Telluride Bluegrass Festival's longtime MC reflects on Colorado's most storied music fest
Benko Photographics New Grass Revival plays at Telluride in 1987.
The reach of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival extends down the mountains, across the country and around the globe. The weekend-long celebration of acoustic instruments, immaculate songwriting and untamed nature has brought big-name artists from around the world to its stage.
Next weekend, Telluride Bluegrass will celebrate its fortieth anniversary, with a lineup that includes Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell, Ray LaMontagne and more. To commemorate the milestone, the organization that puts on the festival, Planet Bluegrass, is releasing a book called Telluride Bluegrass Festival: 40 Years of Festivation. Featured in its 216 pages is an extensive collection of photos from throughout the event's history, as well as a series of essays by past performers like Chris Thile of Nickel Creek, Béla Fleck, Emmylou Harris and Tim O'Brien. The whole thing is held together by missives from Telluride's master of ceremonies from approximately 1978 to 2006, Dan Sadowsky, known to his friends and the "festivarians" as Pastor Mustard.
The book will be offered for the special price of $50 at next weekend's concert. After that, it will be available at full price at bluegrass.com/book and at any other Planet Bluegrass festival. We're reprinting Pastor Mustard's introduction below, to give you a sense of the book's contents and because he captures the scope and feel of the festival better than we ever could.
I emceed the Telluride Bluegrass Festival for thirty-one years. At least I think I did. I didn't keep a diary or copious notes or any notes. Did anyone?
When I've been asked how I got the job I always want to drop one of those Bob Dylan answers that leaves the interviewer's eyes crossed. I was hoboin' on an empty freight to nowhere and the circus queen with her green machine jumped on and screamed, "It's SNOWin'! How come you LIE about it!" That's what accounts for my smirk, anyway. But the truth, insofar as I can remember it, is funny too, just hard to recall.
For you see, my children, the mighty Telluride Bluegrass Festival you see today as a well-oiled machine had a wild, sloppy start. I lucked out and caught the first car on the TBF roller coaster. When I got involved with the festival I was fresh and young--definitely not coached for pro-level weirdness. But, like a marionette animated by a March hare, I was willing to dance, oh hell yeah.
Fred Shellman still had ties to Boulder so he must have caught my fledgling outfit, the Ophelia Swing Band, performing at some Boulder dive, whereupon he asked us to play the 2nd TBF. Ophelia Swing Band liked Fred instantly. We both were trying something impossible. Ophelia's mission was to translate big-city horn-band tunes from the early swing era to acoustic string instruments and Fred was by god going to make Telluride the center of some kind of universe, festival-wise. He didn't sell it like that. We just knew from his crazy enthusiasm. And Fred was the most funniest, most likeable person who ever lied right in your face.