The year 2020 was long and quiet — too quiet — but this year festivals are emerging from an unwanted hiatus brought on by the pandemic. The season’s final gathering in Telluride Town Park, the Telluride Blues & Brew Festival Sept. 17-19, is back on the calendar with a musical lineup that celebrates the blues in all its myriad forms. The festival, now in its 27th year, made it official Wednesday with the announcement of a lineup featuring headliners Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats, Buddy Guy, and Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. Tickets go on sale today (Thursday).
Of note, is the fact that Blues & Brews will be the only festival to go live at 100 percent capacity. The festival’s cap is 9,000. According to a news release, the festival will feature a modified operating plan and special protocols to deliver a highly managed and safe environment for attendees, staff, artists, vendors, volunteers and community members. The operating plan was crafted in collaboration with local, county and state officials to safely host the festival that follows guidelines from governing health organizations, while creating a controlled, safe and enjoyable environment.
“We’re excited to welcome people back to Blues & Brews in a responsible manner,” said fest director Steve Gumble. “SBG Productions has created a thorough and flexible plan and is prepared to adapt if regulations were to tighten or relax, knowing the pandemic landscape can change quickly.”
Festival attendees are encouraged to get vaccinated, though it will not be required for admission. Sanitizing and hand wash stations will be more prevalent than ever, and a team of roving “Safety Rangers” will be available to answer questions and ensure safety protocols are met. Plans are in place to keep on-site traffic flowing smoothly, with mitigations in place for potential congestion areas. Festival staff will adhere to a daily health screening.
However, you’ll have another year to practice your keg stands and string your pretzel necklaces as the Grand Tasting has been postponed until 2022. Also on hold until next summer are three other festival-related events, the Blisters & Blues 5K fundraiser race, Blues for Breakfast and the Telluride Blues Challenge. Additionally, there will be no kids area, and fest organizers are recommending children ages 12 and under not attend this year. Things could change, depending on numerous factors surrounding the still lurking, though abating, coronavirus pandemic, but sacrificing certain elements of the festival on the altar of safety and caution is worth being able to host the music on the stage.
“It’s a major sacrifice to not host the Grand Tasting, the Blisters & Blues 5K or have a kids area at this year's festival,” Gumble said. “All of these elements help make our event special, but proved to be too risky to produce under current circumstances. The Grand Tasting and the brews aspect of the festival is part of our heritage and is something our attendees and brewery partners look forward to every year. We have carefully examined the situation and what others in the beer festival industry are planning and simply stated, any COVID-19 safe options for an event our size were not feasible.”
Just because the Saturday afternoon Grand Tasting isn’t happening doesn’t mean craft beer lovers won’t be able to quaff heady brews over the weekend. Multiple House of Brews bars, featuring more than 18 styles of local, regional and national beers, will be on tap. Festival partner Sierra Nevada will still have its exclusive festival- and brewery-only beers on offer at the High Altitude Bar.
So, that’s the nuts and bolts on safety and suds. Music lovers, be very stoked. Though Brittany Howard was unable to rebook her headliner slot for this year, Buddy Guy and Nathaniel Rateliff were able to commit to 2021. The new headliner, making this year’s top billing a powerful triad of talent, is Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, one of the most exciting ensembles working today. Willie’s son and his band — bassist Corey McCormick, drummer Anthony LoGerfo, percussionist Tato Melgar and multi-instrumentalist Logan Metz — have a kinetic, mesmerizing stage presence, and Nelson’s engaging songs tackle everything from today’s headlines to matters of the heart. They’re road warriors, a finely tuned band brimming with chops and youthful energy.
Buddy Guy is this year’s elder statesman and one of the most influential blues guitarists ever. One of his six-string disciples, Eric Clapton, said it best at Guy’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. "No matter how great the song, or performance, my ear would always find him out. He stood out in the mix, simply by virtue of the originality and vitality of his playing." Living legend folks.
And from just over the Continental Divide, Denver’s Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats bring to the stage its distinctive brand of blue-jean blues smothered in rock and soul. Rateliff’s performances are unforgettable as anyone who saw his Telluride debut at this festival in 2015 will assert. As he told Rolling Stone about the message of his third solo record, “And It’s Still Alright,”
“I think this album is a reminder that we all go through hardship, but regardless of the hardship everything ends up where it’s supposed to.”
Gumble likely agrees.
“We are excited to be returning after one of the longest years of our lives. Music is good for the soul, and right now we need music more than ever,” he said. “We have a lot of catching up to do after a year of very little live music in the world. It is exciting to think that the festival will be returning to Telluride this September.”
Tickets go on sale Thursday at 10 a.m. and will be limited due to a high 2020 ticket rollover rate. A refund request period will be offered from June 4-18, for those who rolled over 2020 tickets and can no longer attend the 2021 event.
For more information, visit tellurideblues.com/2021-festival-update.