One For The Ages: Chris Thile & Billy Strings Open Telluride Bluegrass

Billy Strings and Chris Thile opened the 51st annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival Thursday (6-20), and they didn’t have a “performance,” they had a conversation in a language that only these two maestros could possibly comprehend. As imperceptible as much of it was to a lot of the audience, it was still one of the most magical things many in attendance had ever experienced, perhaps including Billy and Chris themselves.

The Telluride Bluegrass festival is transpiring in beautiful Telluride, Colorado this week (June 20th to 23rd). Over the last few years, it’s become a tradition for Chris Thile of Nickel Creek, The Punch Brothers, and well, Chris Thile fame to open the ceremonies. The hardcore attendees of Telluride Bluegrass known as “festivarians” all make sure to arrive early, but the rest of the crowd tends to trickle in slowly throughout the day. It wasn’t that way in 2024. Everybody was there to take in this once-in-a-lifetime pairing.

“After a few years of seeing these festival lineups come and go, and me not being on them, I decided to come anyway,” Strings said. He was a last-minute addition, squeezed between his massive tour at the moment selling out amphitheaters and areas across the United States. Throughout Billy’s career though, he’s always done things to make sure he remains grounded to the roots of the music, and his fan base.

Billy was also hanging out in the campground Wednesday night, jamming with fellow musicians and fans—another Telluride Bluegrass tradition.

Billy Strings and Chris Thile have played together before in one-off collaborations and jam sessions, but never anything like this. For the most part, it was a traditional bluegrass set with the pair running through classics like “More Pretty Girls Than One” and “I’ve Been All Around This World,” only with unparalleled musicianship. But they also pulled out some eclectic covers, including “Knights in White Satin,” “Rocky Racoon,” and Radiohead’s “Videotape.”

Billy and Chris played all the notes in the hour and 15-minute set. They’re having to ship in more from Denver for the rest of the fest. It was an explosion of wild improvisation and a deep exploration of composition. This is a set that will be talked about for years, and added to the annals to bluegrass history.

A (mostly) complete set list:

“I Am a Pilgrim”
“Wild Bill Jones”
“More Pretty Girls Than One”
“Lonesome Midnight Waltz”
“What Does The Deep Sea Say?”
“Ground Hog” (Doc Watson)
??? – “Risky Business”
“I Wish You Knew” (Jim and Jesse)
“Knights in White Satin” (The Moody Blues)
“Bluegrass Stomp”
“Rabbit In A Log”
“Little White Church in the Valley”
“Cherokee Shuffle”
“Rocky Racoon” (The Beatles)
“Videotape” (Radiohead)
“The Train That Carried My Girl From Town”
“I’ve Been All Around This World”

All photos by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos. For more photos/videos from the 2024 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, check out Saving Country Music on Instagram.

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