I have received one standing ovation at the Telluride Bluegrass festival, and it wasn’t for the time I played fiddle on a side stage. A couple of years ago, when I made my annual pilgrimage to the June event, I brought Outside research editor Ryan Krogh and a college buddy who was deep in the heart of a pre-grad-school three-month hiatus from reality. Which was appropriate. Bluegrass, as it’s known by locals, is a four-day bacchanalia of strange costumes and hoppy beer and driving wild music hemmed within the confines of a box canyon that Bob Ross might have conjured if given a large dose of hallucinogens. As I’ve written in the past, Telluride is not the best festival out there if you’re a bluegrass purist. But, for my money, it is the finest place on earth to visit if you wish to briefly pretend that minutia like jobs and electricity bills and taxes and Twitter do not exist.
We attended a Night Grass show—one of the after hours events held at town bars—at Fly Me To the Moon Saloon, an underground joint with a wooden floor that bends under dancers. The band was the terrific Crooked Still. Before long, a young woman accused Ryan of spilling his drink on her. If you know Ryan, who moonlights as Outside’s spirits correspondent, you know that the notion of him spilling an ounce of a drink is an impossibility. The culprit was my buddy, who was profoundly drunk on music and the Telluride juju and, most of all, whiskey. He was both howling at the moon and throwing his drink at it. But the ceiling and the dancers got in the way. After a couple of failed attempts to subdue him, Ryan and I made the wrenching decision to leave the remarkable show, fireman-hauling my friend out of the bar. The crowd roared its approval.
The next day, around noon, or possibly three, or maybe six in the evening, we saw a forty-something man walking around with flippers and and a snorkel mask and one of those industrial size super soakers. He was spraying his gun in the air and yelling at his retreating wife, “Am I embarrassing you???” We all toasted him and went back to the stage, where Emmylou Harris sang a song about her father that left us in ruins. That Telluride Bluegrass happens only once a year is a merciful blessing. There’s only so much of that stuff a person can take.
To do it right: Buy tickets for 2013 early—the last two festivals have sold out months in advance—and camp in Town Park. (Camp site and four-day pass, $305, available in early Devember; bluegrass.com.) Buy nightgrass tickets in advance ($20-$35). Make time for the Bloody Mary at the New Sheridan Hotel. Bring a jacket—it gets cold at night—and, for God’s sake, a water bottle.