Alex Paul

Alex Paul in performance in Vaudeville at the Telluride Transfer Warehouse last year. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Schwab)

The Telluride Transfer Warehouse has “become the norm” as a summertime setting for “parties, fundraisers, DJ sets and dinners,” slam poet Elissa Dickson said.

But it was not always the case.

A few years back, the warehouse was mostly a venue with a lot of promise, if one could see it: open-aired, starry sky above, the place included “a fabulous canvas tent” that had been used as a fundraiser for Telluride Arts. The arts nonprofit forwarded a photo of said canvas setup to Dickson, events organizer for the Wilkinson Public Library. “Something about the tent got me thinking,” Dickson said. “I was like, ‘This is like a circus tent. This is like vaudeville.’”

With that in mind, Dickson organized what was likely the first-ever evening of vaudeville — a historically popular form of entertainment from about 1880 to 1930 — in the box canyon, in the modern age. Now in its third year, co-sponsored by the Wilkinson Public Library and Telluride Arts, Vaudeville returns to the Transfer Warehouse tonight (Friday). Admission is free; drinks are available for purchase from 7 p.m., and the show begins at 8 p.m.

Make that “shows.” Part of the charm of this type of evening is that it rushes by quickly.

“I was thinking our town could use a super-rootsy, casual-but-magical evening of entertainment,” Dickson said.

Accordingly, she’s packed the stage with performers of all stripes.

Erika Bush will offer a contemporary dance performance. Amy Bolte will tap dance. Dean Muggeo will perform a mash-up of ballet and hip-hop. Michelle Griffith and Jen Garcia will employ graceful, athleticism in a performance of “acro-yoga.”

There’ll be words, too, both spoken and sung: poetry from Ben Strickland; slam-poetry from Dickson; and stand-up comedy from Andy Konigsberg and Melissa Mattys. And live music — from singer-songwriter Alex Paul, fiddler Bria Light, and singer-songwriter-guitar looper Tyler Simmons.

The vibe will be immediate, improvisatory and from-the-heart. What it will not be is deeply rehearsed.

“There are so many beautiful, highly produced events” in Telluride that take weeks to come together, Dickson observed. “These performers already know their schtick; this is their practice. We’re essentially meeting artists where they are. Each person gets about 5-10 minutes to perform. You get a ‘best of’ feel, because people prioritize. It’s an engaging, fast-moving showcase. It’s super-fab!”

So what do the artists get out of it? After all, this event is free. You might say the payoff is priceless: “There’s such an authentic feel here. It’s an interesting crossroads of so many disciplines that you just don’t find anyplace else,” said Alex Paul, winner of the Blues Challenge at last year’s Blues & Brews Festival. Paul will return to perform at this year’s Blues & Brews Festival two weeks hence. Before then, he’ll be at the Sherbino Theater in Ridgway. You will have to pay to see him at those venues, but Friday night he’ll perform solo (and along with fiddler Bria Light) for free. “I tour and perform all over the Western U.S.,” Paul said simply. “Vaudeville is something I make a priority of doing every year.”

It’s also a sure bet that the audience will see performers in fresh ways, as well. Konigsmark, for example, is not only a minister at Christ Presbyterian Church, he’s a stand-up comic who used to live in LA and tour four nights a week. “Before my wife and I moved here, I used to tour on a regular basis,” Konigsmark recalled.

“I love doing comedy. It’s an honor and a gift to perform for our community, especially in front of a crowd that’s excited to hear my stories,” he said.

Dickson found a description of vaudeville on a vintage poster, and has used it as tagline for Friday night. “Vaudeville,” the saying goes: “A dazzling display of heterogeneous splendor to educate, edify, amaze and uplift!”