At my first-ever Commission for Community Assitance, Arts and Special Events (CCAASE) board meeting, the man behind SBG Productions, Steve Gumble, came before the board to request a date change for the Telluride Jazz Festival. He wanted to move the festival from the first weekend of August to the following weekend. One reason he cited was that the event is smack dab in the hisotircal height of the monsoons. But the other reason was far more interesting to me — I find music industry insights fascinating.
The Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island is the first weekend of August. As Gumble pointed out, the two festivals have very similar tastes in the music acts they’re looking to book. That, Gumble said, made it difficult to attract many of the artists he’d been hoping to bring to Telluride.
“I’d started running into conflicts,” Gumble told the commission back in September 2018. “When booking, I had some artists that really wanted to come and to make it work, but were unable to because they were booked for Newport.”
So with that, the 43rd annual Telluride Jazz Fest kicks off this week, instead of last. And we will just have to wait and see how the weather forecast turns out for the weekend. But music fans will persevere rain or shine because the festival’s lineup is really dang good.
The music unofficially kicks off on Thursday night from 4-6 p.m. with Jazz on Main, featuring a number of classic jass trios and quartets playing at venues along Colorado Avenue. The Speakeasy Jazz Quartet plays atop the Last Dollar Saloon, and Phoenix Bean, Elinoff Gallery, Floradora and La Cocina will feature bands from 4-6 p.m.
Friday’s festivities kick off with the Hooligan Brass Band playing at the Telluride Farmer’s Market from 10:15-10:30 a.m. and then “Society Stage” at Elks Park kicks off its weekend of free performances at 10:30 a.m. Whether or not you have a pass to the festival, Elks Park is open to the public and the perfect way to get a taste of jazz throughout the weekend. At 3 p.m., the Telluride Jazz All-Stars 25th year reunion band plays.
For the past 25 years, budding young jazz musicians flock to Telluride the week prior to the festival for a week of rehearsing and improv to then play throughout the community over the festival weekend itself.
Meanwhile, in the park on Friday, the music starts at 1 p.m. and runs into the evening closing out with none other than Robert Randolph & the Family Band. If you missed them on New Year’s Eve at the Sheridan Opera House the past two years, these guys are a must see. Those two shows definitely rank in my Top 10 favorite shows I’ve seen in Telluride.
Other Friday acts include the Battle of Santiago and the Victor Wooten Band.
Saturday features another artist on that Top 10 list, with Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue headling the festival. Gumble and his crew have assembled a killer lineup this weekend from beginning to the end of each day of the festival, and I’ve heard great things about Veronica Swift and SPAGA, both playing Saturday. And, of course, there’s Turkuaz playing the penultimate set of Saturday with their brightly colored outfits and killer onstage energy.
Sunday Jazz kicks off with a good old-fashioned New Orleans Second Line Parade down Colorado Avenue. The parade starts at high noon at Elks Park and proceeds down to the park. New Orleans Mardi Gras legend Cha Wa will be leading the festivities, but you never know who else will jump in the line to transport Telluride down to the Big Easy.
And the New Orleans vibes continue throughout the day with Tyree Morris and Hearts of Worship playing a gospel set at 1 p.m., Cha Wa taking Town Park’s stage at 5:30 p.m. and Lettuce closing out the night with a 7:30 p.m. set.
This only skims the surface of the festival’s unique lineup and schedule of events. Be sure to pick up a festival program or visit telluridejazz.org for a full schedule of events. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office adjacent to the Telluride Post Office.