The cancelation of the 27th annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival comes as little surprise to anyone tracking the COVID-19 pandemic’s relentless presence in the country. But for the festival’s director and president of SBG Productions, Steve Gumble, it was still a disappointment. In a letter posted on the festival’s website, he called the decision “the toughest I have made.” The festival was to have taken place in Telluride Town Park Sept. 18-20, featuring headliners Nathanial Rateliff and The Night Sweats, Buddy Guy, and Brittany Howard.
Gumble wrote that he and his staff have been tracking the public health news since March, when Telluride and much of the state went into lockdown. Optimism faded even as Colorado’s phased reopening has brought visitors to the area, along with a notable uptick in cases in recent weeks, including in San Miguel County. Current cases, according to the county’s website, sit at 39, with six of those being active cases.
“We held on to each day and each update and watched our hopes of holding Blues & Brews fade as each day passed,” Gumble wrote. “Having said that, it is with tremendous sadness that I sit here forced to write what I thought I would never have to write — the 27th Telluride Blues & Brews Festival will be canceled for 2020. This is the toughest decision I have made, but without a doubt, it is the right thing to do.”
Ticket-holders can exercise one of three options: obtaining a full refund, rolling their tickets over to 2021 at the same price or donating the cost of tickets back to SBG.
“As we ‘unwind’ the tremendous work that has gone into this year’s festival, the postponement is not only painful and sad, but will have a deep impact on our small, independent company,” Gumble said.
Many of 2020’s artists, Gumble said, had committed to performing at the 2021 festival. “We have also invited all 2020 artists to join us for the 2021 festival, and many artists are ready to commit, likely leaving a similar lineup in place.”
This year’s festival, in addition to the headliners, had fan favorites Anders Osborne, Samantha Fish and Tab Benoit on the lineup, as well as Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Larkin Poe, Luther Dickinson, Jonny Lang, and St. Paul and The Broken Bones.
Born as a small, Town Park gathering of craft beer aficionados, Gumble’s festival has steadily grown into a 9,000 ticket-holder major event since adding blues and blues-influenced music. Past headliners have included B.B. King, James Brown, The Allman Brothers, The Black Crowes, Robert Plant and Etta James. And the craft beer craze has hardly slowed. This year’s festival would have featured nearly 60 brewers offering 170 different brews and ciders.
Gumble said the cancelation was driven by the desire to protect the safety of its attendees, staff and artists.
“If you’ve ever attended, performed, volunteered, worked, poured beer or simply been involved with the festival, we thank you, you are truly considered family,” he wrote. “It’s because of you that the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival has grown into a gathering so unique and special. And because of this, it’s imperative to protect our festival community by waiting to reunite until it’s safe to do so.”
And, he added, fans of the festival can look forward to some “digital surprises” in the meantime.
Patrick Shehan, the festival’s partnership director, said he’ll miss what he regards as a family gathering.
“The thing I enjoy most about the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival is witnessing generations of friends, family and strangers from near and far gather to have a good time,” Shehan said. “Additionally, the Blues & Brews staff, brewers, partners, volunteer and everyone else involved are all truly an extended family to me who I feel lucky to get to work with. What we create collectively as a festival community from attendees, to staff, is special and a year off will not change that. We will be back and ready to rock when it is safe to do so.”
Those commenting on the festival’s Facebook page were understanding.
“I've been expecting this, but it just breaks my heart,” wrote one fan.” I'm going to miss you all so much. I miss live music so much. This is the only decision to make.”
Another chimed in, “We love you guys! Super sad, but also the right call and we all stand behind you 100 percent! Can't wait to be there to celebrate its return next year.”
Several commenters indicated they would be exercising the option to roll their tickets over to 2021.
For ticket information and to read Gumble’s letter in its entirety, go to tellurideblues.com. Next year’s dates are Sept. 17-19.
With the cancelation of the summer season’s last major music festival, only Telluride Film Festival remains on the calendar. Scheduled for Sept. 3-7, festival officials have given no indication that the internationally acclaimed gathering of cinephiles, creators and film stars will be canceled. Now in its 47th year, the festival has asked for, and received, and additional day — it officially begins on Thursday, Sept. 3, a request that festival representative, Brandt Garber, said would help staff provide a more spacious atmosphere for attendees.
“We’re trying to create more space,” Garber told Telluride Town Council in April when making the request for an additional day. “We need to be agile and nimble. Having more time seems it would be good for the town.”
(Garber could not be reached before press time Wednesday afternoon.)
In an MSN story dated May 30, the festival was still forging on despite soaring coronavirus cases being reported across the United States. The festival, in a statement, said it would not be business as usual.
“We are not ignorant of the devastation facing the world. We feel the fear and distress too. This is why we are committed to observing all guidance as suggested by the consensus of voices of the scientific community with whom we are consulting now. This will not be a business as usual event. Things will look and feel very different," the organizers said in a statement to MSN and other media outlets. "We’re hard at work to provide a safe and joyous environment that will include an extra day to allow more space within and between screenings, along with all of the necessary safety tweaks and adjustments you’ve become very familiar with, regardless of where you call home."
Film fest organizers recognized that passholders might decline to attend, regardless if programming goes on as scheduled.
“For those of you who opt to not join us, we absolutely understand and support this decision," Telluride organizers acknowledged. "Your reasons surely involve heightened personal health concerns and you must do what is the very best for you.”