Organizers of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival were unsure if the event would make a comeback in 2021 until just months before the event.
The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the spring was a promising signal that music lovers would be able to gather together in the summer, but uncertainty lurked. Local and state governments still required masking and social distancing, and the threat of new variants was still very real.
But by April 2021, Planet Bluegrass, the company that organizes the beloved event, felt confident enough to throw the festival. Producers’ efforts were not without challenges, however.
“It was a constantly changing game. One day we would make a plan and the next day everything would be irrelevant,” said Grace Barrett, spokesperson for Planet Bluegrass. “When you start planning a festival, it’s about one year in advance… We were iffy on whether or not it was going to happen until mid-April, so we had about a month and a half to pull together everything you’d normally do over months and months.”
Instead of the traditional four days with 11,000 attendees, Telluride Bluegrass Festival took place over two weekends and capped ticket sales at half the usual maximum. “Festivarians” were, at first, required to buy tickets in 10-person pods, the thought being that they would only mingle with their crew and stay socially distant from others. (The fest later sold general admission tickets when COVID-19 restrictions changed.)
This year, however, when longtime festival goers return for the 49th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival, happening June 16-19, it will look and feel like the event they came to love pre-pandemic.
“It will be a four-day festival over the solstice weekend with the same capacity we’ve had since 1991. We will have artists and craft vendors, food onsite, a bar, the normal tarp runs in general admission areas and all that stuff,” Barrett said. “It’s the Telluride Bluegrass Festival as you remember it.”
Not to mention an endless supply of pickin’ and stompin’. Headliners this year include Tyler Childers, the Punch Brothers, Tenacious D, Sam Bush Band and Greensky Bluegrass. In addition to performances on the main stage in Telluride’s Town Park, several artists will play encore sets during late-night shows at local venues, such Sheridan Opera House and the Palm Theatre for the Performing Arts.
The return to normal is a welcome one, especially as the festival approaches its 50th anniversary in 2023. Barrett said Planet Bluegrass hasn’t begun planning special attractions to celebrate the milestone, but another one of its events might lend some inspiration. The RockyGrass Festival in Lyons (July 29-31) turns 50 this year and organizers are planning panels and workshops featuring longtime attendees and artists, as well as a “through the years” photo display for those in the merch line to peruse.
“We’re thinking of ways to do that for Telluride with years’ worth of video, audio, artwork, and archival stuff to look through,” Barrett said. “We’re hoping to showcase as much of Telluride’s history as possible.”
Telluride Bluegrass Festival is one of the biggest summer events in the mountain town and typically sells out shortly after tickets go on sale. The event is indeed sold out for 2022, too, but Barrett recommends those hoping to attend last minute hop on the event’s official forum, festivarian.com, to find resale tickets, camping spots and pro tips. Organizers “do not support scalping or buying from third party sites,” she added.
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