Molly Tuttle Has a Moment at Telluride Bluegrass Fest (+ Dierks Bentley)

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For years we knew what a special seed Molly Tuttle was. She won the International Bluegrass Music Award’s Guitarist of the Year in 2017 and 2018 in an ridiculously crowded field of fellow up-and-comers and wily veterans, but this recognition didn’t feel like the apex of a career, it felt like just the very beginning. Wait until she blossomed. We had decades of dedicated bluegrass to look forward to from this former family band player turned flatpicking maestro for the ages.

But that’s not exactly how Molly Tuttle’s career manifested as she made her way out of the shadows of bluegrass side player gigs and “featuring” roles. She explored the realm of folk and songwriting, and productively so, perhaps not wanting to be hemmed in by the sometimes restrictive world of bluegrass. She wanted to make sure she defined herself, and opposed to being defined by the expectations of others.

But all of that changed when she announced the formation of her bluegrass backing band Golden Highway, and released a full-blown bluegrass album in Crooked Tree earlier this year. So often when it comes to highly-anticipated albums, our expectations outpace even the possibilities of reality. But this was not the case with Crooked Tree and Molly Tuttle. It was everything we wanted and hoped for from Molly Tuttle’s long-anticipated romp into bluegrass.

But what’s happening now with Molly Tuttle live takes it to even another level. The demure and reserved girl with otherwise blazing fingers has let it all loose with Golden Highway, having more fun than she should be allowed to, allowing few inhibitions to get in her way, even bearing her midriff in crop tops in many appearances in opposition to Billy Monroe’s suit and tie standards. Molly Tuttle was never restrained as a picker. She could articulate whatever she envisioned, only restricted by the physical laws of how fast the human fingers can articulate. But now she’s unafraid as a human, and it’s resulted in some of the best music being made at the moment within any genre.

The enthusiasm she has rekindled for bluegrass is conferred to the crowd, and has helped light a spark under the entire genre. This was in top form when she took the stage for the 49th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado on Friday, June 17th with Golden Highway. A bucket list event for any bluegrass player, playing on that stage had special meaning for Molly and her cohorts.

“I envisioned playing these songs on this stage, and it’s a dream come true,” Molly said, but her set started out a little soggy. Right as she took the stage, rain started falling, and then pouring. Molly was protected by the stage itself, but some went scurrying for shelter, while others fished for their ponchos. Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway kept on playing.

Though the diehards in the field held out and wouldn’t miss Molly Tuttle for anything, in the very front rows of the VIP section, few seats were filled due to the rain. But in a moment only the Telluride Bluegrass Festival could facilitate, none other than Dierks Bentley showed up, rain still pouring down, and he plopped himself right down in the front to take in Molly Tuttle’s set, and show his support. It was pretty darn cool.

Of course, Bentley is a part-time Telluride resident, and has a long history with bluegrass himself, first coming up playing places like The Station Inn in Nashville, and releasing the album Up on the Ridge featuring The Del McCoury Band, Alison Krauss, Chris Thile, and The Punch Brothers. Dierks definitely deserves “good dude” kudos for braving the weather. He also stuck around for the Tyler Childers set, and while leaving, made sure to hunt down Molly who was also watching side stage, and convey his appreciation for what she’s doing.

This isn’t the first time Dierks has seen Molly Tuttle. A couple of years ago at Telluride, Dierks, Molly, and mandolin player Sierra Hull performed the song “Tennessee Blues” together.

But this moment wasn’t about Dierks. It was all about Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway. Eventually the rain subsided, and they put together an excellent set that included many of the choice cuts from Crooked Tree, along with a few choice covers, like Rancid’s “Olympia, WA,” and John Hartford’s “Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie.”

Strong kudos also are deserved for the Golden Highway members Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (fiddle), Dominick Leslie (mandolin), Shelby Means (bass), and Kyle Tuttle (banjo) who are becoming like their own bluegrass superstars on the rising swell of Molly Tuttle attention.

Molly Tuttle definitely had a “moment” at the 2022 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and it’s likely to be one of many as she continues to distinguish herself as one of the top performers in the discipline.

This story has been updated.

All photos by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos

Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway
Dierks Bentley braving the rain for Molly
Bronwyn Keith-Hynes and Kyle Tuttle
Dominick Leslie (with Shelby Means in the background)
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