Bob was taking a quick break from working with my husband to finish the downstairs of our new house when he spied my hula hoop. He picked it up and grinned, the first time I had seen him smile in months. Bob had a tough spring—he quit drinking and while he was off in rehab his wife, the love of his life, died. He was covered in white drywall dust and messy work clothes, but he couldn’t resist taking the hoop for a spin and showing off his skills. He was beaming as the hoop encircled him, rhythmically looping, and he let it crawl up to his neck and then spun it around his one raised arm before he gracefully brought it back down to his hips. “I love hooping!” exclaimed Bob. “Telluride Bluegrass Festival, with all the hippie chicks ….”
“True Love’s Dance Hall,” I replied, nodding in understanding. That is what they call the roped-off hula hooping area at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a sandy section next to the tour buses and near the stage where people can hoop freestyle, with no fear of encroaching on other festival-goers. I am not sure why the area is so named, but I do understand what transformed Bob that afternoon, from sadness and sobriety to happy reverie. It was that old bluegrass magic. I have spent more than my share of time in True Love’s Dance Hall, hooping in time with the peaceful plinking of Chris Thile on mandolin or twirling around to the angelic singing of Alison Krauss. There is something meditative and sublime about being barefoot in the sun, with ethereal melodies in the background and the slow motion of the hoop circling around you.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival can be a transcendent experience. It is held on the summer solstice, and the longest, hottest days of the year are some of Telluride’s most pleasant, coupled with the cool mountain air and San Miguel River reaching its peak flow. Artists who are invited to play are renowned for their musicianship rather than their mainstream popularity, and every year I am amazed not just by the talent onstage but also by the ability of the musicians to trade instruments and players with other groups, improvising on stage and delighting audiences. These performances are not your choreographed stadium shows by pop artists; they are organic and entrancing in the same way that jam bands have bewitched concert-goers since the Grateful Dead sparked that music movement decades ago.
Whether you enjoy the music from a coveted spot backstage, with a group of friends on a tarp, working in one of the food booths or inside a hula hoop, Telluride Bluegrass is a magical and special way to celebrate the pinnacle of summer. Have a great weekend.