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Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Bluegrass may have evolved from country’s "Appalachian mountain music," but Telluride’s Bluegrass Festival has added a distinctive Rocky Mountain note to the mix.

Since its inception in 1973, the festival has featured traditional bluegrass bands from across the nation, but when contemporary Colorado bands started adding the quintessential bluegrass instruments—mandolin, fiddle, guitar, upright bass, and banjo—to their lineups, their version of the "high lonesome sound" garnered national attention. It forced bluegrass to undergo several transformations, sometimes right before the Telluride audience’s eyes, as the crowd’s enthusiasm prompted more and more on-stage experimentation.

As the festival gained in popularity, it brought more bluegrass artists to Colorado, and crossover between bluegrass and other musical styles became more common. The festival earned the moniker "Woodstock of the West." Colorado bands such as String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon, and Yonder Mountain String Band performed regularly at the event, appealing to a younger audience and encouraging more experimentation.

Now the Telluride Bluegrass Festival draws such popular acts as Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Bonnie Raitt, and Counting Crows—not exactly bluegrass purists. It has also boosted the popularity of other bluegrass gatherings around the state, including a sister festival held each July at Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Lyons, Colorado, a town of about 1,600 that has become a bluegrass artists’ colony.

Updated: 2014-01-16

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