The Telluride Blues and Brews fest took place September 14-16 in the cozy mountain town of Telluride, Colorado. Intrepid reporters Arthur VanRooy and Rachel Ayers endured blazing 75 degree weather, the mid color change of insipid aspens, and more fleece vests than you could shake an artisanally crafted bespoke rain stick at to bring you the following best of list:
Best in show from the Blues Tent: Husky Burnette
When the fiery sun reaches its midday zenith and temperatures rise to near unbearable temperatures, sometimes you just gotta retreat to the festival tent. Yes, that tried and true oasis from the infernos, where one goes to find solace from the elements, despite whatever house DJ or singer-songwriter is currently filling time before that really good late day act comes on the main stage. However, the Blues and Brews tent offered more. From relative newcomers such as Russ Chapman to veteran of the circuit Pat “Mother of Blues” Cohen, the roof of the blues tent was metaphorically on fire all weekend, but non lit up the stage quite like Brian “Husky” Burnette. With guitars full of fuzz and a voice with more gravel than a Mississippi back country road, Burnet chewed through his 70 minute set like a hog given a fresh helping of corn meal. His pared down backing of a drum kit and harmonica only served to amp the speed at which Burnette and the boys drove a hell bent crowd to their mental Delta shindig, raging all night if not just for a brief moment of respite on a Friday afternoon.
Best campground Swamp Stomp: Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers
Settled in a picturesque nook of the Town park campgrounds, next to the serene Bear Creek waterfall, a down south happening did occur that many campers of this festival won’t soon forget. Dwayne Dopsie and crew turned that creek into a swamp, and in it a swelling crowd did a stomp and sweat to sweet zydeco beats! Dwayne and company serenaded the gathering with cajun classics and Acadian accordion that would make any native of the Pelican State swell with pride. One couldn’t help but leave that experience with a smile on their face and a craving for a big ole bowl of crawfish etouffee!
Best excuse to get drunk at noon: The Grand Tasting
While its a fairly standard festival tradition to crack a beer or two by noon, not much motivates one to get hammered while the openers are still working their way through the day. Not much, that is, unless the festival is hosting an all out beer barrage for the first three hours of the day! Featuring over 50 fine concoctions from brewers as widely renowned as Sierra Nevada to local outfits such as Durango Brewing Co and Big B’s Hard Cider from Hotchkiss, CO, The Grand Tasting was a true brew tour de force and a festival goer’s afternoon delight. Taps flowed and revelers broke out into spontaneous cheers as drinks were poured for all, without the obnoxious impediment of tokens and drink limits to tamp down the bacchanalia. All in all great memories were made, new friends were found, and more than a few sun naps were had afterwards by the happy crowd.
Best Legendary Diva: Robert Plant
How could one not be super excited to see Robert Plant close out Saturday night at a festival? He was in Led Zepplin for God’s sake! In that sense he definitely did not disappoint, playing a veritable best of set from his days in the Zep. Many photographers were, however, quite upset about the last minute cancellation of shooting this legend due to his request of a ‘more intimate show’. And intimate it indeed was, as he faithfully recreated some of his greatest work in subtle, subdued lighting and energy. Still, Plant and his gorgeous now salt and pepper locks put on an amazing generation-spanning performance. One couldn’t help but yearn for the electric excitement of the days of an early fresh off the boat Zepplin performance but, much like the cabernet flowing in the VIP section, Plant showed that there ain’t nothing wrong with the mellowing that comes with age.
Best Night Show: Anders Osborne and Samantha Fish
Despite the fierce competition for your late night ears in exotic locales around the town, sometimes for the best shows you never even have to leave the festival grounds! This was the case for Saturday night as the dynamic duo of Anders Osborne and Samantha Fish teamed up to tear down the stage in a two hour blazing blues soul explosion that left the adoring audience audibly agape and hollering for more! Anders kicked off the main event of the evening with his signature sonic soul searching, at once visceral yet ethereal. The set built in anticipation until, like a brooding storm finally letting loose, Fish joined the stage and unleashed a soulful maelstrom the likes of which few have ever experienced. The two traded turns belting and shredding at a dizzying pace, leaving in their wake a trail of melted faces and ecstatic exuberance, truly a night that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Best true blues Legend: RL Boyce and the Hill Country Allstars
Like many forms of traditional music, blues has spawned a plethora of offshoots and subgenres in its century old tradition. While many have taken the original styles and elevated their sound into realms nearly transcendant from its original forbearers for the better, there’s just nothing quite like getting back to the root of the sound, and no one did this quite like RL Boyce. Boyce and his Hill Country Allstars embody an ethos that in this day in age is a rarified thing to find outside of the jam scene, and remain one of the last true improvisational blues outfits. To listen to Boyce is to be transported to the days where playing the blues meant gathering a group and just going where the winds and whims may take you, catching a feeling, a certain groove, and just riding it for all you’ve got. While there are arguably bands with higher degrees of technical prowess, in this day and age RL is just about the purest embodiment of the spirit of the blues you’ll ever find.
Best Not Really Even Blues but totally fits into the Festival Set: Valerie June
Valerie said it best herself in a mid-song aside when she quipped “I don’t know what kinda music this is but it’s great for these Colorado mountains!”. Despite her current home in the concrete peaks of NYC, her music exudes the sentiment of a humble rural upbringing and bears the burdens of hard working and ‘living on Tennessee time’ to borrow a phrase from one of her best songs. It might not be blues but you would be hard pressed to find an artist that more exemplifies the spirit and attitude of her fellow peers of the weekend!
Best Camping for any festival, ever: Town Park Campgrounds, Telluride
There’s something to be said about how the surroundings of a festival can either detract or enhance the festival itself, and in the case of Blues and Brews the environment and specifically the campgrounds ticks all the right boxes. Spacious area with plenty of shade? Check. Reasonable proximity to the festival itself? Check. Friendly and gregarious fellow campers all around? Check. Walking distance to the outside world, featuring cozy eateries and scenic overlooks? Check. Not only could you enjoy a relaxing set from the comfort of your hammock strung amongst aspen trees with surprisingly solid acoustics, getting into the festival and back at the main stage could be done in mere minutes. If you’re looking for a bite to eat outside of the realm of festie staple corndogs and gyros you could be there in literally the time it takes to walk to the bathrooms at other less fortunate festivals. These hallowed grounds were truly a slice of heaven, complete with an all day blues soundtrack that would make you think you sold your soul to the devil for such a deal!