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Telluride Bluegrass Festival: 7 Best Things We Saw

From Ryan Adams and the Infamous Stringdusters’ alt-country journey to Sam Bush’s triumphant set

Ryan Adams Telluride Bluegrass

Ryan Adams joined the Infamous Stringdusters at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Dylan Langille

The Telluride Bluegrass and Country Festival is defined by its Colorado location, nestled in a box canyon in the San Juan Mountains with only one road in. People have been traveling to the four-day festival for 43 years, drawn by campground picks, a family reunion vibe and a lineup that is never exclusively country or bluegrass. String music dominates, but genre outliers ensure creativity runs high throughout the weekend. This year Ryan Adams and indie band Houndmouth shared the lineup with bluegrass legend Del McCoury and country star Emmylou Harris. From one-off collaborations to artists who spin tradition, here's the seven best things we saw at Telluride.

Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush, Telluride Bluegrass

Sam Bush with Emmylou Harris at the 43rd Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Telluride, Colo. Photo by Dylan Langille

Dylan Langille

Best Perennial MVP: Sam Bush

There are two can't-miss acts at Telluride: the Sam Bush Band and the one-of-a-kind Telluride House Band, which Bush leads on mandolin alongside Béla Fleck (banjo), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Jerry Douglas (Dobro), Edgar Meyer (bass) and Stuart Duncan (fiddle). This year, vocalist John Cowan was the musical cherry on top. Both bands serve as the main draw for thousands of festivalgoers, consistently providing the most memorable sets and feeding the cult of Sam Bush.

Bush has been coming to Telluride Bluegrass since 1975, when he was playing with Newgrass Revival, and today, he's considered the festival's benevolent king. This Friday (June 24th), Bush will release his new album Storyman nationwide, although the album was available for early purchase to attendees. During his mainstage set, which at one point featured 17 people onstage (including Emmylou Harris), Bush debuted new tracks alongside classics, like Telluride's de facto anthem "Circles Around Me." As the sun set and the crowd sang along, the Telluride scene Bush helped cultivate — built on string music, propelled by innovation, and sustained by community — came to fruition.

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