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The Telluride Bluegrass Festival has been around for 50 years, and has turned in some legendary and magical performances, collaborations, and moments over that time. Sierra Ferrell’s set Saturday afternoon, June 17th, feels like one that will be entered into those annals of legendary festival moments. It also announced the West Virginia singer and songwriter as one of the premier performers in all of country and roots music.
Hyperbole perhaps? Speak to anyone who was there, and they will attest to the power and majesty Sierra Ferrell brought to her performance. Ferrell has already been pegged as one of the top flight performers for the last few years now. But it’s as if each performance sets a new bar, and that bar is bested the very next time she takes the stage. She’s quickly moving into the headliner status in independent music.
“I don’t think I’ve played anywhere more beautiful than this place,” Sierra said taking the Telluride stage, which also happens to have the best view at the entire festival, inspiring the artists as they perform.
It was an early afternoon set, but Sierra Ferrell could have headlined the whole festival if not for the legends who’d been invited back for Telluride’s 50th. The festival’s faithful nicknamed “Festivarians” turned out in droves for the early set, and were driven wild by Sierra’s authentic Appalachia string music. When she played her original fiddle song “Fox Hunt,” the whole crowd was bouncing up and down like it was a rave.
Sierra Ferrell brings such confidence to her performances. It’s reminiscent of peak Dolly Parton When Sierra tilts her chin back and let’s it rip. Where many singers are too afraid to climb to the heights their range is capable of, Sierra Ferrell goes for it. The improvisational “oohs” she finishes most of her songs with are so haunting and spine tingling, they could constitute an 8th wonder of the world.
Again, if you think this is prone to hyperbole, then you’ve haven’t seen Sierra Ferrell live yet.
Sierra is also growing more confident as a guitar player, taking some of her own solos, and showcasing the fiddle now in multiple songs. But she’s also unafraid to lay the instruments down and focus the performance on her voice, or perform a song solo without her band, who happen to be stupendous as well, and deserve praise for the elevated level of composition they continue to bring to make a Sierra Ferrell performance something superlative each time it happens.
And of course, all of this was enhanced by it happening in Telluride, Colorado. You might have seen Sierra perform her signature song “Jeremiah,” or her stellar cover of John Anderson’s “Years.” But seeing her perform them with Jerry Douglas on dobro takes these songs to the next level. Collaboration is what the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is all about.
What’s also cool about Sierra is that when she attends a festival, she goes all in. She doesn’t go from the bus to the stage, and back to the bus. After her set, she showed up to the media tent to be interviewed on air by Telluride’s local radio station KOTO, and also sat in with the traditional bluegrass band of Jerry Douglas, The Earls of Leicester.
Then later that night Sierra took the stage at the Sheridan Opera House in downtown Telluride for a more intimate performance. Not repeating a song from her earlier set, she played a lot of classic country covers like “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke,” “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down,” and “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” She was also joined by the acoustic duo Two Runner who also had an important Telluride Fest with two performances themselves. They sang “Cold Rain and Snow” and “Rock Salt and Nails” together.
Just as Telluride faithful reminisce upon legendary moments in history when folks like John Hartford, John Prine, Bill Monroe, and others took the stage—or Del McCoury and Sam Bush traded licks—the first time Sierra Ferrell played the Telluride Bluegrass Festival will go down in infamy. Many will brag they were there, and some will even be telling the truth.
All photos below by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos
Main Stage TRACK LIST:
“Bells of Every Chapel”
“Give It Time”
“Why’d Ya Do It”
“West Virginia Waltz”
“I’d Do It Again” (new song)
“Fox Hunt” (Sierra on fiddle)
“Rosemary” (Sierra solo)
“Redwood Hill” (Gordon Lightfoot cover)
“The Garden” (new)
“Moonshiners” (with Peter Rowan)
“I Can Drive You Crazy” (new song, Sierra on fiddle)
“Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down”
“Far Away Across The Sea”
“Jeremiah” (with Jerry Douglas)
“Years” (John Anderson cover, with Jerry Douglas)