2022 Telluride Bluegrass Festival Lives Up to Legendary Status

Certain events and venues take on an exceptional status in music, simply from the moments that happened there, the memories made, and the artists discovered. Over time, these locations take on a gravity unto themselves from all of that history accumulating to where it becomes something to experience just to stand within their midst.

Such is the case for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which celebrated its 49th Anniversary in 2022. Not strictly a bluegrass festival by any stretch—and known historically for allowing more progressive players from the discipline like newgrass and jamgrass performers a place to be showcased, they’re far from restrictive for who they book.

This became clearly evident when the Jack Black music project Tenacious D was slotted as the Thursday night headliner in 2022. Completely inappropriate and unintuitive, but totally genius at the same time, the duo’s self-aware and satirist version of heavy metal dad rock was definitely well-received on their first show back since the pandemic—in a picturesque and remote mountain town in front of 10,000 (mostly) bluegrass fans.

That openness, and an emphasis upon showcasing talent regardless of genre was also reflected in two of the other headliners over the weekend—Tyler Childers and the Turnpike Troubadours from the independent country world. Arguably the two hottest names from that side of the music (Zach Bryan notwithstanding), it made 2022’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival the perfect opportunity to explore this historical gathering from the country perspective. You can read a detailed review of the Tyler Childers set HERE, and the same for the Turnpike Troubadours HERE.

But much of the balance of the 4-day festival was devoted to artists such as Béla Fleck, who brought his Grammy-winning ensemble My Bluegrass Heart with him to Telluride, including Sierra Hull who also turned in numerous solo appearances over the weekend, guitarist Bryan Sutton, and the amazing fiddle player Michael Cleveland, who might be the best in the business at the moment.

It was these award-winning and mouth-watering assemblages of bluegrass talent that make Telluride so unique. You might hear these artist collaborations in the studio. But to justify getting everyone on the same stage at the same time, it often takes an event like Telluride. This was underscored on Sunday as well, when the house band of Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Edger Meyer, and Bryan Sutton took the stage.

You also saw this when Grateful Dead bass player Phil Lesh performed with his Lesh and Friends project. When Béla Fleck and Sam Bush joined in for a rendition of “Cumberland Blues” off the Dead’s iconic country record Workingman’s Dead, it made for one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments you had to be there to experience. Members of Greensky Bluegrass also made an appearance with Phil Lesh, and Sam Bush’s Saturday night set ended with so many people on stage for a jam on Bob Marley’s “One Love,” it might be easier to list off the 2022 Telluride performers who missed it.

Speaking of Sam Bush, he never gets enough credit for the entertainment value he brings live. And even though his career status is centered around newgrass, Bush has appeared on hundreds of country recordings over the years. Same for Jerry Douglas, who has over 1,600 albums in his credits, including most any country album with dobro over the last 30+ years. They may be bluegrass players, but so many of the songs you cherish in country music were interpreted by players who regularly appear at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Still, it’s bands like Greensky Bluegrass, who capped off Friday night, and the Infamous Stringdusters, who closed out Saturday, that the Telluride Bluegrass Festival seems to be built for. Too “out there” for the tradgrass circuit, but perfect for that sweet spot between traditional bluegrass and jam band music, they represent the spirit of what Telluride and the festival promoter Planet Bluegrass are all about.

And of course, no festival is complete without creating moments of discovery. The Lil Smokies probably already deserve to be headlining their own festivals at this point—they’re that good. Big Richard was arguably the greatest discovery on the weekend. The festival gave them a prime Saturday spot, and they did the most with it with their blend of traditional old-time songs and murder ballads, and current music done as bluegrass covers. You can certainly consider them as contenders for the funnest band in bluegrass, illustrated by how when they took the stage, a set of inflatable penises took to being tossed about in the crowd. Read a more detailed review and see more photos of their set HERE.

And of course, Molly Tuttle might have had the most-anticipated and best set of the festival. Similar to Billy Strings, she’s busting out well beyond bluegrass circles with her adept and enthusiastic take on the music. You can read a full report of her set, and how Dierks Bentley got involved HERE.

As for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival itself, it is a well-organized, well-produced, gorgeous festival in a picturesque place that is well worth the trek. That said, it is not necessarily a leisure event. From the rigmarole one must go through to secure tarp space out in the field, to the inclement weather that can significantly affect things at 10,000 feet—blazing hot sun to near freezing showers—you have to be dedicated, and flexible. Telluride is not exactly affordable either, especially these days.

But the memories made there, the careers forged, the “moments” facilitated, including in 2022, make the Telluride Bluegrass Festival well worth the effort, and worthy of the prestige it holds for folks throughout the bluegrass, country, and roots world.

Apologies to artists not pictured/featured. For more coverage and individual reviews, check out Saving Country Music’s Instagram Page.

Béla Fleck
Béla Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart with Sierra Hull, Bryan Sutton, Michael Cleveland, and others.
Sierra Hull, who performed numerous times throughout the week.
Bryan Sutton
The incomparable Michael Cleveland
Jack Black of Tenacious D
After being so manic on stage, Jack Black called for oxygen (on multiple occasions)
A view from the Telluride Festival site
Rising Appalachia
Leah Song of Rising Appalachia
Bluegrass legend Tim O’Brien
The Lil Smokies
Paul Hoffman of Greensky Bluegrass
Festival grounds with a waterfall in the mountains off in the distance.
Jerry Douglas, with the name of a Uvalde shooting victim on his dobro. Each member of The Jerry Douglas Band had a victim’s name on their instrument in tribute.
Chris Thile, The Punch Brothers, and one microphone
Big Richard
Dr. Joy Adams of Big Richard
When Big Richard took the stage, the Big Richard’s came out in the crowd.
Sam Bush
Infamous Stringdusters
Music also took place in a city park in downtown Telluride, free to the public (Big Richard playing).
The Duhks
Leonard Podolak of The Duhks
Rhiannon Giddens
The Telluride House Band with Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Bryan Sutton, and Edger Meyer
Phil Lesh closing out the festival Sunday night.
Town of Telluride
© 2022 Saving Country Music
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