For the first time in recorded history, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival has been canceled. Festival organizer Craig Ferguson posted the announcement on Facebook this week. The Daily Planet confirmed the cancellation Wednesday.
Ferguson discussed postponing the 47th Bluegrass festival from June 18-21 to Aug. 27-30 with Telluride Town Council March 31, but there were concerns about hosting back to back big festivals as Telluride Film Festival is scheduled for Aug. 20-23. October was briefly discussed as an alternate option, but council ultimately decided not to take any action on the proposed postponement.
Ferguson said the decision was easy given the current COVID-19 pandemic and public health concerns, but it’s still hard to imagine a summer solstice without Bluegrass in Telluride Town Park. Still, it was the right decision, he added.
“Oh, I think all of us have known for quite awhile (that Bluegrass would be canceled), we just gave ourselves ample opportunity to talk each other out of it and no one could,” Ferguson said. “I think we learned that Bluegrass doesn’t really get postponed from solstice, then it becomes something else. When gatherings are legal again, we’d love nothing more than to produce more shows in the greatest venue on Earth.”
Ferguson said he’s been in touch with local officials about the decision, and although they’re sorry to hear about the cancellation, they agree with it. He explained he initially planned to make a decision around May 1, but it was apparent what needed to be done.
“We’ve decided that putting on the sold out festival in two months given the global reality was just not responsible,” Ferguson wrote in his Facebook post announcing the decision. “Figured maybe by letting everyone know as soon as possible they could adjust better.
Ticket holders will be fully refunded, according to a statement posted on the Planet Bluegrass website Thursday. As of press time Thursday afternoon, the company hadn’t made any decisions about the two other summer music festivals — RockyGrass in July and Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in August, both in Lyons.
“We have not addressed the Lyons festivals and await guidance from Governor Jared Polis on that,” Ferguson said.
Fans have reacted somberly, as the event attracts over 12,000 people from all over the world. Many make the annual pilgrimage religiously, filling up campgrounds in Town Park and Down Valley up to a week before the first official musical note is even played.
Ferguson has asked festivarians, as they’re affectionately known, to fallow forward.
“We don’t know the way, but we know where we are going. The journey to Festivaria is more mysterious than ever, but we will gather again,” he wrote in Thursday’s statement.
The cancellation of the area’s largest annual musical gathering is a huge loss to the local music community — for both musicians and fans. Tom Nading is the co-owner of Telluride Music Company, a shop that becomes a nexus for pickers from all over the world during the festival. And, before the festival, the store is where many locals purchase their tickets.
“I’m a little intimidated with how we’re going to manage the ticket refunds,” he said. “I’m a one-man band right now.”
But beyond the logistics of supplying refunds for hundreds of tickets, Nading said the cancellation was a “big blow to the morale of the music community.”
“Obviously, it’s such a storied tradition and such a powerful thing we get to be a part of once a year. But, so be it,” he said. “It will be back next year, bigger and better than ever.”
Kathrine Warren, who attended Bluegrass growing up and writes a music column for the Planet’s sister publication The Watch, likened the historic announcement to losing one of her favorite holidays.
“Having come to Telluride Bluegrass Festival since I was a child, I am extremely sad to see the festival canceled this year, she said. “It feels like Christmas has been canceled. But as the last few weeks have shown, it's too big a risk for the health of our community and festivarians, and it's the right call at the end of the day for the long-term health of San Miguel County.”
Local drummer Jack Breitenbach played the 2011 festival with Zach Heckendorf as part of the annual band contest. Originally from Denver, Breitenbach said Bluegrass factored into his decision to move to town full time.
“Hearing the news of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival being canceled comes with a heavy heart,” he said. “The incredible live music and arts scene is the reason I came to this town and the reason I knew I wanted to stay.
“I understand it is for the safety of this community, but waiting anxiously for the return of the best festival in the country.”