"Festivarians are endowed by Planet Bluegrass with certain unalienable Rights, among those are music, mountains, and the uninhibited pursuit of Happiness."
And so begins the Festivarian Bill of Rights, the code by which all who gather during the summer solstice in Telluride are expected to abide by.
The annual gathering that draws loyal veterans, bluegrass junkies and curious first-timers is Telluride Bluegrass. It's not an easy place to get to – high up in the San Juan Mountains, there's only one road in and out of this box canyon. We joke as we drive into town that Telluride would be the perfect place to ride out the zombie apocalypse.
This is a festival of traditions: Four bluegrasses ago I looked on as a line of people (many in costumes, some in their birthday suit) made a mad dash into the festival campgrounds, carrying blue tarps and frantically trying to claim a spot in front of the stage. This is the running of the tarps, a tradition that is taken very seriously by Telluride veterans. The dedicated ones sleep outside the gates to get a good number in line.
"Festivarians shall assume the right to occupy empty tarp spaces until said owners return, at which time Festivarians have the right to become life long friends."
That being said, tarps can get rowdy as new friends are made, old friends are seen, and the booze flows. Our tarp tradition involves slapping a bag of Franzia, followed by a mandatory guzzle from the bag.
At 8,750 feet, it still gets hot during the day, and there are many guerrilla warriors yielding squirt guns ready to attack at any moment. Drink plenty of water, lather on your sunscreen, and bring something to do during the day that doesn't involve drinking if you plan to make it until the end of the night.
Despite the debauchery, the true love of the Festivarian is music. Performers nod to the past and present of bluegrass, inviting fellow artists up on stage for song and letting spontaneity spur creativity.
As sun dips into the valley on Saturday evening, the King of Telluride, Mr. Sam Bush, takes stage and the crowd puts their dancing shoes on. We howl at the moon as it rises up over the mountain and watch the aspens dance in the breeze underneath Bridal Veil Falls.
There are no strangers here tonight, we are all in the company of good friends, the company of fellow Festivarians.
(In 2013, Telluride's 40th Annual Bluegrass Festival will be held June 20-23.)