2010 Telluride Bluegrass Festival

The annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival will be filling the mountains of Colorado with music this weekend. Unlike last week’s Bonnaroo, in Manchester Tennessee, the festival in Telluride draws a much more mellow collection of acts. This years line-up includes – Lyle Lovett, Allison Krauss, Béla Fleck, Yonder Mountain String Band, Del McCoury Band, and more.

Coinciding with the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, the festival is not only a celebration of bluegrass but of the beginning of summer. Nestled in the San Juan mountains at 8,750 feet elevation, Telluride is a fantastic spot to begin the season. Mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, ghost towns, and the highest cascade in Colorado (Bridal Veil Falls) await those who want something beyond the music.

A four-day festival pass will set you back $185 but the day passes are just $60. Camping is still available for the concert so if you want to get into the mountains for some “pickin” act fast.

Bourbon, beer, wine, and equines in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region

My desire to take advantage of flight deals and see new places often takes me to destinations I might not have otherwise considered. An $89 round trip flight from Chicago to Louisville, for example, is how I ended up discovering that there’s a lot more to Kentucky‘s Bluegrass region than horses.
The Louisville airport is larger than Lexington and receives more daily flights, which means for most people, it will be cheaper to fly into Louisville than Lexington. The two cities are an hour’s drive away from each other, so you can easily see both over a long weekend, no matter which airport you fly into. Louisville is the larger of the two cities- actually it is the largest in Kentucky. It’s not a major city though, and if you come expecting a Bluegrass Chicago, you may be disappointed.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of things to do in Louisville though. Boxing fans will want to visit the Muhammad Ali Center and baseball lovers can’t miss the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. The West Main area, also known as museum row, is home to several impressive art, history and science museums. Fort Knox and the Belle of Louisville (the oldest Mississippi-style steamboat still in use in the US) are also popular attractions.

In Louisville, I stayed at the 1888 Rocking Horse Manor. A totally restored historic house just south of the downtown area (an easy 15 minute walk), it features its original stained glass, antique furniture, free wi-fi, and a cooked-to-order breakfast included in the rate. The furnishings look a little like they came from your grandma’s house, but the hosts are helpful and friendly, the breakfast (and soft, chewy cookies available all day) is delicious, and the house is full of hidden nooks and crannies where you can escape and relax. Rates start at around $85 per night.

To find Louisville’s trendy scenesters (yes, they do exist), head to Proof on Main, a lounge/restaurant in the 21C Hotel. The menu features artisanal small plates (like bison bone marrow or grilled fennel relish) and eclectic main plates like roasted beet risotto and Amish chicken that start at $15. The drink list emphases the local Bourbon. The $10 Woodland Cider (bourbon, clove and apple cider) was excellent and you can take your drink into the adjoining museum and browse the modern art installations while you sip.

For a more casual meal, check out the pub grub at Bluegrass Brewing. They serve all the standards like burgers, pizzas and salads, plus local specialties like the Hot Brown – a giant sandwich of turkey, tomato, bacon, cheese and Alfredo sauce. After a few Bourbon Barrel Oatmeal Stouts, it’s just the kind of food you may need to avoid a morning hangover.

Lexington is pure horse-country. The airport is just outside of Keenland, where you can place your bets and watch athletic Thoroughbred horses speed around the track. True horse enthusiasts (and anyone with kids) should head to the Kentucky Horse Park, a working horse farm, event grounds, and museum dedicated to all things horse. The park is home to over 100 horses (less in winter) and often hosts horse shows and competitions like the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event. Admission is $15 for adults and well worth it. Plan on spending at least 3-4 hours onsite. The farm offers horseback and pony rides (as do several other farms in the area). Many racing and breeding farms also offer tours (by appointment) to visitors.

The Bourbon Trail runs between Lexington and Louisville and features eight distilleries producing Bourbon, which is the United States’ only native spirit and is produced only in Kentucky. You can visit one or two (I highly recommend Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark) or head to the Whiskey Heritage Center to try multiple brands in one spot.

If Bourbon isn’t your drink of choice, you can also visit several wineries in the area – there are over a dozen within an hour’s drive of Lexington. At Wildside Vines, about 20 minutes west of the city, you can sample eight of their award-winning wines at no cost. Be sure to try the creative dessert wines like Blueberry and Blackberry.

For a fun night on the town, try the Cheapside Bar and Grill, a local favorite tucked away on a side street in the downtown core. It’s always packed, the daily drink specials are a great deal, they often have live music on weekends, and the Kentucky Bourbon Ale is strong and cheap.

There are many familiar chain hotels in the downtown area and further out of the city, you can stay the night at several working horse farms that offer accommodation. For $55 a night, you can also try the Motel 6. It’s a five minute drive (or $10 taxi) out of the downtown core. It’s basic but clean, and with the money saved, you can afford a few more bottles of Bourbon or Kentucky wine for souvenirs.

Gadling’s guide to Summer music

Summer. Music. Could any two words in the English language possibly go so well together? There’s just something about warm weather that makes you want to be outside, bare feet touching soft grass and dirt underfoot, hands in the cool night air, eardrums fluttering to the vibrations of a strumming guitar.

And aside from Summer, what could go better with music than travel? Whatever your favorite genre, this season is prime time to catch some of the best live performances you’ll see all year. So what if nothing good is playing near your hometown? Jump in the car or book that cheap plane ticket. Music is just the excuse you’re looking for to get out on the road. From the smallest local city festivals, to the giant multi-headliner events now dotting the country (and the world), it’s time to start making some travel arrangements to catch your favorite band.

We won’t pretend to list out every music festival and event going on this summer – there’s way too many. But we’ve been to our fair share of good ones – and we know what’s worth the trip. Grab those earplugs and stop making those Free Bird requests, Gadling is bringing you our picks of this Summer’s best music events, both in your backyard and around the world.
International Festivals
There are some music events so incredibly epic, bringing together so many great bands, and unique performers in such unique settings, that they’re worth a trip halfway across the globe. That’s not to mention peculiar quirks of the local crowd. What better way to meet the locals than your shared love for Metallica? The international festivals below are definitely worth your money’s worth:

  • Sonar Festival – Barcelona, Spain (June 19-21) – the cutting edge Sonar Festival, hosted in one of Europe’s most dynamic cities, brings together multimedia art and music for three days of decidedly high-tech fun and dancing. This year’s festival features big names like M.I.A. and Justice. Did we mention the city is on a beach for when you get tired of the party?
  • Glastonbury – Glastonbury, England (June 27-29)Glastonbury has long been known as one the one the premier festivals in England, if not the world, offering a huge lineup of some of pop music’s up-and-comers as well as established superstars. This year promises a similar showing, featuring hip-hop star Jay-Z, singer songwriter Leonard Cohen and bands like indie-rockers The National marquee acts such as Franz Ferdinand, Q Tip and Bruce Springsteen
  • Gnaoua Festival – Essaouira, Morocco (June 26-29) – if your musical tastes run towards the more esoteric and global, consider a trip to Morocco’s Gnaoua Festival, held each year in the lazy seaside village of Essaouira. Gnawa is type of music indigenous to Northern Africa, characterized by its soulful chanting and acrobatic dancing. As if a visit to the whitewashed town of Essaouira wasn’t reward enough, you’ll bear witness to some of the most amazing musicians from across sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Roskilde Festival – Roskilde, Denmark (July 3-6) – Denmark is not exactly a hot spot when you think of great musical events, but the annual Roskilde Festival is proof the Danes really know what they’re talking about. This year brings yet another killer lineup including uber-rockers Radiohead and Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails, Kanye West, Lucinda Williams, and many others.

U.S. Festivals
Alright, so the Spanish music festival is out of your budget this year. That’s not a problem really – live music is practically a birthright of American citizens, guaranteeing that each summer you’ll find a heap of great musicians touring at a concert hall or ampitheater near you. To help you figure out what to check out, we’ve broken down some of our favorites based on geography: East Coast, West and Central. Take a look:

  • EAST COAST – All Points West, New York, NY (July 31- August 2) – brought to you by the same team that pulls together the annual Coachella Festival in Indio, CA, New York City’s All Points West Festival is now entering its second year. Much as you’d expect from a sister festival to the excellent Coachella, All Points West brings in top-notch talent like the Beastie Boys and MGMT to a gorgeous waterfront park facing the Statue of Liberty.
  • CENTRAL – Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, TN (June 12-15) – many people wondered what was going on when a new festival was first announced in 2002 on a 700 acre farm in Tennessee. But the detractors have long since been silenced by Bonnaroo, now one of the country’s most famous music festivals. 2009 brings yet another eclectic and stellar lineup headlined by Bruce Springsteen, Snoop Dogg, Phish and Wilco.
  • CENTRAL – Lollapalooza, Chicago, IL (August 7-9) – consider Lollapalooza as the grandfather of national music festivals. It’s been around longer than just about every other major Summer festival around, originally created by Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell way back in 1991. The fact Lollapalooza no longer tours the country each Summer also works to your advantage – the festival now permanently resides in wonderful Summer climes of Chicago. Headliners this year include Depeche Mode, Kings of Leon and The Killers.
  • WEST – Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Telluride, CO (June 18-21) – you know you have a good thing going when your festival has been ongoing for 36 years. That’s exactly the advantage of the long-running Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a celebration of a distinctly American musical style nestled in the scenic heights of the Rocky Mountains. This year’s lineup includes a diverse roster of performers including David Byrne, Elvis Costello as well as old favorites like Jerry Douglas.

Ready for an encore? We only had space to list a few of our favorite summer musical events here. What did we miss? Have a favorite festival you think we should know about? Leave us your thoughts in the comments and there very well may be a Summer music roundup “Part II” in the near future.

The Steep Canyon Rangers are worth a road trip

My 200-mile list is a collection of musicians for whose concerts I am willing to travel up to 200 miles (and often farther, really). Traveling for music is a great way to discover small towns, eclectic venues, and meet cool people who share your interests.

I’m not talking about stadium headliners — nothing against these concerts or musicians, but with many of these shows, you might as well be watching on television at home. You’re so much more present when you’re part of a smaller group, which is why I especially love the folk scene, hosted by all the best coffee houses in America. All members of my 200-mile list are folk musicians. Of course, “folk” covers a lot of ground.

Near the top of my list is the Steep Canyon Rangers, a young bluegrass band from North Carolina. Winners of the 2006 International Bluegrass Music Awards’ Emerging Artist of the Year title, the Rangers are up for Album of the Year and Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year at this year’s IBMA’s. Their sound is a solid mix of instrumentals, traditional and original bluegrass, and gospel, with lots of humor and fun thrown in.My favorite part of each Rangers show is a toss-up between their a capella gospel performance of Wade Mainer’s “I Can’t Sit Down” and their fan-favorite Nascar tune “Feelin’ Just a Little Like Dale.” Though I couldn’t care less about Nascar, I love how much fun the band has with this one — especially Nicky Sanders’ creative use of his fiddle to impersonate cars on the raceway and police sirens. In this song and all their others, the band has so much fun on stage, it spills into the audience and you can’t help but enjoy yourself (even if you hate Nascar).

In addition to great music, witty banter is a part of every show, and bass player Charles Humphrey will have you busting a gut. Check the Steep Canyon Rangers’ tour schedule to see if they’ll be coming within 200 miles of your hometown. If you want to say hi, you can find me at the Third Annual Mountain Song Festival, hosted by the Rangers themselves in Brevard, NC.

Below is a video of the Steep Canyon Rangers performing the title track from their latest album, Lovin’ Pretty Women.

Band on the Run: It’s Not All Bluegrass in Floyd, VA

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life.

Floyd, Virginia was good to us. It was our first time in this region and we were greeted with open smiles and eager listeners. As I round out the last week of this feature series “Band on the Run,” I’m really glad I’m going to get a chance to tell you about this place.

The town of Floyd is really small. I mean, really small. The county of Floyd is bigger, of course, but I was asking about the town’s population specifically and I found out that not even five hundred people live in the town itself. They joked that The Sun Music Hall – where we were playing – was on the “edge” of town while the Mercantile was the center of town. I smiled but didn’t really get the joke until I went outside to get something from the van and saw that the mercantile was just a few buildings over.

I laughed late, but at least I laughed!

Hugging the famous “Blue Ridge” (Low-lying Appalachian mountains that appear to be blue from a distance and represent one of the most travelled tourist roads in the United States: the Blue Ridge Parkway), this is the namesake for the well-known Floydfest. Floydfest is not actually in Floyd, exactly, but it’s nearby and the festival name stuck. Floyd, VA is also a stop on the Crooked Road Musical Heritage trail.


Our wonderful hosts – two women who had seen us play at the CampOut Festival closer to Richmond in May of 2006, Miriam and Maria – told us that every Friday night there are jamborees on this Crooked Road Musical Heritage trail. Rain or shine, every Friday night people come from all over and pull out their instruments to play traditional old-time and bluegrass music in the local country store in Floyd. When the store is too full, they spill into the streets and play outdoors. All over this Crooked Road hosts these kinds of events, at various venues in various small towns and in various buildings like storefronts, cafes, community halls. Miriam described the performers as anywhere from kids to grey-haired, long-bearded seniors plucking and stomping and jangling away in their Sunday best.

Too bad we were there on a Sunday. I would have loved to be witness to this!

All was not lost, however, because the show was great fun. Seems to me that this place is open to lots of different music despite its ties to Bluegrass and Appalachian music! We did our usual swirling blend of folk and jazz and funk and pop and rock and world. . . and the audience wanted us back for an encore. I guess it’s not all about Bluegrass on the Blue Ridge!

The show took place in the Sun Music Hall which is part of a larger organization called Winter Sun Inc. In the same building there is also a café (Café del Sol), a clothing store, a gallery, a restaurant, a venue and the offices that house those who promote the shows and also manage a few regional bands. It’s all connected and, in my estimation, shows that the overall business owners are savvy; trying to be entrepreneurs in this day and age is hard enough and so diversifying what you’re doing (sort of like artistic polyculture) is a great means to ensuring the sustainability of your business. Or, in this case, businesses!

The clothing store is particularly interesting to me: Winter Sun Fashions. It sells clothes that are fair trade and manufactured in Ecuador. In fact, the company did so well that they raised enough money to have showers installed at the factory where the clothing is made. Each worker makes higher than average Ecuadorian wages and lunch is provided by the company as well. This outlet is one of several across the United States.

Our show was warmly attended (for a Sunday night and in a town we’ve never played before) and included lots of chatting and hanging out afterwards. Those are the best shows, really. I love the chance to get to know people who live in these places so that I can get a real feel for the area. Everyone was incredibly kind.

One gentleman, a tall guy probably in his fifties with a white beard and inquisitive eyes, talked to me about biodiesel and long-range versus short-range solutions to this petroleum dependency. Another woman, just a little more around my age, noticed the reference to Chinese medicine in my album title and talked with me about health and being active. Someone even greeted me in Mandarin, having read that I had been in China for three months, and though the conversation was short (consisting of only one sentence that she had memorized), I was touched that anyone had done research on us before we arrived.

We drove away today waving out the window to our hosts and feeling instantly nostalgic for the slow southern drawl and hospitality. We’ll be back to Floyd for sure. (Or nearby, at the festival — fingers crossed!)

Hopefully overlapping a Friday so that I can attend the Crooked Tree Jamboree in these parts. Now that sounds like a party! Imagine what our music brains could learn from those old-time tunes. Sign me up. The more styles the better!