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Eleven things that make the Telluride Bluegrass Festival magical

The view of Telluride, Colorado, from the Telluride/Mountain Village gondola.
The view of Telluride, Colorado, from the Telluride/Mountain Village gondola.
Emerald O'Brien

As the town of Telluride changes hands from tourists back to locals, and "festivarians" everywhere and finally cut off the last vestiges of Festivaria, including their wristbands, we look back at one of Colorado's most popular music festivals. The list of the best things about the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is extensive, but we cut it down to the eleven best things (in no particular order) of the music festival, which turned 41 over the weekend.

See also: Telluride Bluegrass Festival's longtime MC reflects on Colorado's most storied music fest

11. The view.

The view of Ingram Falls from the center of Telluride. This waterfall can been seen from just about everywhere in town.
The view of Ingram Falls from the center of Telluride. This waterfall can been seen from just about everywhere in town.
Emerald O'Brien

When you get to Telluride, everywhere you look is a natural wonder. Whether it's a tree-covered hill or a snow-covered peak, the mountains make a perfect backdrop for a celebration of music. And the bluegrass that originates partially in the mountains really comes alive. If you are a Coloradan, you don't have to stretch your imagination very far for this. The mountains act as both scenery and a natural sound amplifier, making it a perfect location for Festivarians to set up shop.

10. One stage.

The main stage of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is located in Telluride Town Park.
The main stage of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is located in Telluride Town Park.
Emerald O'Brien

Sure, there are those who would debate this, but only having one stage means there are no hard decisions about who you bail on because someone else that you want to see is playing. It also means that you can make camp in one spot for the day and actually sit down once in a while. One stage is a very different experience from several, and it is a major reason why TBF has such a relaxed atmosphere.

9. The tarp run.

The tarp run is pretty much what it sounds like. Every morning (or night, if you a really dedicated) festivarians start lining up with their tarps, chairs and blankets in anticipation of the mad dash to secure the closest plot of grass to the stage as possible. It's awesome because it means that everybody gets a chance to get up close, you just have to be willing to work for it. And because it happens all four days, it keeps things mixed up and significantly more fair.

But, if you aren't into waking up early or exerting yourself physically, Telluride squatting rules dictate that any empty tarp is fair game until the owners return.

 

8. The festival streams live on the local radio station.

KOTO is already an awesome small town radio station with segments like lost and found and trash or treasure, but during the festival, they live stream the entirety of the music throughout the four days (excluding some of the stingier artists.) Telluride is all about sharing the love with all festivarians - where they are attending TBF in body or just in spirit.

7. The free stage is a real stage.

There was a full house at the free stage at Elk's Park for Yonder Mountain String Band with guests Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz.
There was a full house at the free stage at Elk's Park for Yonder Mountain String Band with guests Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz.
Emerald O'Brien

Elk's Park and the workshop stage is a close second for best stage, and that's not just because there are only two. At TBF, "free stage" doesn't mean lame stage with semi-formed bands. It means a chance to watch artists from the main stage perform a more laid back set, and within just a few feet of the audience to boot. Sure, the headliners don't usually play, but at TBF all bands are created equal, and the bands that hit Elk's Park draw a significant crowd away from the main festival. The lineup will leave you completely torn.

6. The artists are everywhere.

Yonder Mountain String Band getting on the gondola. Chris Thile walking down main street. Ed Helms eating a burrito at the park (okay, he isn't an artist, but that happened). If you keep your eyes open, you are almost guaranteed to see the same artists that have been rocking the main stage walking around town, almost as if they are normal people with real lives.

5. Hippies.

A young couple attends the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in full hippie attire.
A young couple attends the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in full hippie attire.
Emerald O'Brien

Old hippies. Young hippies. Dirty hippies, dancing hippies. Frankly, pretty much everybody is a hippie during TBF, and it's an opportunity that gets taken advantage of thoroughly.

 

4. No one cares what you wear.

Many festivarians don costumes in the afternoon, like this man dressed as a strawberry.
Many festivarians don costumes in the afternoon, like this man dressed as a strawberry.
Emerald O'Brien

This is not Coachella, thank god. Dress up, dress down, do whatever you need to do to bear 40 hours of the sun at 9,000 feet. Just remember, this is a family festival, so try to keep it clean.

3. The free gondola.

The gondola in town is free while Bluegrass is afoot, and whether you are staying across the mountain in Mountain Village or you just want to ride a gondola and check out the scenery, it's totally worth taking for a spin. But really the best part of the gondola is this view:

The view of Telluride, Colorado, from the Telluride/Mountain Village gondola.
The view of Telluride, Colorado, from the Telluride/Mountain Village gondola.
Emerald O'Brien

And then this one:

The view of Telluride, Colorado, from the Telluride/Mountain Village gondola.
The view of Telluride, Colorado, from the Telluride/Mountain Village gondola.
Emerald O'Brien

2. Weird traditions.

A Christmas elf marks the tarp of some festivarians. The elf showed up all four days of the 41st Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
A Christmas elf marks the tarp of some festivarians. The elf showed up all four days of the 41st Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
Emerald O'Brien
Festivarians threw marshmallows during Yonder Mountain String Band's set on Saturday. If you look closely, you can see some of the hundreds of marshmallows that littered the sky Saturday afternoon.
Festivarians threw marshmallows during Yonder Mountain String Band's set on Saturday. If you look closely, you can see some of the hundreds of marshmallows that littered the sky Saturday afternoon.
Emerald O'Brien

Who knew dumplings went with bluegrass? They are a staple at TBF, and festivarians champ at the bit every year to get them. There are also flags to mark your tarp - some funny (the ever returning "This is Spinal Tarp"), some cute (flowers or fish), and some just weird (a Christmas elf dangling at 30 feet). And possibly the best tradition: making it rain marshmallows on Saturday or Sunday (depending when Yonder Mountain String Band is playing).

1. Special Guests

Sara and Sean Watkins called up a slew of special guests including Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch at their free stage set on Saturday.
Sara and Sean Watkins called up a slew of special guests including Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch at their free stage set on Saturday.
Emerald O'Brien

It's not just festivarians who make friends at Telluride - the artists do too, and luckily for the audience, they love to play together. Both slated TBF musicians and musicians who are just along for the ride make frequent appearances on stage. So, if you miss your favorite artist, no need to fret. If people like them, they'll be back on stage in no time.

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