Try to drive into this town from June 21 to 24 this year and they won't even let you enter unless you're a "festivarian." That's because, during the third week of June for the past 33 years, this little winter ski town has become the rockin' home of the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
The annual event is unofficially considered the granddaddy of all bluegrass festivals and one of the most progressive. Relix Magazine recently listed the 1990 Telluride as No. 6 on the list of "Ten Concerts that Changed the World."
While it's called bluegrass, the four-day event is technically a mix of alternative, fusion, roots and folk music. Last year's lineup included the Barenaked Ladies, Bonnie Raitt, Bela Fleck (a banjo master and mainstay of the festival for 25 years) and his jazz fusion band the Flecktones, and headliner John Prine.
Fleck took a year off in 2005 to study more classical and African music, both of which were part of his hot 2006 sound at the festival. He'll be back this year playing with Chick Corea, as well as his own band, along with Alison Krauss and Union Station, the Sam Bush Band, Emmylou Harris, the Yonder Mountain String Band, Counting Crows, Los Lobos and more. At Telluride, a "festivarian" is anyone who is lucky enough to have a ticket to get inside Town Park during one or all of the days full of music, mountains and fun. We met plenty of locals who hadn't bought tickets but knew where to set up their picnic baskets and camp chairs on the streets nearby so that they could at least hear the music coming from the outdoor stage.
A lot of music is free during the festival, including the Telluride Troubadour and Band competitions and music workshops held at Elks Park on festival days. The town also opens up the ski gondola for anyone who wants to take the spectacular - and free - ride up to Mountain Village, almost 1,000 feet higher than Telluride's 8,750 feet above sea level, and back down.
Visitors park in designated lots outside the town borders and take shuttles into Telluride, where all the action and the music takes place, unless they're lucky enough to have secured a parking space and campground spot in the lottery, which began in December. The population - 2,300 - swells with 10,000 visitors during the four-day festival, which in addition to Town Park, spills over into the streets with bluegrass brunches at restaurants, free concerts in parking lots and in hotels throughout the area, not to mention the impromptu strumming and picking coming from many of the campgrounds of festivarians.