A time of revelry and rejoice
It was Tuesday around 8:30 a.m. when the world began to end.
Driving along the Spur toward the Shell gas station, I noticed an ever-growing line of school buses and trucks hauling trailers, waiting to enter the station.
Sudden mass evacuation, I thought.
The end is nigh. Lord, forgive me for I have sinned , I began. But before the Earth opened up and swallowed itself in total Armageddon, I noticed a cute couple holding hands, smiling.
Bluegrass Festival, I whispered to myself. The buses and RVs were parking at the station in order to carpool others into town as the masses began to migrate from wherever they ca me from to Telluride for the summer s largest, and first, music festival.
If you ve bared witness to such a pilgrimage in the past, then this is nothing new. The festival annually draws more than 20,000 people (official numbers were not immediately available) as the longest-running Telluride music masquerade ever. The town may not literally split in half, but it s fair to say it does figuratively. The Town Park dividing line is along West Colorado Avenue (the San Miguel River provides a secondary, natural barrier), and on each side exists vastly different worlds. On the west side, you know, the side where you have to go to work and play well with others, it s business as usual. But if you dare to cross the threshold into Town Park, you ll have been thrown into a parallel universe, so alien I probably won t be able to describe it accurately in this space provided here. This world within a world is composed of temporary nations, or camps, as they re formally christened by Festivarians.
Such congregations include Camp Parasite, Camp Billy, Camp Run-A-Muck, Camp Fishbone and Camp Duktape, among numerous others.
My whole life changed the moment I walked into this campsite, Rich Ganson of Glenwood Springs said. I met a lot of musical friends from Tucson (Arizona) here. This whole camp has become a family over the last 25 years. A professional musician, Ganson has called Camp Billy home since 1984 (the camp is named after a dear friend who passed away), and can t speak enough about how the community within the Bluegrass barricade changed his life.
Basically, I would say my adult life has been transformed by this festival, he admitted. As is common in festival subculture, Ganson pointed the ignorant to a similar campground haven.
Next stop, Camp Run-A-Muck. Hippie Jerry s sourdough pizza is part of the Bluegrass Eucharist, paired with Ye Olde Crunchy Frog (a concoction that strongly tastes like chilled lemonade and vodka) to form a Bluegrass Festival Feast that s only accepted by the truly insane, or self-loathing. (Camp Creators make eager participants read a disclaimer aloud before doing a shot or tadpole of Crunchy Frog. It s a form of entertainment, I guess.)
Hippie Jerry spends most of his mortal time around Flagstaff, Arizona, as a sound engineer and music producer. He s been coming to Bluegrass for over 20 years, though, and started Run-A-Muck at the turn of the century. This year, there are about 50 permanent residents of the camp, but that doesn t include the hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors the sacred grounds will greet this year.
It s kind of become a hot spot, Hippie Jerry said of the camp s popularity. The camp regularly books bands, including Yonder Mountain String Band this year, to play the intimate space after festival hours, and welcomes everyone and anyone, including a metalhead from Pittsburgh.
You become a lifer in this, he said. I mean, where else would you rather be?
Hot Sugar, a Camp Run-A-Muck apprentice, can t reveal what s in Crunchy Frog. He s sworn to secrecy, bound by death. Coming down from Montana, Hot Sugar fell in with Hippie Jerry & Co. three years ago and quickly learned the Magna Carta of the Mountains.
It s all about everyone here having the best possible time they can, he said. Hot Sugar escorted me through the Town Park Campground to another Festivarian foray. Bevin Owens of Albuquerque, New Mexico, staggered into the central quarters of Camp Duktape from his personal tent at the exterior.
It s summer camp for grown- ups, he said of the festival.
He showed me the barroom and stage area, then pointed to a picnic table area.
Check this out, he said. Paul (another Camp Duktape elder) built this for crawfish. The camp hosts an annual (it s been three years) crawfish boil on the Tuesday before the festival starts. This year, 90 pounds of crawfish were sacrificed, alongside numerous shrimp and veggies.
It s community, man, Owens said. It almost doesn t matter who is on the stage.
This is a section that includes ancillary anecdotes from Bluegrass.
One Festivarian stumbled to the park bathroom wearing an Immortal T-shirt, featuring the Norwegian black metal band photo on the front and Born Of The Blackening Sky Of Blashyrkh on the back.
On the lawn in front of the stage, tarps and placeholders are scattered across the grass. One placeholder was a Spinal Tap flag affixed atop a long flagpole.
Herb McCloskey, a Telluride EMS and festival veteran, explained the dangers of raging too hard. It s a pretty mellow crowd, but it s supposed to be hot and sunny so I anticipate we re going to see some overheated people, and very likely people that are going to eat too much of the edible marijuana, he said.
Security guard Larry Stewart doesn t mind working the same customs gate year after year. I just love being a part of something this phenomenal, he said.
Mickey Ellenwood, Michael Odbert, Andy Haraldson and Tom Burrish, all of Boulder, have volunteered to work the festival for the past three years. What the Camp Parasite group loves most is the sporadic jams that pop up after the main stage performances. It s so awesome. We get here early to party, Haraldson said.