The Rocky Mountain Way in Telluride

Jun 22, 2010 by

From Todd Altschuler and the pages of Mousike….

Nestled into a box canyon in the Four Corners region of Colorado, there is a town whose beauty transcends conventional adjectives. It’s a town about which B.B. King once said “Out of the 90 different countries I’ve been to, I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than what you have here.”

The postcard perfect town that we speak of is Telluride, and at some point this summer, you should take a ride there to enjoy great music in a serene setting. In what has grown into a Mecca for outdoor summer music, Telluride is sure to have one of your favorite bands at one of their many concerts or festivals.

Just driving into Telluride is worth the price of admission as there are awe-inspiring views to your left, right and center. There are mountains that seem to rise vertically from the valley floor to rocky peaks, the highest concentration of fourteen’ers in the country and two 300 foot waterfalls cascading off the mountains. Make sure to look around the roadside too as there are often times elk and prairie dogs greeting you as you drive slowly down the two-lane highway into town.

With your car saturated with fresh mountain air, you might unplug your iPod and tune the dial to 91.7 KOTO, Telluride’s only FM radio station. KOTO is one of the last remaining listener supported, commercial free radio stations in existence.  Their tag line “radio almost like the professionals” should give a glimpse into the entertaining format that you will encounter. While tuned to KOTO, expect something unusual because the members of the all volunteer DJ squad certainly have very diverse musical tastes.

Just past the elk and prairie dogs, you will enter downtown and instantly be sent back in time. Here you will encounter some of the finest examples of Victorian-era architecture. Several buildings from the late 1800’s are still standing, including the Courthouse, New Sheridan Hotel and many banks (one where Butch Cassidy pulled off his first major heist).  And the houses are no different with every residential street lined with historic houses painted in vivid colors.

But again… the readers of Mousike need not come to Telluride just for mountains, waterfalls and architecture.

At the heart of Telluride’s music scene is Town Park, which sits right smack dab in the middle of this ridiculous scenery. The park is where Telluride’s three largest music festivals (Telluride Jazz Celebration, Bluegrass and Blues and Brews) are perennially held. The San Miguel River, which is formed from the waterfalls above town, runs right through the park and there are historical buildings like an old mining house and the original wooden jail that housed criminals from the Wild West era.

In the back of Town Park, there sits a stage with the same majestic views as those described above. Permanently erected in 1991, this barn-like structure has served as host to some of the most legendary musicians in history. Those that have played there include James Brown, Johnny Cash, The Band, Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and The Allman Brothers.

As per usual, it was a long and lonely winter for the stage; as the locals and tourists alike traded in their dancing shoes for ski boots after last year’s Blues and Brews Festival, which traditionally ends the festival season.

But she smiles.

She smiles because she knows by the sounds of school children playing soccer in her shadow that it won’t be long until amazing music is once again emanating from the speakers. One can only imagine that upon hearing the hoots and hollers of these children, she instantly ponders with amazement who might serenade throngs of music lovers in the coming months.

One can be fairly certain that old friends like Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Peter Rowan, Sam Bush and John Cowan will be there when the music starts up in June. These guys have been a part of almost every Telluride Bluegrass Festival since the mid-eighties and it’s no different this year.

Other acts who get to enjoy the view from Town Park’s stage are legendary musicians B.B. King and Larry Coryell, who will add to their legacies in Telluride, and two of Colorado’s most famous touring acts from the last 20 years will be in town as Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band return to the Bluegrass Festival after several years away. A visit to Telluride this summer might also allow you to see country star Lyle Lovett, Hammond B3 master Dr. Lonnie Smith, The Greyboy Allstars or Keller Williams, all of which will stand on the historic stage this year.

Then there’s Telluride’s most anticipated concert of the summer taking place on the heels of The Telluride Jazz Celebration. This is when the members of Phish will congregate in the park to add another chapter to the rich histories of the band, the stage and the town. Perhaps they might even be the first to jump on trampolines on the stage?  Cornmeal, Tea Leaf Green and Marco Benevento Trio all have post Phish concerts in town.

While Town Park is the epicenter of summer music in Telluride, don’t forget that once a year, Colorado Avenue (that same street with old storefronts, banks and hotels) shuts down for a day in July to bring you Music on Main Street. The one-day event celebrates the combination of music and food. The culinary delights include such delicacies as crawfish beignets, jambalaya, gumbo and more. This summer’s lineup has not yet been announced, but past performers have included Bill Kreutzmann, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Buckwheat Zydeco and George Porter.

There are also concerts high above town on the ski mountain every Wednesday evening as part of the Telluride Sunset Concert Series. The location of the concerts offer incredible views of the Wilson mountain range, the likes of which was used on the Coors Light can. Some of this year’s performers are The Sierra Leone Refugee Allstars and Steep Canyon Rangers.

From town, you can take a gondola to the shows.

In addition to the stellar lineup of musical festivals and concerts, Telluride plays host to tons of non-music events like the world-famous Telluride Film Festival, a yoga festival, a Hot Air Balloon Rally, celebration of Plein-Air painting, 4×4 Rally, Mushroom Festival and a wine festival that also includes the music of Jackie Green and Jason Isbell, both of whom wowed the crowds at last year’s Blues and Brews.

 So as the waterfalls break free from their icy holds, the leaves return to the aspens and the final remains of snow melt from the chairlift ramps, Telluride gets ready to once again be one of the summer’s musical centers. Whether you come to Telluride once a year, haven’t been in ages or have never been at all, make sure you plan to take a trip down at some point this summer.

 Oh by the way, it’s really not that far from you! These are the travel times from various spots in Mousike’s distribution area:
Crested Butte – 2hrs 50min
Aspen – 3hrs 40min
Vail – 4hrs 20min
Breckenridge – 5hrs
Steamboat – 5hrs

And when you make it down to Telluride, consider these popular hikes before the music starts:

Bear Creek Canyon: Bear Creek’s amazing serenity and beauty makes you feel like you’re miles away from civilization. It’s 2 miles one way with a 1,040 foot elevation gain within this 325-acre mountain canyon that is secured for the public by the Telluride Land Trust. Enter the trail from the end of South Pine Street and follow Bear Creek up the canyon to enjoy views of jagged peaks on your way to waterfalls. About .25 miles before the falls, watch for the sign on your right announcing the trailhead to the rugged and challenging Wasatch Trail.

Bridal Veil Falls: These stunning waterfalls are over 300 feet in length. From Town Park walk east until you see the old Pandora Mill. From there, follow the dirt road marked County Road to the bottom of falls, where you will be refreshed by the mist or go the extra mile(.6 actually) to the top of the falls. You don’t have to stop here, though. Beyond the privately owned historic power plant, are the Bridal Veil Basin, Blue Lake, and Silver Lake.

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