Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which welcomes over 11,000 people each year, kicks off Thursday. Managing the crowds has gone smoothly, according to organizers and local officials. (Courtesy photo)

As the area’s most mature summer music festival kicks off this week, the logistics surrounding the 46th Telluride Bluegrass Festival — parking, traffic, facilities, camping, weather and safety — are like a well-oiled machine.  

“So many of the people come back to work for Bluegrass — both locally and from out of town — so that everybody has a pretty good idea about how things ought to be running,” said Telluride Chief Marshal Jim Kolar, who hires 16 reserves to supplement police staffing for the event.


The biggest challenge festival organizers face each year is parking.

“It’s the bane of my existence,” festival director Craig Ferguson said. “Definitely the most frustrating part of planning.”

Despite encouraging festivarians to carpool, Kolar said there are fewer places to park with the construction across town and cars arriving earlier each summer.

The last several years, the marshal’s department has waived the two-hour parking restrictions earlier than usual.

With a significant amount of cars parking in Mountain Village, Bluegrass is the only festival allowed by contract to park along the roadways in Mountain Village after filling the gondola parking garage.

“Bluegrass crews will actively begin parking cars on Thursday morning, so people should only park where directed for the weekend,” Mountain Village Police Chief Chris Broady said.


Traffic is also an annual concern. According to CDOT, two-way traffic will be allowed at the construction zone near the Ilium Valley turn-off through Friday with a 10-foot width restriction and a lowered speed limit of 35 mph. Single-lane traffic will resume next week.

Due to a favorable weather pattern, coupled with contractors’ work schedule desires, the West Colorado Avenue-Spur repaving project was pushed up from the week between Bluegrass and the Fourth of July to last week. Telluride Public Works Director Paul Ruud hopes that shouldering and striping will be completed with no impacts on the festival.

David Averill, San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation executive director, said operations will be “business as usual” during Bluegrass.

“By and large the festival promoter is providing their own transportation/shuttles from the remote campgrounds,” he added. “I anticipate that we’ll see some increased ridership out of the intercept lot on our Lawson Hill route, but other than that, I don’t see it impacting us much.”

The gondola will operate until 2 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday evening. 

As for driving into town, well, there’s a barricade, which Kolar said was implemented in the late 1980s or early ’90s to direct increased traffic entering town, and help businesses and residents maintain parking in the midst of congestion. A barricade pass is required. For more information about the pass, visit the Parks & Recreation section of

“It’s a hassle,” Kolar said. “Locals, I don’t think, care for more than one barricade a year.”


Telluride Parks & Recreation Director Stephanie Jaquet said that it’s a tall order to change over Town Park each year.

“To transform the park from a softball and little league field and informal recreation into a festival grounds and then back to a park afterwards is a challenge,” she said.

Bluegrass took over the Town Park campground Saturday. Brian Eyster, director of communications at Planet Bluegrass, reported that the Town Park load-in was “the smoothest and quickest in recent memory.” 

The festival also utilizes Warner Field, which opens to campers this morning (Wednesday). Eyster added the number of campers in Ilium was reduced by 100 this year. 


Phase two of the festival site improvements project is complete with indoor bathrooms and showers, a concrete pad for backstage catering, and finished dressing rooms and offices under the stage.

“Any new facility provides an opportunity for improving festival functioning but it can also create some challenges in adjusting to a learning curve,” Jaquet said.

Eyster looks forward to optimizing the new space and making it “feel Bluegrass-y.” He said the new “hammerhead” in the backstage road allows for buses and large trucks to turn around more easily, which has tested even the most skilled professional drivers in the past.


Weather presents different challenges each year.

“There’s a lot of relief in my not feeling like I’m going to burn down the forest this year,” Ferguson said. “If it’s wet, OK, the fires won’t start. I was more scared last year than in the past 30 years.”

With county-wide fire restrictions last year, the festival added designated smoking tents to the campgrounds, which will return this year as they proved popular with campers as gathering places for smokers, while keeping other parts of the campgrounds smoke-free. 

This year, late run-off has created swift whitewater on the San Miguel River, which the marshal’s department has been monitoring.

“We posted some signs a little over a week ago warning people that the water is swift and cold,” Kolar said. “We’re urging people to use caution and go properly equipped in the water. There are a lot of people who can handle the white water because they’re used to it, but sometimes people are just jumping on an inner tube, unaware of what they’re getting themselves into.”

In response to the rapid river flow, the festival adjusted the boundaries of the campgrounds to keep tents a safe distance from the river’s edge. 

Kolar encourages people to sign up for the free CodeRED alert application to receive emergency alerts by text or email on their phones.