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Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2013: on day 2, a surprise band emerges

Telluride, Col., June 21, 2013

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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The day began innocently enough, as any day in paradise ought to. Arriving toward the end of Sarah Jarosz's opening set, we caught enough to reconfirm our suspicions that the young Ms. Jarosz, now all of only 21, is indeed one of those child prodigies one only reads about but rarely gets to witness. Her choice of covers - Dylan's Ring Them Bells among them - prove the prerequisite to honing a careful tuned youth, that is, to learn from the masters.

Lake Street Dive proved something of a revelation, a heretofore unknown entity that with a sound that was rather illuminating. An earnest four-piece ensemble featuring a stand-out stand-up bass player (it ought to be noted that stand-up bass greatly outnumbers the electric bass at this event, much the same way that fiddles, banjos and mandolins also tend to dominate), the group's chief mark of distinction was the way in which they alternated their lead instrument between guitar and trumpet. It also gave them a jazzy sort of sensibility which served their singer's vampish style well.

Covers of George Michael's Faith and the Jackson Five's I Want You Back show more variation than one might otherwise assume from their unlikely instrumental array, further proof positive that the Lake Street bunch may be yet another band worth watching.

Tim O'Brien's band, featuring the equally renowned Bryan Sutton on guitar and banjo player Noam Pikelny of the Punch Brothers (soon to be known by all as the Punch Cards due to a deliberate slip of the tongue by Mr. O'Brien), brought back more of the unceasingly familiar, given that the now hugely bearded O'Brien can claim over 30 Telluride appearances of his own. True to the Telluride template, O'Brien and company varied both the mood and the melodies, tossing in a pair of Dylan covers (Senior and Tombstone Blues) with their own rugged fare (Big Sandy River, Look Down That Lonesome Road, The Water Is Wide et. Al.).

Another stalwart of the scene, Peter Rowan, rocked out with more than the usual gusto, spurred on by special guest Sam Bush (who apparently gets no rest all weekend, being he's in constant demand for guest appearances). From reggae riffs to the Native American ode, The Land of the Navajo, Rowan proved himself a master of all trades, unafraid to occasionally up the ante with amplitude. The absence of Panama Red, a Rowan standard, was auspicious, but by ending the set with his oft-covered classic Midnight Moonlight, he all but assured the fact his fans would leave satisfied. Which they were.

The earnestly intent Punch Brothers/Punch Cards followed next, greeting the multitudes with repeated shouts of "Ahoy," apparently to honor the fact it's the title of their current EP. Several songs from the aforementioned disc were included in their close-kit performance (a description that could be applied literally as well as figuratively since all five musicians tend to do a lot of huddling in close proximity), but an unexpected cover of the Beach Boys' Surf's Up was the most dazzling part of their performance, thanks to their straight on high harmonies and the meticulous way they applied their own instrumental prowess to the song's complex composition. Ahoy indeed.

Ultimately, it was left to String Cheese Incident to close out what had been a harried but prosperous day. Happily, their reggae-infected rhythms provided a joyous conclusion. By now, the dancing had become contagious, the milling hordes now actively engaged in reacting to the rhythms. With fiddles ablaze, a song like Can't Wait Another Day seemed especially appropriate. We, however, would choose to call it a day... until the next one came along.