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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Telluride Bluegrass Festival, 1998
Telluride Bluegrass Festival, 1998 Photo: J. Janover

Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Considered one of the country's most progressive annual bluegrass festivals, the Telluride festival has grown to be a premier world event since the first one in 1974. In recent years, the festival has expanded to include musicians who play jazz, rock, country, folk, pop, world, celtic, newgrass, as well as bluegrass, sometimes blending different styles. The festival embraces the celebration of music in one of the country's most spectacular settings-San Juan Valley.

The Telluride festival audience, called festivarians, are not only enthusiastic, but loyal, some making this event an annual vacation. The festival is limited to 10,000 people a day, and sells out a little earlier each year. Among musicians who have played the festival throughout the years are Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Tim O'Brien, Peter Rowan, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, John Cowan, and David Grisman. Newer regulars are Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Shawn Colvin.

The mountain town of Telluride began in the late 1800s, when prospectors followed the gold rush. Originally called Columbia, the name was changed nine years later to Telluride to avoid confusion with another town named Columbia. Telluride is an ore containing precious minerals combined with the element tellurium, then thought to be the richest of all ores. The city gained a kind of notoriety when Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch pulled off their first bank robbery in Telluride, taking the $24,000 deposit meant for the miners' payroll.

During the Gay Nineties Telluride began attracting tourists who sought to experience the last of America's Frontier. Festivals were popular, and Telluride put on one of the state's best Fourth of July celebrations. In 1953 Telluride Mines shut down, and 90 percent of the male work force became unemployed. Luckily another company bought the mines, but townsfolk realized they needed to develop other industries, such as tourism, to be less dependent on mining. Because of Telluride's historic significance, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. In 1969, a ski resort was built outside the town and many young adult skiers discovered the beauty of Telluride, and moved there. The population reached 1,000. The ski resort supported the town in winter. And in summer, the town started hosting more festive events, such as a hang gliding competition and a film festival. When the Idarado Mining Company closed in 1978, Telluride completely became a resort town.

The first Telluride Bluegrass Festival was started by a bluegrass band, Fall Creek, and was held during the four-day Independence Day celebration. It attracted 1,000 "festivarians." Each following year, the festival became more professional, adding bigger acts. By 1978, many people had heard of the festival, which attracted 7,500 people, through word of mouth and its two albums. However, the festival promoters did not make money and some residents believed the festival should move to another location to handle the growing crowds. Other residents wanted to keep it as part of the city's legacy and as a contributor to its economy. The 6th annual festival resulted in two CDs, and was filmed by the Boulder public television station. By 1983, the festival had become a nationally recognized festival and has continued the tradition.

Project documentation comprises a large report, including a history of Telluride and of the festival, newspaper clippings, the silver anniversary double CD from the festival in 1999, a 1992 festival CD, a video of the 17th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival, festival brochures, and slides.

Originally submitted by: Wayne Allard, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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