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Telluride Bluegrass Festival: Our Expert Visitor's Guide

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Kelli
13 min read

It's June in Telluride and the mountains are bursting with life; verdant greens spread across the valleys, while the high peaks cling to their snowy mantles. The waterways swell with the rush of melting snow, tracing vigorous paths through the landscape. As music fanatics make their pilgrimage to this charming box canyon, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival looms on the horizon, marking its half-century of harmonizing nature with melodies. This festival isn't just a showcase of diverse musical talents; it's a sanctuary of breathtaking splendor where you can sway to the rhythms of the summer solstice and let your spirit soar. Indeed, it doesn't get much better than this.

If you're plotting a trip to this legendary event, this guide will lead you to an unforgettable experience. We'll navigate you through the journey to Telluride, equip you with a list of essentials to bring along, and highlight the can't-miss activities during your stay. With our treasure trove of local secrets, top sights, and invaluable advice, you're all set to fully immerse yourself in the wonders of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.


The Telluride Bluegrass Festival: What Makes It So Special


The Telluride Bluegrass festival attracts a broad audience and showcases the evolution and influence of bluegrass music. It is an experience like no other. From the moment you arrive in the picturesque town, you will feel swept up in the magic of this unique festival. 

Community and Culture

The festival fosters a strong sense of community and camaraderie among attendees. Many festival-goers camp in the nearby town park or surrounding areas, leading to impromptu jam sessions and a shared experience that extends beyond the main stage performances. Local tip; if you arrive in Telluride prior to the festival, head to the campground for pre-festival activities. Leading up to 5 days before the festival, campers organize a slew of activities, including themed parties, homebrew tastings, and jam sessions. 

Environmental Awareness

Telluride Bluegrass Festival is known for its commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. The festival organizers implement eco-friendly Leave No Trace practices to minimize the event's impact on the environment. Your efforts help preserve the beauty of Telluride for future generations.

Workshops and Activities

In addition to the main stage performances, the festival often includes music workshops, where attendees can learn from the musicians, and other activities like yoga, guided hikes, and educational talks that enhance the overall festival experience. Make sure to check out the Elks Park stage for intimate performances. Engage with the musicians, learn an instrument, or simply soak in the stories and songs.

High-Quality Production and Intimate Atmosphere

The festival is well-organized with excellent sound and production quality. The organizers put a lot of effort into ensuring that the performances are of the highest caliber and that the festival runs smoothly. The festival has a cap on ticket sales to maintain an intimate atmosphere and to prevent overcrowding. This limited attendance policy contributes to the event's exclusive feel and ensures a more comfortable experience for festival-goers.

Fostering Emerging Talent

While Telluride has a rich history of featuring legendary bluegrass musicians, it's also a launching pad to stardom. The festival has hosted Band and Troubadour Contests to promote emerging talent, giving these ambitious musicians the chance to springboard to the spotlight.

Take it from Anders Beck, the dobro player from Greensky Bluegrass. They were boosted into the spotlight by their band contest win in 2006, they found their final missing piece on their first mainstage set in 2007, and they are emblematic of the way the festival shaped a band that is now one of the leading proponents for the Telluride tradition of abandoning tradition and blazing new trails.

“This festival absolutely changed the course of my life, and I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that until right about now. It was a huge left turn for me that day — everything changed. It led me to where I am now. It’s pretty amazing. It really changed everything for me.” -Anders Beck in an interview with the community radio station KOTO during the festivals 50-year celebration

Where Does The Telluride Bluegrass Festival Take Place?


The festival grounds are held in the town park at the end of the box canyon in Telluride, Colorado. This former mining town is located in the southwestern part of the state, nestled in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. It is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities. The town's total area is 3.58 square miles, with an elevation of 8,750 feet. 
Outside of the festival grounds, you will find other pop-up venues, workshops, and late night shows in authentic venues such as the historic Sheridan Opera House in Telluride's downtown area.

The History of The Telluride Bluegrass Festival

The Fall Creek Boys kicked off the 1st Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 1974. It coincided with Solstice weekend, and thus began the initial seeding along the path that would become known by fevered Festivarians across the globe.

“By not knowing what to do, it actually made it possible, because we didn’t realize things like you’re supposed to have money to pay the bands before you hire them. If we had known, it never would have happened. We just sort of did it the Telluride way” -Kooster McAllister

By 1975 a​ young, starry eyed 23 year old Sam Bush made his first  journey up the Canyon. He played on a small stage in Town Park to a moderate crowd of 3,000 people.

Over the last 50 years, the festival has had a diverse number of headliners such as Willie Nelson, James Taylor, John Hiatt, Ani Difranco, Johnny Cash, John Prine, Barenaked Ladies, Counting Crows, Robert Plant, Sturgill Simpson, Talking Heads, Tenacious D, and the list goes on… In the festival's early years, it was primarily attended by locals and regional visitors. As word spread about Telluride's unique atmosphere and musical talent, attendance grew significantly. Today, the festival attracts thousands of people who come to experience the magic of Telluride and its musical wonder.

Attending The Telluride Bluegrass Festival Today


Going to the TBF in Colorado is an unforgettable experience from the charming mountain town to the breath-taking natural landscape, you can't help but fall in love with Telluride.

Getting Tickets for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Planning your Trip

The Telluride Bluegrass Festival takes place over the Summer Solstice, spanning four days from Thursday to Sunday. Tickets go on sale mid-November and sell out fast so mark your calendar to secure your spot. Consider purchasing camping passes to immerse yourself fully in the festival experience. If camping isn't your style, book accommodations early as lodging in Telluride can fill up quickly. 

As they say in Telluride “if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes”. Mountain weather can be unpredictable, so come prepared for all weather conditions. Bring rainboots, rain jacket, umbrella, warm layers such as a down jacket or fleece layering. When the sun comes out, the high altitude adds an extra intensity to the sun. Bring a hat, sunscreen and sun protection clothing. Comfortable shoes are a must for dancing and exploring the festival grounds. Don't forget your refillable water bottle to stay hydrated at high altitude. Temperatures can range from freezing to high 70’s and has been known to snow at times. If you forgot somweething, don't worry Telluride has mutliple places to shop. For outdoor equipment head to Jagged Edge or the Alipneer. Looking for a new hat, Crossbow will customize your favorite accessory that you won't ever leave the house with. It's best to plan your visit well in advance, as accommodations and festival passes tend to sell out quickly. By being ahead of the game, you can ensure a smooth and hassle-free experience at the festival.

Getting To & Around The Telluride Bluegrass Festival

There are several ways to get to Telluride for the festival. The most common way is flying into one of the nearby airports and then taking a shuttle or rental car to Telluride. The closest airport is Montrose Regional Airport, which is about an hour and a half drive from Telluride. Other options include flying into Durango or Grand Junction airports. If you prefer to drive, you can make a scenic trip through the mountains, which is an experience in itself.
Once you're in Telluride, there are numerous ways to get around the town and between festival venues. The most convenient option is walking, as everything in the mountain town is within a one-mile distance. However, there are free bus options that run late. You can also catch a pedicab from one side of town to the other. If you’re staying in Mountain Village, the free one-of-a-kind gondola system takes you between the two towns. 

Being Part of the Community While Visiting The Telluride Bluegrass Festival

When attending the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, remember that it's a community event. The locals are welcoming and accepting; you will feel right at home. As with any public event, being aware of your surroundings and taking necessary safety precautions is crucial. Also, respect your impact by following the "leave no trace" policy. It's also important to note that Telluride has a high altitude of about 8,750 feet above sea level. This can cause altitude sickness, so staying hydrated and taking breaks if needed is crucial. For this reason, the festival provides complimentary water stations. By taking care of yourself, you can fully enjoy everything the festival and the town offers.

At the Festival

Lace up your running shoes and get ready to sprint to the stage. A Telluride tradition, the tarp run happens when the festival gates open. The most dedicated festival goers will camp in line to be the first for the tarp run to get a prime location in the park. Looking for some entertainment, here’s a video of the tarp run. 

 

Once settled, you're ready to enjoy the lineup of world-class musicians.

Some of the highlights of this festival is sampling the amazing food vendors. Make sure to check out the dumplings from Sisters Pantry, Chicken Sandwich from the Chicken Coop, Crepe Escape, Snappa Fish Tacos, and Whitewater Burritos.

Our Favorite Things To Do While Visiting Telluride 

While the festival is the main attraction, there are plenty of other things to do and see in Telluride. Here are our top recommendations that will make your visit to the TBF even more memorable:

1. Explore Main Street

Take a stroll down historic Main Street and check out the charming shops, galleries, and restaurants. The street is pedestrian-friendly and lined with colorful Victorian buildings. It offers a unique shopping experience. Across from the Elks Park is locally owned and operated Telluride Music Store. 

2. Hike to Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls is one of the most iconic landmarks in Telluride, and it's just a short hike away from town. The trailhead is toward the end of the Telluride Valley 1 mile past town park. The hike takes you past 3 picturesque waterfalls to Bridal Veil. This is a must-visit spot for any nature lover or outdoor enthusiast.

3. Take a Scenic Gondola Ride

For a bird's eye view of Telluride and its surrounding mountains, ride the free gondola between town and Mountain Village. This 13-minute scenic ride offers breathtaking views and is a great way to get an overview of the area. Plus, it's completely free!

3. Visit the Telluride Historical Museum

Learn about the rich history of Telluride at the town's historical museum. This museum is located in a former hospital building from the late 1800s. The museum has interactive exhibits and artifacts that display the town's mining history. It also highlights how the town became a popular ski destination.

4. Raft the San Miguel

Telluride offers access to some of the most picturesque and thrilling rivers in Colorado. The San Miguel River, known for its clear waters and scenic canyons, provides a range of rafting experiences. Beginners and families will enjoy the lower section, offering a perfect blend of mild rapids and tranquil floats. For those seeking more excitement, the upper section boasts challenging rapids that test the skills of even experienced rafters.

5. Hit the trails and go for an E-bike or Mountain Bike Ride

The region boasts a diverse range of trails, from gentle, rolling terrains for beginners to challenging descents on tech trails. Riders are treated to stunning views with trails that weave through aspen groves and wildflower meadows, offering a unique blend of natural beauty and exhilarating adventure. Guided tours are available on traditional bikes or full-suspension electric mountain bikes and provide an added benefit of expert insights into the terrain, ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience.For those seeking a more relaxed pace, guided eBike tours in Telluride are the perfect choice. These tours allow riders to enjoy the scenic beauty without the strenuous effort, thanks to the assistance of electric bikes. Exploring historic sites, picturesque valleys, and serene mountain trails becomes accessible to everyone, regardless of their fitness level. The eBikes make it easy to cover more ground, ensuring that you don’t miss any of Telluride's breathtaking sights.


6. Scale the Via Ferrata

The best way to shake that hangover off, give yourself a thrill of a lifetime. scale along cliffs using climbing techniques on an exposed hiking trail? The Telluride Via Ferrata is your answer. Test your mettle by walking along narrow ledges and traversing across multiple cliffs as you're secured by a cable with the Telluride valley extending below your feet. This brilliant combination of rock climbing and hiking is a real-life obstacle course suspended high above the end of the valley, offering a unique perspective of the region. Traverse across the cliffs at the end of the box canyon capturing immersive views of Bridal Veil Falls - the highest free falling waterfall in Colorado, the town of Telluride in the distance, and the surrounding peaks of the San Juan Mountains. The Via Ferrata is not just an activity; it's a step into the extraordinary!

7. Eat & Drink In Telluride’s World-Class Establishments

Looking for some chill vibes in a friendly cafe? Attached to the bookstore, you will find Bruno coffee shop. Need a quick take-out lunch? Lunch Money is your spot. If you want a lively and local scene? By the Telluride Gondola Station you will find Oak, The New Fat Alley, providing the best southern style BBQ west of the Mississippi with a Southwestern twist and the best margaritas in town. Looking to class it up, head to the Sheridan where you have multiple options from a rooftop bar, to a casual historic bar with pool tables, to a fine dining steakhouse in the chophouse.  Don't miss the flatliner,  Telluride's signature drink. 

FAQs:

How can I get tickets to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival?

Tickets can be purchased online through the official Planet Bluegrass website. The festival runs Thursday to Sunday 10 AM to Midnight. If you are looking to buy tickets last minute, try the official website or the many Facebook groups. Sometimes you will have luck in front of the Box Office on the poster board. 

What Can I Bring Into the Telluride Bluegrass Festival?

The festival is general admission lawn seating, so bring a tarp, low-back lawn chair, and protection from the elements. Alcohol, glass, and video cameras are not allowed. You're welcome to bring in your own food. Cash is King. 

Is Telluride Bluegrass Festival Kid Friendly?

Yes, kids are welcome to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, in fact tickets for kids 12 and under are free as long as they are accompanied by a paying adult. If you come with the whole family, bring a sunshade and set up in the designated spots toward the back of the park. Make sure to pack ear plugs, toy instruments, costumes, and a fold-up wagon so you can more easily transport your offspring and your gear. And check out the Family Tent‘s lineup of activities from crafting to face painting to the annual talent show and parade. Don’t forget the sunscreen and have a plan if you get separated from your kids. 

Where should I stay when attending the Telluride Bluegrass Festival?

There are numerous lodging options available in Telluride and the surrounding areas. Many attendees camp in the designated festival campsites or stay in hotels, condos, or vacation rentals in Telluride or nearby Mountain Village. It's recommended to book accommodations well in advance due to the festival's popularity.

What are the Camping Rules and Regulations?

The Festival operates several campgrounds and can be purchased at the time that tickets go on sale. Camping is sold per person for everyone camping who is 13 years old and up. Please note that sleeping in cars is prohibited in the Town of Telluride and dispersed camping is limited. A camping ticket is for tent camping only. A separate vehicle pass is required for camping with your vehicle, this includes pull-behind trailers and anything that requires a license plate.

All campgrounds have porta-potties and some have permanent bathrooms  with shower facilities. Camp Fires are limited to propane fire pits as long as they are under adult supervision and never left unattended. Generators are not allowed so if you need power, bring a battery bank. 

Campgrounds close at noon on the Monday after the festival. 

Final Tips for Attending The Telluride Bluegrass Festival

The Telluride Bluegrass Festival is a unique and memorable event for music lovers, nature enthusiasts, and those looking to experience a vibrant cultural gathering in one of Colorado's most scenic locations. It also offers the chance to explore the beautiful mountain town with stunning scenery and endless outdoor activities. This festival has become a popular destination and sells out fast so don't hit snooze on this one.

Stay connected with the festival community through the Telluride Bluegrass Festival app for updates, lineup information, and more. Remember to pace yourself, stay hydrated, and respect the festival's family-friendly atmosphere.

With over 26 years of years of attending the festival, my advice is to embrace the spirit of Telluride. Let the music guide you, make new friends, and create memories that will last a lifetime. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival is more than just a series of concerts; it's a celebration of community, nature, and the soul-stirring power of bluegrass music.

I hope this guide has given you a taste of what to expect and inspired you to plan your visit. I have shared everything you need to know to make the most out of your trip to Telluride for the Bluegrass Festival. Don't forget to check out our recommendations and enjoy all that this charming mountain town has to offer!

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Written by: Kelli

Travel Company Owner: Kelli Gleason is the Owner of Telluride Tourbase, a travel tech company focused on helping people find the best tours and activities. She is a 5th generation Colorado native and currently resides in Telluride, Colorado. You can often find her on a sailboat in the Caribbean or connecting with nature on her skis, bike, hiking shoes, yoga mat, or a raft. 


All of our content at Tourbase is written by experienced travel writers who have visited all of the locations we recommend. And our review board of local tourism experts ensure that all the information we provide is accurate, current and helpful

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