Everyone knows the John Muir quote ‘The mountains are calling and I must go’ – especially if you live in Colorado. This year marks the 45th year of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, where the gorgeous San Juans are the back drop for a 4 day music festival with Bluegrass legends, camping and all the outdoor adventure you want. And we answered the call.
Our amazing crew has been true festivarians for years, knowing the ins and outs of navigating the festival and we were lucky enough to be included in the gang. Mike actually got a gig working backstage security, a paying gig where he’d work a 6-8 hour shift everyday/night and in return get two meals a day, a free camping & festival ticket, and $400. It was a no brainer! Planning started months before the actual event so we knew what to pack, although there’s nothing that actually prepares you for the amazingness that is the Telluride Bluegrass fest, especially the way Whitney (Queen B of camp TC) does it.
Our caravan headed out of Arvada late morning on Wednesday June 20, packing Mike’s F250 to the gills. Our girlfriends, Stacia & Anna, carpooled with us, making the 6 hour ride super fun, with car games galore! We stopped at Eddyline, in Buena Vista to break up the trip & grab some delicious lunch and beer. A citra IPA & quinoa salad hit the spot!
Telluride welcomed us around 5:45pm, the perfect lighting to unload. Our site was in Warner field, a converted baseball field that would serve as home base for the next four days. Navigating to left field with loaded wagons and wheel barrels, we shuffled back and forth unloading all the gear, food & booze. The views were absolutely amazing…We had arrived! Whitney, Dusty & Kelly had taken the gondola to mountain village for a free Little Smokies show, so we grabbed brews and set up our camp. The compound the early crew had assembled was nothing short of phenomenal. Complete with a kitchen, cooler tent, multiple hanging lights and decorative lanterns, our camp was by far the most impressive setup I had ever seen! The crew had come in early to line up at 6am Wednesday to set up shop and damn their efforts paid off! Instead of being crammed into a small patch, our compound spanned 25 by 50 feet, with 10 tents, 5 sunshades and an open space where the grills and kitchen was set up. Glamping isn’t even the right word to describe the fabulousness!
After our tents were pitched, we headed to get our wristbands (our tickets for all 4 days of camping & music) then headed to High Pie (where we had watched the Birds victory at this years super bowl). Huge pizzas were ordered, beers were drank & gratitude was felt all around for making it safe. Back at camp we found the early crew and decided to head over to Town Park, another campground that had authentic dirt, trees, rolling grounds and elaborate shanty towns set up. In a number of these were musicians strumming, picking and singing Bluegrass.
Small hippie dressed crowds gathered round to watch and sing along, creating a woodland concert. A really beautiful and unique night!
The next morning we arose early for the first tarp run. If you’ve never been to TBF, this is a foreign concept, but the seasoned veterans have it down to a science. You stand in line to receive a ticket, which gave you a spot in line later in the morning to run inside the venue to reserve your spot for that days’ lineup. The lower thre number, the better chance at reserving a good spot! Whitney had teamed up with another group to ensure we’d get the best position for the day.
This year they randomized the numbers, giving the first person in line just as much chance for a decent number as the 200th person in line. And they had 750 numbers! Once Larry (the ticket handler) arrived, the crowd arranged into a semi-straight line, we got our numbers (47 was the day’s winner!) and headed back to camp for more coffee and burritos. Whitney had made over 90 for the group (although I packed all my own plant-based food) so we munched and conversed about that day’s activity before the music.
A few of us decided to mountain bike on Telluride mountain, so headed to the gondola (which was free!) to ride up. The trail would take us all the way back to town, flowing mostly downhill. A super fun, not too technical, 11.6 mile ride, with some loose turns, rocks and roots to navigate. A wonderful way to spend the early afternoon, pre-music. Heading through town on bikes was super fun too and so convenient to be able to bike straight to camp without touching a car.
I got lunch together when we got back: Bahn Mi rice noodle bowls with homemade pickled veggies and baked tofu. Totally hit the spot! Mike had to work the 4 to 11:30 shift, so after lunch headed out while we got ready for the afternoon of music. Our campsite was a stones throw from the venue, making it extremely convenient to shuffle back and forth for more water, booze, snacks or reprieve from the music and sun.
Our tarp runners had reserved two clutch spots, one up front and a sun-shaded spot in the back, equipped with blankets, tapestries and chairs to enjoy the scene out of the Colorado sun. We had quite the hookup, courtesy of the TBG veterans in our group.
The Wood Brothers were the first set I caught that day & they did not disappoint! We saw them last summer in Steamboat for a free concert…they were awesome! I’m with Her followed, a beautiful women group with amazing harmony.
Throughout the afternoon, I’d pop over to see Mike at his post, which was at the entrance to backstage: total VIP. The crew headed back to fix some food before that evenings’ headliner Tedeschi Trucks Band…which was an amazing show! Susan has the most beautiful voice and with the lights, sky, and amazing crowd, it was truly a spectacular Day 1 of the festival.
The night was low key after the shows’ end, but some went to Town Park in search of strummin’ & pickin’. A day for the books!
Friday arrived with coffee, burritos & talk of another MTB ride. Holly, Jaime, Janine, Steve, Mike and I headed back up the gondola to headed down Village Way, to Jurassic Trail, to Meadow way. Well, while taking a loose turn, my back tire fish tailed, I braked and flew over the handlebars, scraping and bruising quite a few places on my body, including my chin, both palms, ankle, knee, inside of my elbow and upper thigh. A mess!
Shaken, but not defeated, I got back on the bike and we rode down, this time going a short ways to make it to the Telluride Brewery.
Oh sweet nectar to wash away the pain! This small brewery had over 20 beers on tap, including a kettle sour, Senor Gomez, that was absolutely thirst quenching. Thoroughly watered, we hopped on our bikes and rode the 4 miles back to town. In one of the pavilion areas we happened upon a beautiful sounding violinist. The beauty of the TBF weekend – music everywhere!
Back at Camp we decided to hit the river after our lunch, so changed into swimwear and jumped into the icy waters. Woah, it really wakes you up!
Refreshed and rejuvenated, we sunned ourselves dry & headed back to camp, where Mike changed for work, and I chilled with the crew until heading in for the Infamous Stringdusters, followed by Emmylou Harris. I headed up to the front for the legend Emmylou, who is still rocking it at 71. Back to camp for fresh libations & food before heading in to see Greensky Bluegrass- Whitney’s favorite!
Mike let me know that he’d be allowed to get 10 of us into the pit, which was the VIP section in front. So, at 10:15, a few of us were ushered to the front to watch the best act of the weekend! A total once in a lifetime experience!! We hung for awhile that evening, Mike having just gotten off his shift, then headed to bed to snuggle (it was 40 degrees out!)
Saturday was a little slower getting up, although Mike had to giddy up to work….so, Amanda and Kelly stood in line for the tarp run, Mike went to his security detail, and I hung in camp and drank coffee! Afterwards, I headed into the venue, our co-team lugged in a couch & we all hung to listen to the tunes. The weather was phenomenal!
A few took a short hike up to some small waterfalls – so I joined, thinking I’d save my energy for the Via Ferrata we were planning to do later (unfortunately, we didn’t end up going, dang it!). That left me sleepy, so I headed back to the compound and laid about….in our amazing spread of a camp! The crew came back to grub, Mike got off work (although he went back to the VIP area to eat dinner, which was apparently gourmet, and he completely rubbed it in!) then we all headed back into the venue until about 8ish, when we headed back to give our girl Nicole a surprise birthday celebration.
She was ringing in her 30th, a new decade, in one of the most beautiful towns, with one of the coolest crews (ok I’m biased). A really remarkable night for a remarkable girl! We had some brownie cake then headed into the front row for Leftover Salmon – which Mike was able to get us dead center yet again. It’s good to know people with orange hats. The night was incredible!
Sunday morning was even slower than Saturday, as you can imagine after 3 days of bluegrass, early mornings, late nights, camping shenanigans and fumanchoos (don’t ask!). My girl Stacia and I headed to hike Bear Creek falls, a beautiful 5.6 mile hike to a waterfall, steep without being unbearable, and just enough to get the heart pumping, sweat dripping, landing us in one of the most beautiful valleys in Colorado just gorgeous!
Mike, Dusty, Jaime, Holly and a few others biked the same trails I ate it on….and all met back at camp, where another river bath ensued. Mike then left for work and I, beat with happiness, hung back at camp. I only made it in for a bit that evening, knowing we’d have to leave uber early, but with a happy, full heart. Monday morning we hit the road to reality….leaving one of the best festivals, best weekends, best feelings I’ve gotten from a group of people gathering in one place to celebrate life, music, love, and the beauty of nature. It was my first Telluride Bluegrass Fest, but won’t be my last!