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Telluride Bluegrass Fest Highlights Include Sets from Chris Thile, Michael Daves, Emmylou Harris, Punch Brothers, Sara Watkins

Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2011: Elks Park view
The 38th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival took place this past weekend, set 8,750 feet up in bucolic Telluride, Colorado. Making music in various combinations over the festival days and nights and multiple stages were Chris Thile & Michael Daves, Emmylou Harris, Punch Brothers, and Sara Watkins. For photos from the festival, visit

Though the festival got under way Thursday, the first Nonesuch artists to perform did so on Friday and proved to be "the day’s highlights," according to the Denver Post's Reverb: "the dove-like voice of country legend Emmylou Harris and the sharp wit and ridiculous talent of Chris Thile."

Chris Thile and Michael Daves kicked things off with an 11:15 set of songs from their debut duo album, Sleep with One Eye Open, out last month on Nonesuch.

"With Thile leading the show—delivering punchy stories, introducing songs and railing his mandolin into unthinkable places," recounts Reverb's Ricardo Baca, "he was as likeable a figure as you’ll find in Telluride this weekend. Funny. Handsome. Talented. Devilish and mischievous, in a way ... he’s one of bluegrass’ most valuable statesmen."

Baca goes on to add praise for Daves, "a virtuoso on the guitar, and it’s a pleasure seeing the two of them fly through a set."

Not long after he finished his set with Daves, Thile joined his fellow Punch Brothers for a free set on the intimate Elks Park stage, to which various members of the group would return later in the weekend. (Indeed, our trusty Nonesuch Journal correspondent at the festival found the band to be so many different places throughout the weekend, it proved nearly impossible to keep up with them.)

By 6:15, it was time for Telluride favorite Emmylou Harris to take the main Town Park stage, where her "quiet, focused set of music was the night’s most memorable," says Reverb's Boca. "She’s a national treasure, and we weren’t surprised to look into the VIP area and see Mumford & Sons frontman Marcus Mumford watching her intently."


Day 3 of the festival, Saturday, was chock full of collaborations, with Sara Watkins inviting various friends to join her on the Elks Park stage that morning. Among them were Thile, with whom she formed two-thirds of Nickel Creek, and Thile's Punch Brothers band mate guitarist Chris Eldridge.

Much later that day, around midnight, Emmylou Harris made a guest appearance in the Old Crow Medicine Show set, as did her admirer from earlier in the festival, Marcus Mumford.

In between those sets came a special set from The Decemberists, with Watkins joining in on fiddle, as she has throughout the band's current tour. In keeping with the festival's tradition of special collaborations, The Decemberists' Colin Meloy challenged Béla Fleck to a pick-off, a rematch of sorts, with Meloy's having previously called Fleck out when he was unable to take up the challenge, as Spinner recounts. This time, Fleck was able to respond and took the stage to "battle" Meloy, who was joined by Punch Brothers banjoist Noam Pikelny, followed by famed dobro player Jerry Douglas, and Sara Watkins on vocals. It was clearly the crowd that won the battle this time around. See for yourself:


On the final day of the festival, a cold rain couldn't stop the music making. Despite the inclement weather, "Punch Brothers played a lively set that, as per usual, showed considerable love to cover songs," reports Reverb's Baca. "Their take on Beck’s 'Sexx Laws' was impressively faithful, and their 'Paperback Writer' was one of the fest’s most charming musical moments."

The tireless Punch Brothers made their way to the intimate Sheridan Opera House later Sunday night for the last NightGrass session of the festival.


For photos coverage from the festival, head to For upcoming performances from these artists, go to To check out their Nonesuch catalogs, visit the Nonesuch Store, where orders include high-quality, 320 kbps MP3s of the album at checkout.


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