Charley Crockett Charms the 2024 Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Charley Crockett made his Telluride Bluegrass Festival debut at the 51st gathering Thursday night (6-20), and left a massive impression for himself, for country music, and for Texas. It’s been said before that there’s just something about the inspiring views of the Telluride stage the coaxes the most inspired sets from performers. Charley Crockett certainly suffered this fate, putting on what might be the most animated and impassioned set of his career.

Fresh off the heels of his recent album $10 Cowboy, Crockett started the set off rattling off new tracks from the album. One of the great things about Charley Crockett and his backing band The Blue Drifters is that a familiarity with the songs is unnecessary to have a good time. With the way Crockett seamlessly pulls from all the roots music disciplines, it instigates the limbs to twitching, and the heart to racing, even when it’s 50 degrees in the intermittent high altitude rain like it was Thursday night in Telluride.

After an opening segment of new songs, Charley played an acoustic set, featuring his recent track “Killers of the Flower Moon” that he wrote with T Bone Burnett. The legendary producer happened to be at the fest this year hanging out backstage.

Then Crockett walked off the stage momentarily, his mic stand and guitar were cleared, and he came out singing just with the mic in his hand. Crockett has done this before, but not as uninhibited as he was on Thursday night, moving around the stage like a lion on the prowl circling a gazelle. Though some purists may see all of Crockett’s dancing as performative and silly, this isn’t choreography. This is him finding how to comfortably express himself in a stage presence that feels natural to himself.

Anyone who ever saw Crockett’s “real deal” honky tonk hero James “Slim” Hand perform will attest that Hand also had a way of moving around the stage as he sang. Perhaps Crockett can move a little better than Hand could in his advanced age, but the principle remains the same. If you show the crowd you can have a good time, it allows them to do the same. Crockett’s stage presence at this point is nearly unparalleled in country music.

Charley Crockett’s set took an entirely different approach than the set he played less than two months ago at his $10 Cowboy album release show at The Broken Spoke in Austin. You wondered with all the new wrinkles to the set if he would still pay tribute to James Hand as he has been for years. Sure enough, Crockett played his version of Hand’s “Don’t Tell Me That” off the 2021 tribute album 10 for Slim.

Along with a heavy dose of new songs, Crockett also ran through some of the “hits,” including “Music City USA,” “Man From Waco” (loosely about James Hand), and finished the set with Willie and Waylon’s “Good Hearted Woman.”

Along with putting on a landmark set, Charley Crockett endeared himself to Telluride in another way. The local Telluride radio station, KOTO-FM, broadcasts live from the festival all week. They stream the performances live, and in between they sometimes interview the performers. Being interviewed by KOTO is kind of its own rite of passage, though sometimes the headliners blow it off. Charley Crockett didn’t, and his folksy attitude totally won the audience over.

“I’ve been playing banjo every night for years,”
Crockett explained during the interview. “Just a few months back, I stopped doing it for now. I’ve been doing it for so long. I was going to bust it out for y’all tonight, but I’m unlicensed.”

“You need a license to play banjo?” the DJ asked.

“You ask these guys on stage. They’ll tell you you’ve got to have a license,” Charley said, referencing the parade of bluegrass maestros taking the Telluride stage all week.

Charley Crockett on KOTO

Charley also said that he never thought he’d have an opportunity to play the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. He talked about being a traveling busker in Telluride and other towns in the San Juan Mountains on Colorado’s Western Slope during his transient days.

“But you can’t have bluegrass without the blues,” Crockett said, justifying his presence at the festival.

The Telluride Bluegrass Festival has always been known over the years for booking the best of music from a wide range of genres, along with the bluegrass greats. Right now, Charley Crockett is some of the best live music in country music you can find. He is on fire right now, while still always trying to remain humble. That’s what his album $10 Cowboy is all about.

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All photos Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos. For more live coverage from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and others events, follow Saving Country Music on Instagram.

Horn/keys player Kullen Fox (check the bolo)
Guitarist Alexis Sanchez
Pedal steel player Nathan Fleming
Bass player Jacob Marchese
Drummer Mayo Valdez

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