Local musician/Renaissance man Paul Jacobsen was fortunate enough to play the Telluride Troubadour Contest up at this year's Telluride Bluegrass Festival. We are fortune enough to gain his insights on the experience. The following is part two of his initial impressions performing in the same vicinity as Elvis Costello. (JG)
I sang a song with Sam Bush for 10,000 people! I don’t know how exactly many Kilby Courts that is, but I’m guessing it’s more than a few.
How did this happen? Did I stealth my way onstage and blurt into the mic, before stage-diving into the Patagonia & Chaco Sea? Did I lose both the contest and my mind, holding Sam hostage until my demands were met? Or is this one of those lousy Hollywood screenplays that doesn’t know how to tie up its loose ends and ultimately “resolves” with the protagonist waking up to find that it was all just a dream? Nope. Troubadour Contest winner Mitch Barrett kindly invited all of the finalists onstage to sing his last song with him. And he also invited Sam Bush to play fiddle with us. Suffice it to say, it was pretty awesome and was an immediate Cease-and-Desist to the already-more-fiction-than-fact-but-still-kind-of-irresistible parallel I was making between my festival experience and the essay I’m reading: “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” by the late David Foster Wallace.
Let’s skip the details about my day and get to the music.
YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND An absurd amount of buzz led up to “Yonder” (as their fans call them)’s set. They’d sold-out the Opera House the previous night for Nightgrass (essentially, local venues throw post-Festival-hours concerts that are still somehow Festival-connected. Like a non-hipster after-party. It was intriguing to see how many bands successfully double- and triple-dipped their fans.). As a rookie in the midst of such swirling, dizzying praise, I had great expectations like the dickens. I’ll say this: they earn points for their tip-of-the-hat cover of “Girlfriend Is Better.” Not that David Byrne was even in the same state anymore. In the end, the clearest way to sum up my first YMSB experience is The Barenaked Ladies of Bluegrass- playful, some musicianship, lots of hokey/jokey banter, and not really my thing.
KASEY CHAMBERS & SHANE NICHOLSON Ever since my sister Laura introduced me to the album The Captain about 7 years ago, I’ve been a Kasey Chambers fan. Poetically, another Laura (Meyer)- my new friend and fellow Troubadour finalist- helped me weasel into the VIP section, 3 rows from the stage for Chambers/Nicholson’s set. It was a family affair with husband Shane and dad Bill making their marks on the dobro, banjo, mandolin, electric guitar, and harmonies (Shane sang lead on about half the tunes) for equal parts foot-stomping country and high lonesome folk, much of it coming from Chambers and Nicholson’s excellent, rootsy recent record Rattlin’ Bones. Chambers was engaging- funny, personable, saucy (Yeah. I don’t know. The thesaurus didn’t give me any better options for that last one. Sorry. We’ll all get through this together, though.)- but most of importantly she sang her heart out on some great songs.
SAM BUSH BAND They call him the King of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Sam & his band played a marathon set with guests Peter Rowan, Jerry Douglas, John Cowan, and Emmylou Harris (who, it would seem, is the Queen of the festival and whose duet- “River’s Gonna Run”- was Sam’s best). Sam & Emmylou were responsible for one of my favorite exchanges (perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but bluegrass artists in general are waaaaay talkier than, say, their indie rock counterparts, who might inform you about a new strain of veganism or how much they love their shoelaces, but typically just stick to the songs) of the festival:
EMMYLOU: (after Sam introduced his bassist) “…and everyone’s gotta sing, Sam.” SAM: “That’s right. There ain’t no DH (designated hitter) in bluegrass.”
The first encore was a cover of the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” After the second encore, I was done for the day. I heard the band take the stage yet again on my way to my tent, easing into an old-timey version of “One Love.” Now, there’s something to be said for knowing your audience and this particular audience, I believe, wouldn’t have gone any wilder if Robert Nesta Marley himself had shown up. And, just when I thought I might actually be turning into a bona fide bluegrass fan, they took the stage again. Heavens. Ask people if they felt cheated when David Byrne only did TWO MEASLY encores.
GAELIC STORM The UK’s Gaelic Storm were next and, from my tent, I can say with conviction that it’s not my thing. The name alone was enough of a giveaway for me. And, listening now, my kneejerk reaction to their name is completely validated. They play the kind of New Age/World Music that Ian from High Fidelity would love. Like Riverdance meets Dave Matthews meets a less attractive Corrs (minus the taste for Ryan Adams) meets the soundtrack of Titanic. That last one is literal. I just looked at the Festival Program and apparently these guys were the party band that played in the steerage before Jack and Rose fogged the windows. Which raises the question: why wasn’t Gaelic Storm part of the much-hyped Kate/Leo reunion that was Revolutionary Road? I can see the marquee now: DICAPRIO. WINSLET. GAELIC STORM. TOGETHER AGAIN. Wait, what’s that you say? Trendy crap world music wasn’t invented in the 50’s? Oh, nevermind.
Oh no. Now they’re covering “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” Please, you’ve done enough. Why bring the late Mr. Denver into this?
Hello, earplugs. Goodnight, Telluride. Tomorrow? The spine-tingling conclusion.