23rd Annual Targhee Bluegrass Festival

I’ve always heard wonderful things about the Targhee Festival. Nestled in the Tetons, this fest makes me think that this is what the Telluride Bluegrass fest was like 25 years ago. This is the 23rd year for this fest, and it is cool, mellow, beautiful, intimate and inspiring. The place is a small ski resort but what looks to be spectacular terrain. We took the chairlift to the top which was weird without any ski/boarding gear. Amazing view from the top. 360 degrees of beauty.  We pulled in on Thursday night as the Targhee bluegrass camp was wrapping up. There were little circle jams scattered about wafting acoustic music, filling the crisp air. Oh yeah…it was chilly which was refreshing coming from the hellish humidity of Virginia. The music started at 4pm with the punch brothers. Chris Thile fronts this super insane bluegrass band. With intricate changes and over the top genius musicianship, the punch brothers are not your average bluegrass band. Jaw dropping chops and crystal clear pitch perfect vocals, with just a hint of pop music make this string band out of the ordinary.

After the punch brothers was bela fleck, with edgar meyer and zakir hussain. Being a fan of all 3 artists, I was excited to see this trio. I sat indian style on the ground in front of the stage, next to sam bush as we witnessed history in the making. All 3 being literally at the top of their game and at the top of their field. I thought bela and edgar were heady, but zakir is something to behold. Sam (who was a part of Strength in Numbers with bela and edgar and is no stranger to complex arrangements) really got a kick out of watching bela and edgar move their lips as they counted the 7 time signature that zakir was playing. Zakir is a MASTER of time. I’m a fan of the tabla beat science as well as the diga rhythm band, but he really shined in this trio. The tablas are tricky and watching and hearing him get these magical, surreal tones from these small drums is something I shan’t forget.

After the 3 musical Einstein’s finished, it was time for the Targhee bluegrass camp folks to take the stage for a massive cluster pluck. 4 up right basses and a bunch mandos, banjos, guitars and fiddles…all playing together.

Then it was our turn. This was a keller & the keels gig so obviously, we were amped being that we were following such greatness. The one drag was the large banners hanging up in front of the speakers. One was picture of a skier ripping through some fresh pow pow and the other a mountain biker. The problem was the rain. Not the actual rain as it is something you get used to and expect at festivals and celebrate when it’s not there. Only once these large banners in front of the speakers got wet, the sound did not pass through but reflected the sound back to the stage causing feed back. Lots of it.  It was a bummer but they figured it out and pulled the banners back allowing the sound to go out and reflect back. Luckily we had help on stage to get us through these troubled times. Help by way of an action packed set of sit ins. The first was on the 3rd and 4rth songs featuring bela and chris thile. We played pepper and teen angst. Larry, jenny and I just relaxed and took on the roll of the rhythm section and let bela and chris play off of one another like a couple of super genius kids having fun while blowing minds in the process. Ours (the rhythm section) included. After they left we played a few more and brought up danny barnes to help us with “get it while you can”. Danny just makes me smile. His vibe is so pure and genuine, that anyone and everyone is lucky to be in his presence. He left and we played a few more and brought up gabe witcher from the punch brothers to play fiddle on “don’t cuss that fiddle”. We’ve never done that song with a fiddle player and now I hope we can always have one when we play it. Gabe was amazing and truly added greatness to that tune. He played as if he had heard it before which he hadn’t. Last but not least we were graced with the presence of sam bush for “sailin shoes” and “porta potty”. Larry, jenny and I get giddy when we share stories of those sam bush sit ins. This one was epic. Sam is the man and I’m truly grateful he hung out and waited his turn in our sit in parade. So many nights at the Telluride bluegrass fest has sam gotten me off with his playful style of mando wizardry. The 3 of us viewed all of our sits as gods and we will probably never forget that set. Thanks to tom garnsey and vootie productions for having us there. I hope to return many times. KW