like Muddy Waters’ classic, I Just Want to Make Love to You.

With Blues and Brews, the festival doesn’t end in Town Park. Once the music in the park comes to a head each night around 9, the festivities spill into the cozy streets of Telluride, where every business with a liquor permit plays host to talented musicians. It’s a real treat to wander in and out of up to ten rocking bars and theaters (many with histories dating back over100 years), during the course of an evening.

On Saturday, the Grand Tasting began at noon and the crowd winded their way throughout  Town Park’s trails around the ponds, even spilling out onto the streets, in order to be there right as the gates opened. When they were set free into the park, each member of the line was given a complimentary tasting glass; to be filled with up to 150 different flavors of beer over the next three hours. From Lagers to Porters to insane flavors like Chil Pepper Beer, constant cheers and group toasts arose from the thousands of festivarians revelling in the moment.

As the sun continued to shine and “the leaves became more yellow with every glance” (as Aaron Fuller of Fort Collins claimed), the bands were turning out spectacular set after spectacular set. First, Terrence Simien unleashed a zydeco experience on the crowd. Armed with an accordion and a killer voice, Grammy Award winner Simien threw an hour long party in Town Park. Complete with a Mardi Gras style parade with clowns on stilts and kids tossing beads to the crowd, this set was the essence of a Telluride Blues and Brews experience. This set showcased why this festival bears a remarkable resemblance to something that might happen in New Orleans. Simien was followed by some of the best touring acts of them moment with JJ Grey and Mofro, Galactic and Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeshi taking the stage in succession. Perhaps it was the Grand Tasting, or maybe just a testament to the unique wackiness of the Blues and Brews crowd, that led J.J. Grey to remark that “Everyone in Telluride is a character.”

While one never wants a festival to end, the closing day of Blues and Brews is particularly emotional as it signals the end of summer. On this particular Sunday, fans were treated to what may have been the oldest lineup in festival history as it featured T-Model Ford (in his 90’s), B.B. King (who celebrated number 85 over the weekend) and Allen Toussaint (in his 70’s). Each one was incredibly impressive with Toussaint stealing the show with his rendition of Arlo Guthrie’s City of New Orleans, complete with a Sunday afternoon crowd sing-along. And when the music ended, not only for the day but also for the season, the crowd filed out of Town Park with huge smiles, knowing that the next festival season will begin again in June and that, once again, it will culminate with this, a golden festival.

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