Sunday, September 16, 2007

On the ground in Telluride

By Donald Frazier

No broken glass. Not a single shard of it, and that’s at a beer-themed event burgeoning with glasses and bottles slung about with increasing abandon by a suds-befogged crowd.

That’s just one index of how well-run the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival is. Everything about it is clean, even the omnipresent Bob’s Johns. One part is an exceptionally mellow crowd. Lots of high-energy music, alcoholic beverage, and mass excitation, yet scarcely an tense word in the air, let alone some of the confrontation that has sadly become a feature wherever drink and raging hormones collide.

Credit is due also to the management of this year’s event. Lines begin early – some arrive at 6 a.m. for an 11 a.m.
opening – but are well-run, with no jostling and thronging. Seating areas are clearly marked, with diagonal access routes maximizing good sightlines for all, even at the back. VIP areas are spacious, but do not seem to prevent the rest of us from getting as close as we want to the music.

The rest of the amenities are also among the better in this year’s festival circuit. Food stalls are plentiful and varied, and not unduly expensive. A swarm of local volunteers mans every checkpoint, always with civility if not always with information. One pleasure compared with other festivals: almost no police presence. Nothing like being patted down for possible explosives to set a peaceful crowd on edge.

Parking is a big hassle, but accommodations are not an issue: the few actual hotels here are so expensive that camping is de rigeur. The town runs an extensive campground abutting the Festival area, with many spaces of various sizes from pup tent to RV. No campfires allowed, but a hot shower for two bucks, a place to wash dishes and, of course, lots more sparkling Bob’s Johns.

A few observations:

The Grey Panthers. The crowd here skews older than any festival in memory, as The Woodstock Generation hits
retirement age. Not just the holdout hippies with their tie-dyed shirts and bald-guy pony tails, but normal
civilians as well. Plenty of young people too, but a great relief to not be the oldest person here by two decades.

Hey, Dude. One new feature: actual, true-to-life groupies. Festival Preview was asked to provide an introduction to one bassist on stage, who seemed boyish to us but, to an tipsy yet determined 45-year old from Crested Butte, seemed ‘cute.’

Running the class lines. Telluride is one of the most expensive resort markets in the country, where hedge-fund managers from the Coasts snap up second and third homes for millions. Yet it’s full of energetic entrepreneurs offering all of the services needed to keep Masters of the Universe in style – and just scraping by. The result is a disconcerting vibe on the streets, with a clear line between the servers and the servees. Must have been like this in the Court of the Sun King.

The (Festival) Lifestyle. One new angle: many of the attendees here are practiced festival-goers, sporting tee shirts
from Lolapalooza to Merlefest to prove it. They are not just party animals, but discerning music fans with the experience to compare this event to others this year. As the crowd grows more knowledgeable and thus more demanding, we can expect the festival scene to become increasingly professional.

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