“You damn right, I've got the blues, From my head down to my shoes”—Buddy Guy
Telluride Blues & Brews Festival announced that this year’s 27th annual gathering in Telluride Town Park was canceled. It came as a surprise to no one, not even rainbow-pooping optimist me. At least that little grain of uncertainty can be purged.
Like the majority of humans taking up space on the planet, living during a pandemic is a first for me. We’re chafing at the bit, weary of missing our families, weary of the politicization of wearing face coverings, weary of having the things we love the most snatched from our collective grasp. A summer without live music makes me feel like I’m on the receiving end of a flurry of Ali punches. But still, I’d rather be without a festival than a loved one. I’ll happily play it safe at home, rather than writhe with the crowds to the music that makes me whole.
Blues & Brews and I are old friends, though I haven’t been there quite from the beginning. I remember Steve Gumble’s maiden voyage in 1994. Well, I heard it. We were living in Shandoka, and the intermittent waves of roaring from Colorado Avenue made its way into our new apartment. I’m not sure why I didn’t go. It might have been too cold for my liking, or maybe it’s that when it comes to adult beverages, beer is not my first choice (this in spite of serving as San Juan Brewing Company’s bar manager at the time). Of course, by then I might have suspected I was pregnant. The very first fest was called the Brewer’s Festival. Gumby’s other love, blues music, had not yet muscled onto the scene. In any case, I remember being in a crabby mood and muttering about the jubilation invading my unpacking. What was probably actually going on was a severe case of FOMO.
But the next time Steve set up the festivities on Colorado Avenue and invited the up-and-coming String Cheese Incident to play on a stage no higher than my shins, it was game on. And I probably drank beer. FOMO no mo’. I don’t think I’ve missed but more than a handful of September celebrations since. It is, to my thinking, such a fine way to cap off our glorious Telluride summers.
I don’t remember when I started, but I’ve been writing the artist bios and assorted other pieces for the Blues & Brews program for quite some time. It’s my favorite side hustle of the writing year. Early each year I get an email from festival production manager Courtney McClary Yug, whose juggling skills amaze me to this day. A festival is a wriggling basket of moving parts and she pulls it all together like the Dude’s rug. She asks me if I want to write for the festival again and lets me know who they’ve booked so far. Do I want to write for them again — does B.B. King make a guitar string sing? Courtney doesn’t even ask anymore. She just knows I’m in deep.
Lineup in hand, my post-work and weekend days are filled with Spotify sessions and Youtube trawling as I research the acts and let their music infuse me. I write each bio with that artist’s music playing, letting their distinctive voices and stories guide me.
And writing for Blues & Brews has fine-tuned my short-form writing skills to a degree I would have never thought possible. Try describing a band in 150 words. The headliners get maybe 250-300 words. Maybe. I delight in this hard-won skill. Casey Nay, the graphic arts genius who designs the program, is my task-master in this regard. And you best not be late on your deadlines.
Since I work on the program well before the lineup is announced, I am under an oath of secrecy. I have been notoriously tight-lipped, no matter how much cajoling and tongue-loosening substances have been thrown my way. The lineup is a secret I love keeping. It’s like being in possession of a magic bean or having a special tattoo on a hidden part of your body. You just don’t show it to everyone. The sole time I broke that sacred vow I did it right in front of Gumby. My excuses are several, all of them lame. We were at the Buck. It was raucous and crowded and adult beverages may have been involved. Gumby had just signed The Black Crowes and he whispered the glad tidings in my ear over the din of the crowd and thumping of the jukebox. I whooped and a buddy asked, “What’s that all about?” “The Black Crowes are coming to Blues & Brews!” I exulted. Right in front of Gumby. He gave me one of those “You knob,” looks, but I am happy to report I was forgiven, never to transgress again.
Though the festival joins the ranks of 2020 canceled events, I can take comfort in knowing that next year holds all the promise and excitement that the virus stole from us this year. I can look ahead to an email from Courtney sometime in early February with the initial round of artists for first Jazz, then Blues & Brews. That is when I get busy at my desk, as winter rages outside. With every keystroke, with every song pumping from the speakers, summer and Blues & Brews get nearer.
But for now it’s true — damn right I’ve got the blues.