The 19th Annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival is set to kick-off on Friday, so we got a quick preview from the guys behind the scenes of what B&B attendees can expect this weekend.
Can you talk some about this year’s event and how it might be different than in years past and what you most excited about?
Even in our 19th year we are still fine tuning the experience for everyone at Blues & Brews. We are adding things like Imag (Image magnification) so that people in the back will be able to see the artists just as good as those who are up front, cell phone charging stations so that all those social media peeps can keep connected without draining their battery, and live steaming from our homepage at Tellurideblues.com. We have even added some tricks to our light show for this year to better enhance the experience.
What we are most excited about is the eclectic musical mix our line-up is offering this year. We feel it’s one of our strongest and hope to build on this for the 20th.
This has been going on for 19 years - where/how was the idea of B&B born? And why the combo of blues music with micro brews?
It started out in 1994 strictly as a beer festival. Early 1990’s there was a big explosion with the craft brewing industry and we jumped on board. Our beer tasting was an overnight success and as we grew we realized we needed to take the focus off of just drinking beer so we added music and changed the name to Telluride Blues & Brews in 1997. Steve Gumble, the owner/director of the festival loves Blues music and to him Blues & Brews goes hand in hand! The craft beer aspect of things is the backbone of our success. Quite honestly we have not changed the beer part of the festival. The only difference today is that there are a lot more breweries from all over the Country, and a waiting list of those who want to participate with a lot of amazing music for a small mountain town in our opinion.
How is the music line up selected each year? Do you strategically try and mix up the genres some? Obviously the B-52s and Phil Lesh & Friends is a diverse combo.
Steve Gumble: “I like to think we are an eclectic and intimate festival compared to these big massive festivals. I like to keep our line-up fresh and appealing to all demographics both young and old. There is usually a theme, subtle at times but nonetheless some sort of common thread. The origin of most music can be traced back to Blues. If you drilled down a bit into the songs the Grateful Dead played you would realize they played quite a lot of traditional blues songs. The B-52’s? Well I like to push the [music] genre a little bit to keep things interesting. Most people who grew up listening to the Grateful Dead and Phil Lesh at some point in their life came across The B-52’s – I know I did. Two complete different bands and styles yet both existing and flourishing simultaneously and impacting many of the same musical lives. I like to throw in the Bluesy jam stuff like Gov’t Mule, The lee Boys, Robert Randolph as well as the new, what I like to call “Indie Blues”. Take Little Hurricane for example. A band everyone is about to hear about, very blues influenced yet just starting to watch their career blossom – much like The White Stripes when they first started out in the late 90’s. Bands like Little Hurricane, Heartless Bastards and Pickwick are what I refer to as my hidden weapons! We think, people will be blown away by this up and coming talent.
How do the musicians feel about the festival?
BB King summed it up in 2004: “Of the 90 different countries I have been to, I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than what you have here.” We pride ourselves on making this a special place to play for our musicians. We want our musicians to feel welcome and at home in Telluride and my staff does a tremendous job in doing just that. We are in this for the fun, we are not some large promotional company, we are one big family who are really proud of what we do and hope that the musicians feel the same.
How do the breweries feel about the festival and how do you go about choosing what breweries are invited?
After 19 years of being a beer festival we are pretty much on auto pilot when it comes to the breweries. We have breweries that have been here since day one like Ska Brewing in Durango who’s doors opened about 6 days before the first festival started. The brewers love coming to Telluride because it is not often they get to show off their product in front of 9,000 beer enthusiasts. They also get to see some amazing music the whole time they are pouring their beer. We try and give priority to Colorado breweries, like our newest town brewery, Telluride Brewing, but at the end of the day we have breweries from as far away as Georgia.
What difficulties arise in having a festival in a small town like Telluride - is camping or lodging ever an issue or traffic?
It takes a lot of pre-planning. If we forget something we can’t just run out to Home Depot and pick up supplies. Although, for us the biggest challenge is lodging. All the musicians want hotel rooms and suites and we are a town of condo’s and homes. We seem to keep everyone happy and we dominate a lot of the more traditional hotel rooms. Our hotel spreadsheets would make anyone dizzy if you looked at them. We open up our in-town camping to a lot more people during festivals so finding camping doesn’t tend to be an issue. We love the camping aspect of the festival because it keeps things affordable and quite frankly is the best seat in town – adjacent to the main stage field. Other than that there are not a whole lot of issues. We have been doing Festivals in Telluride for forty years and if there is any town in American thaat knows how to throw a good party, it’s Telluride.
The website mentions the telluride acoustic blues competition. Have you had any prior winners or finalists of this competition go on to sign any record deals or gone onto national acclaim?
Not yet but we are hopeful. There are some incredibly talented people that participate in the competition every year. Many are very successful at what they do, have gotten record deals since playing here, and are proud to claim their association to the Festival. What is the capacity of the event each year and has the festival ever sold out?
The capacity is capped by the Town of Telluride at 9 thousand people per day. We have sold out some or all aspects of the Festival every year. This year is looking to be our largest attendance in the history of the Festival. 2003 was close when we had The Allman Brothers and Joe Cocker headline. I love the size of the festival and don’t have any intentions of increasing the size any time soon. We have a year round town population of just over 2 thousand people so when you add 7 thousand people to that you can’t help but create impacts. I want to keep those impacts within reason and 9,000 seems to be the magic number at this point in time.
What parts of the festival other than beer and concerts do you wish for people to check out but often miss out on?
Blues for Breakfast is always a hidden gem. We do a fundraiser with the Elks Club where we provide blues musicians and they provide a yummy and affordable pancake breakfast for all those in the know! Shhhhh
Does Telluride Bluegrass have any assistance in staging Blues & Brews?
Bluegrass does not have any direct assistance in staging Blues & Brews. We have a great relationship and quite often bounce ideas and thoughts off of each other. I have always looked up to and respected Bluegrass as a 20 year older brother and they have earned our respect!
What do the festival coordinators feel makes Telluride B&B unique, and what new things do they strive for from year to year to keep is special?
Here is our secret, it is called the expectation theory. We set everyone’s expectations pretty high and then try our hardest to blow those expectations out of the water. It is what keeps people coming back year to year. Telluride is unique in itself, add The B-52’s, some Phil Lesh, Gov’t Mule and a few frosty beverages…..need we say more?