Sustainable Travel | Telluride Bluegrass Festival - Public Goods

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Sustainable Travel | Telluride Bluegrass Festival

“Have you ever seen a Telluride sunrise?,” a Redrock Radio disc jockey asked from the car speakers as we rode a ribbon of asphalt that cut through pine tree laden mountaintops, along the San Miguel River.

telluride main street, mountains, cars, bus

Purple and yellow flowers carpeted the rocky terrain, proving the tenacity and resiliency of beauty in these rugged regions.

Around one bend, giant wind turbines slowly whirled in circles, their enormity a haunting reminder of how insignificant I was in the world.

I was road tripping with two wanderlust friends: Jamie and Abbey. We had been looking forward to Telluride Bluegrass Festival for months (tickets for Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2020 now on sale). The last music festival I attended was a year earlier, in Kentucky. It was apparent that I had a need to dance in the sun with my friends, sleep under the stars and encounter a new place surrounded by color and creativity.

Earlier that week the three of us had explored Salt Lake City, Monument Valley and Moab. Between destinations, we passed through Thompson Springs, a ghost town — save for its two dozen residents last surveyed in 2010 — left in the dust when the highway was replaced by the interstate, and skipped stones at Green River after eating burgers and apple pie at the town’s greasy spoon.

welcome to green river sign

Telluride was just under a three-hour drive from Moab. Across these southwestern states, the landscape changed from red sands and blistering heat evocative of Mars to forested mountain peaks reminiscent of a Jack London novel. We had made the assumption we could stop for groceries at a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s along the way for our weekend of camping at Telluride, but there was nothing within a reasonable radius along that desolate highway.

Continuing our journey to Telluride, we cruised through stretches of fields with single trailers parked out in the distance. The isolated way of life out here challenged my preconceived notions.

I was a city girl. The constant buzzing of cars, subway trains, ambulances and passers-by outside my apartment window were constant reminders that the earth was spinning and I was alive. I felt that if the Manhattan skyline was not in my peripheral, I was missing out on something.

Staring out my passenger window at that sole trailer, I thought about the family who lived in the apartment above me back in New York and their irritating, rambunctious three-year-old who jumped and pounded on their floor at every inconvenient time. It was a constant reminder that I needed space.

The southwest had plenty of that. I considered the cost of packing up and moving. To live here in this solitude seemed priceless.

Though close friends, Jamie, Abbey and I did not talk much on this drive. The surrounding landscape rendered us speechless. With my journal opened to a crisp, clean page on my lap, I drew verdant vistas, sketched half-baked haikus and scribbled notes that would end up in this narrative.

An hour later, on another lonesome highway west of Omaha, we passed cows with tagged ears grazing in the sun, their tails swinging in the breeze as if pointing us in the direction to Telluride. There was not a single car in our vicinity. Driving along Highway 141 felt like I was driving straight into a postcard.

When John Denver sang “Rocky Mountain High” to us on the radio, we were greeted by a wooden sign that read “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” where we pulled over to the side of the road to stretch our legs and snap some photos.

mountain road, rock formations

It was easy to gauge the changes in elevation as we drove through Colorado: ears popping, a dizzying mind. Unexpectedly, the road plunged into a rift flanked by soaring rocky outcrops that towered around us. This one, Wilson Peak, is the white capped mountain displayed on the Coors beer can. At 4,274 miles in elevation, it is the highest point in the San Miguel County.

Telluride is a sophisticated enclave situated in the expanse of Colorado, a state that is home to four national parks and over 15 rugged mountain ranges. To be here was to gain an invigorating respite to the reverie that dominates American society: go everywhere, talk to everyone, eat everything.

Travel is an important part of life for me. Being able to experience an array of culture and cuisine and camaraderie — be it on the colorful coastline of Copenhagen or the fog-drenched shorelines of eastern Maine — nourishes my mind, my stomach and my soul. Gazing up at the mountains, I thought about my late grandparents. They never flew on an airplane, let alone left Long Island.

I first caught wind of Telluride Bluegrass Festival from my days as a music journalist, writing for Elmore Magazine, a New York-based American roots music publication where I served as Senior Writer. There I maintained a column about up-and-coming bands and singer/songwriters and traveled across the continent for music festivals and shows. Telluride Bluegrass was one I always wanted to go to, but each year something got in the way.

Music festivals — as diverse as the cities, states, deserts and caves they crop up in — have provided unique experiences that not only boast bragging rights but also leave you with an insatiable itch.

Billboard estimated that 32 million people in the United States alone attend a music festival at least once a year. With over 800 festivals spanning the country, there are plenty of opportunities to travel, see your favorite acts and explore new musical interests.

But with the rising trend of music festivals within our borders and across other continents, there is an even greater obligation to actively practice sustainability. Having spent the past year writing for Public Goods, I have become more mindful of maintaining this practice.

Styrofoam coolers, abandoned tents, solo single-use cups, plastic bottles, water jugs by the gallon, tarps and broken chairs are just some of the items that get left behind at music festivals.

In 2016 Meridian Consultants produced a report for the City of Indio’s Planning Division under the Community Development Department that analyzed the environmental impacts of its music festivals. Indio, California, which is home to Coachella, Stagecoach and Desert Trip, estimated that these three festivals single-handedly generated approximately 100 tons of solid waste each festival day.

Across the pond in the UK, music festivals generate some 23,000 tonnes of waste in a single year. Only 32% of that waste gets recycled, with the majority getting dumped in landfills.

To combat this issue, many music festivals have taken initiatives to promote better sustainable practices in recent years. Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, for instance, sets up free water-filling stations on its grounds to eliminate single-use plastic bottles; Burning Man in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert facilitates a leave-no-trace model; and Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee awards prizes to those who collect cans and other garbage found around the campsites.

Some music festivals take their green initiatives a step further. Down under in Australia, the Splendour in the Grass festival encourages attendees to purchase a Carbon Offset ticket, for an additional $3, that benefits the country’s renewable energy projects.

Then there’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival, one of the only music festivals that is zero carbon and stands on a green pedestal in the realm of sustainability. At this festival, awards are given out to the campsites that practice the best forms of sustainability for the four-day weekend event. One campsite this year upcycled bandanas to eliminate the need for paper towels.

Through the Carbon Neutrality Coalition, Telluride Bluegrass Festival has been “neutralizing 100 percent of the emissions caused by the festival’s travel, electricity, diesel and gasoline by investing in innovative carbon reduction projects since 2007.”

Telluride, a former silver mining town, continues to allure bluegrass-lovers from across the map. On a sunny June afternoon amid scattered spruce and fir trees, the parking lots of the festival campgrounds were crowded with cars, buses and R.V.s, their varied themed license plates — Nebraska, Utah, Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri — displaying the expansive American journey.

For the past forty-five years, Telluride Bluegrass Festival has provided an intimate celebration. Its location, the valley floor of a box canyon, creates natural acoustics that are as remarkable to the performers as they are to the attendees.

Before checking into the festival and setting up camp at Lawson Hill, a planned community four miles from the festival grounds, we headed to town to gather provisions. Between locales, a single road meandered through thickets and fields of elk grazing in dandelion-covered grass. A dilapidated shack with faded multicolored bunting, weathered by the years, acknowledged both our welcome and its permanence.

Telluride, Colorado: there is a certain charm in the sensible pace of life for this quaint ski village. With beautiful Victorian pastel-colored cottages adorned in gingerbread trim, white picket fences and buildings nestled in the forested valley bottom, Telluride felt like the town I wish I had grown up in.

melissa caruso and friends in telluride

Shopping the aisles at Clark’s Market afforded a sense of order and familiarity. Jamie, Abbey and I had spent the past four days in the red deserts and the Book Cliffs of eastern and southern Utah, grabbing meals out and on-the-go that rendered little nutrition. The thought of sitting down and making meals with each other around a campfire was comforting.

For two decades Clark’s Market has been a staple for Telluride. For over three decades, the family behind this business has traveled the world in search of the healthiest options.

Here the shelves were lined with typical grocery store items: cereal, soups, soft drinks, but the brands were different than what I had seen back in New York. Full Circle, for example, sells a selection of 100% organic and environmentally-friendly products.

We shopped with a conscious mind, choosing compostable items. We bought avocados, bananas, crackers, locally-made bread and yogurt that came in little recyclable glass jars. These jars took on a second life as our cocktail glasses. I decided on a certain loaf of bread because it was baked locally.

I had begun to consider shipping methods, comparing carbon emissions between trains, planes and trucks. This was the same person who Amazon Prime’d boxes of Cafe du Monde from New Orleans for the past three years.

Back at Lawson Hill, my Girl Scouts skills enabled me to pitch a tent without the help of my friends. To make sure we could sleep comfortably, I had brought an air mattress and a pump all the way from New York that had to travel in their own suitcase on American Airlines. The pump needed to be plugged in, and I anticipated the stress this would cause. I could have easily bought a $10 battery operated one off Amazon, but was trying to be more conscious about the plastic crap I consumed in my apartment.

Most of the tents near us were empty; their owners already at the festival to watch Jim James’ performance.

“We’ll find someone with a pump later tonight,” I suggested. “Let’s head to the festival.”

A yellow school bus picked us up at camp, drove past those same grazing elk and dropped us off at the entrance to the festival. My excitement grew by the second. To be in the vicinity of something touched long ago by many of the greats — Leon Russell, Levon Helm, Chris Hillman, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, James Taylor — was a thrill prevalent amidst those around me. Many, in fact, had been attending Telluride Bluegrass Festival for decades.

While we got our bags checked and showed our wristbands to security, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James took the stage, evidenced by the cheers that echoed in the canyon.

On month two of his four-month North American tour, Jim James sounded like a well-tuned engine. I’d like to know where he gets off pulling my heartstrings. There is something perennial about his voice, the type you know will permeate through whatever evolutions lie in store for rock music.

I can envision it now: it’s 2040. I’m at some family barbecue chatting with my future nieces and nephews who are both equally impressed and jealous that I saw Jim James at Telluride 2019.

“Wasn’t that the summer he toured with the Claypool Lennon Delirium?” they’ll ask.

“Did he close with ‘State of the Art’?” they’ll ask.

The way Jim James plays guitar equally pierced the night. Standing there, I was taken aback by the energy in the crowd. There was a palpable magnetism between performer and audience. To not see the obstruction of cell phones in the night sky, recording 15-second clips to post on Instagram, was a refreshing reminder that some concerts are about the immediacy, the now.

You have to see Jim James live to believe the magic to some extent. That is to say I feel certain my description here is failing to do him justice.

Back at camp, too tired to inquire about pumping the air mattress, we put on thermals and crawled into our tents. The ground was surprisingly comfortable, and the little recess I was laying in felt like the earth was cradling me to sleep.

Come morning, I awoke to the savory scent of bacon and sweet plucking sounds of a banjo and guitar. Two guys camping nearby were playing James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.” Behind them stood a Coleman camper grill where breakfast meats sizzled and coffee dripped in a stainless steel percolator.

Though we had bought fruit and yogurt from Clark’s Market to eat for breakfast, I now wanted eggs and bacon. But I was accustomed to Jamie and Abbey’s ability to sleep in. So I sliced bananas and strawberries with the travel utensil pack my mom had gifted me the Christmas I decided I only wanted sustainable gifts, and plopped them in the yogurt. Afterward, I walked over to the entrance of the camp to an installed water sprocket, specifically for cookware and cutlery. Several other campers were already washing bowls and spoons from their breakfast.

Abbey and Jamie woke up with a hankering for a hearty breakfast like our neighbors were cooking, so we got ready for the day and caught the next departing bus into town.

Midway through the four-mile trek, our bus stopped at an undesignated stop for a man with shoulder-length sandy blonde hair, glasses and a baseball cap. He had a crutch.

“The crutch is to get a ride. After 66 years, I’ve learned,” he said and laughed.

In town, the sun poured and bleached the streets honeyed hues. Pedestrians dressed in Patagonia passed shops that sold pot and souvenir stores advertising Telluride t-shirts, mugs and keychains.

Chic boutiques, fashionable shops and renovated saloons redolent of the late 1800s lined Main Street. There stood the Opera House and the New Sheridan Hotel, an establishment frequented by celebrities such as Sandra Bullock. 300 years ago it was Spanish explorers and fur trappers. San Miguel County Courthouse, a two-story red bricked structure adorned with stars and a tower clock, lay on a patch of grass a short distance from Green Dragon, a recreational marijuana dispensary.

Inside, glass enclosed countertops offered a wide selection of flower, edibles, salves and vaping apparatuses for those with marijuana predilections. Overhead, a board listed various strains of pot and their prices. There were sales, too. Twenty and thirty dollar eighths, roughly 3.5 grams. Dealers in New York charged triple that amount.

A certain impression of resistance to industrialization — be it strip malls, fast-food chains — exists in Telluride, partly due to the preservation laws and regulations put in place. The mining boom era of the 1870s put Telluride on the map, attracting prospectors in search of fortune, as well as criminals in search of making a fortune at the expense of others. In 1889 the notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch ransacked the San Miguel National Bank in downtown Telluride, getting away with $24,000 in mining payroll.

To pay homage to this town that possessed an “outstanding significance in commemorating and illustrating the history of the United States,” the town of Telluride, in 1963, was classified as a National Historic Landmark District.

Ten years later the very first Telluride Bluegrass Festival launched.

To satiate our hunger, we walked into The Floradora Saloon, a Telluride favorite since 1973, and stepped back in time. Our waiter poured cream from Glenview Farms into a saucer for our coffees and Abbey, Jamie and I made the most of the menu by each ordering something different.

Sourcing local, fresh ingredients from the valley for its rotating seasonal menu, The Floradora presents an innovative menu for every type of palate: Colorado short ribs, roasted all natural chicken, house smoked salmon, local organic mixed greens, house made buttermilk biscuits, green chili cheddar cheese biscuits smothered in sausage gravy, hand cut butternut squash fries with chimichurri dipping sauce, duck egg rolls and all-natural small-batch artisan goat cheese from Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy.

I don’t think I’ve had a sausage link as good as the one here. Then again, I never had a maple sausage link before.

Telluride and its businesses continued to exemplify their proclivity for sustainability. In addition to its menu, The Floradora used bamboo straws instead of single-use plastic ones in its drinks and cocktails.

The toilet paper in the bathrooms didn’t have that wasteful cardboard tube in the middle. Fun fact: toilet paper rolls actually don’t need the cardboard tube to retain that circular shape we all know and love.

A ride on the free Gondola, which has been making trips between Telluride and Mountain Village since 1996, placed this Colorado region on a higher plateau. Reaching 10,540 feet in the air at its summit, the Gondola provides an impressive 365-degree view of the snow-peaked San Juan mountains in just 13 minutes. Because the Gondola runs on wind and solar power, it serves as a sustainable mode of transportation for festival goers, skiers, snowboarders and residents. Free parking on either side is a nice incentive, too.

After perusing Main Street, we headed to the festival and met up with Lindsay and Alyssa, twin sisters from Nashville I met six years ago at Firefly Music Festival in Delaware. The beauty of reconnecting with friends in random pockets of the earth is one high I will never get bored of.

melissa caruso, lindsay

Over the years, we have become good friends, but that’s bound to happen when Neil Young is a common denominator. Caden, Lindsay’s two-year-old son, was also in attendance, celebrating his first ever music festival.

“Of course I had to take him to one of the best,” Lindsay wrote me in a text when she found out I too would be attending the festival.

Watching that little toddler dance to bluegrass made you smile, made you jealous your parents hadn’t taken you to music festivals growing up. Lindsay, who grew up in Kentucky and on its bluegrass, continues her roots and ensures that future generations have impressive music interests.

Jamie, Abbey and I then headed to the beer tent to quench our thirst. A partnership with Kleen Canteen dodged the need for single-use plastic cups for beer, wine and cocktails. Festival goers either bought the $5 commemorative plastic cup or the $10 aluminum cup. Though the artwork on the plastic cup was more aesthetically pleasing, I chose the aluminum one. These cups were refilled at the drink tents all weekend. Free water filling stations encouraged attendees to bring reusable water bottles to keep them hydrated all weekend long.

Perhaps underscored by the BBC investigative report that evaluated the impact music festivals pose on the environment, Live Nation and 61 members of the UK’s Association of Independent Music Festivals have vowed to ban single-use plastics from their venues come 2021.

Gordon, a musician friend of mine who was on tour in England and performed at the 2014 British Summer Time in Hyde Park, caught the tail end of Neil Young’s set.

“I’m rocking out hard to ‘Rockin’ in the Free World,’ and I get such a high. Neil’s up there preaching about saving the earth, singing a new song called ‘Who’s Gonna Stand Up (and Save the Earth)? ’— then everybody leaves the concert with it trashed. Thousands of plastic cups littered across the grounds. Nobody apparently got the memo.”

This was not the case at Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

On this day of the festival, we met three guys from Colorado — Paul, Stevo and Goodwin — around our age, who quickly became our friends. Coincidently, they too were camping at Lawson Hill, and we would spend the next two mornings cooking steak and egg breakfasts together. We kept each other laughing with tales from our lives and childhoods. We came from different places, but it felt like we were all cut from the same thread.

“When I was in high school, my parents fined me $2,000 when they found out I smoked weed,” Paul said.

At one point, Stevo said how weird it was that Paul had a sister named Abbey and Goodwin had a sister named Melissa.

Coincidences happened, I thought to myself. Then I turned to Stevo. “Do you have a sister named Jamie?”

“No, but I have a stepsister named Jamie,” he said.

The universe was an extraordinary little thing.

While Goodwin cooked thick center cuts of steak in a cast iron pan, I taught everyone a game I like to play on road trips. The premise is for everyone to go through the alphabet and name bands and musicians. The game cannot progress to the next letter until everyone has listed a name for that round’s letter. Those who cannot list a name are out of the game.

The beginning was easy, and the names rolled off tongues quickly: Allman Brothers Band, Aerosmith, America, Arctic Monkeys, ABBA, Against Me!. Then it got progressively more difficult with letters like I, X, Y and Z.

It was a way for us to learn each other’s interests, and the activity kept our interest for two hours. The game took on more challenging terms that were specific to genre or decade. The best part was that it didn’t require an app or a phone.

Paul, well-versed in all things Colorado, acted as our tour guide and taught us about the surrounding geography. Behind us, looking like one long curtain of lace, stood the mighty Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest free-falling falls in the state.

Together, we listened to The Robin Davis Duo add new layers to Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” by way of mandolin. We watched a circle of dudes in dreadlocks kick around a hackysack while simultaneously passing around a joint.

In the box canyon, the setting sun was our only watch. The lack of cell phone service brought me back to a bygone era when you told your friends to meet you at a landmark. Jamie, who I have been friends with since sixth grade, was a reminder of those technologically-sparse bygone days.

Before the night’s set at the festival, we girls decided to catch a bus headed back to camp to put on extra layers. It was strange to have gotten sunburnt during the day here in Telluride, only to be faced with nighttime temperatures that felt like New York in late November.

At camp we made turkey and avocado sandwiches and sipped on Telluride Brewing Company ales we had bought. The sun tucked itself behind the mountains, and the dwindling temperature had us reconsidering the night’s plans.

“Y’all still trying to go see the late night set?” Abbey asked.

She had a quizzical look on her face and was wrapping a scarf around her neck.

“I’m down to go,” I said. “But why don’t we set up our sleeping bags and move all our suitcases into your tent before heading out?”

This was the night the temperature would drop in the 20s. Having Abbey in our tent would generate more body warmth.

At 8:30, we wriggled into our sleeping bags, teeth clattering, and perhaps onset from the day’s dancing, walking, and day drinking, we passed out.

Three hours in, our sleep was interrupted by a neighboring camper who had just returned from the festival grounds.

“What the hell is this, the geriatrics’ camping section?” she asked to nobody in particular.

“Last year, people were partying all night long,” she went on.

After 10:00 p.m., quiet hours were enforced. Though it puts a damper on the night for those who want to continue hanging, quiet hours at a camping music festival are necessary. These rules are especially helpful when you’re averaging about 18,000 steps each festival day.

One year when I was at FloydFest in Virginia, a group of people decided that the boulder directly behind my tent was where they would sit and trip on acid until the sun rose. I did a pretty good job of tuning them out, but then the laughing fits started, and the conversation became both annoying and incoherent. Finally at 5:00 a.m., I cursed at them from my tent, and told them that nobody wanted to hear about toothbrushes for giraffes. Though as I write this, I’m intrigued. Do giraffes even use toothbrushes? Are they sustainable?

Outside our tent, I could hear the wind blowing through the canyon. Icy winds, their fierce activity driven by swirls, rising while falling and coming from either direction, left a blanket of frost over the many colored tents and patches of grass.

It would be another 20 minutes before the last bus dropped people off at camp. It was wise to go to the porta-potties before everyone returned, so I crept out of the tent and zipped Jamie and Abbey inside. How strange it was to be wearing my winter coat in June.

I followed a row of solar lights that were pitched in the ground. During the day, they sat in the sun and charged, eliminating the need for electricity in this natural environment.

The night was vast like a great tapestry covered by a vault of arching midnight blue, encrusted with stars that twinkled brilliant and bright.The stillness of the night caught me off guard. As I gazed at the stars strewn across the sky overhead, I suddenly felt lightheaded. A thin line of blood trickled down my nose. This symptom was my first bout with altitude sickness.

It was strange to wake up with a sunburn after sleeping in the cold. The first thing I needed: coffee. Fortunately, in Lawson Hill, San Miguel’s planned community, was a cluster of businesses a 10-minute walk from our tent. A bakery, laundromat, brewery (Telluride Brewing Company), deli and coffee shop had me in reach of everything I could possibly need.

coffee bean bags

I stepped inside Telluride Coffee Roasters (formerly known as Steaming Bean Coffee), a town haunt that has been serving in and out of Telluride for the past 28 years. They use biodegradable, compostable bags for their beans, and the cups they use for cold brews and iced coffees are made from corn. Both organically and naturally produced, this coffee quickly became part of my morning routine.

On the counter there was a wooden frame, behind the glass a price list of beverages: two-dollar espressos, Americanos and cold brews; three dollar lattes and cappuccinos.

Inside of an industrial space with high ceilings, puffy white clouds and a clear blue sky reflected off the glass of the crimson rustic-looking dispensers of roasted coffee beans. There was an array of roasted coffee beans, various shades of brown: Nyamasheke with notes of Bourbon, Aged Sumatra. Underneath, a neat row of Yama Siphon stove top coffee makers for sale.

nyamashoke coffee bean dispenser

There was a rusted sheet of metal with a branch attached to it, lying across horizontally. Hanging from the branch on twine were small mason jars of coffee beans in the raw and roasted. Their various colors reminded me of the range of Cover Girl foundations in the beauty aisle of a drug store.

Logos from burlap saps had been cut out and tacked to a section of the wall: Cariblanco Tarrazu from Costa Rica, San Lazaro from Guatemala.

Overhead on the adjacent wall hung a large chalkboard, advertising the various roasted coffees in neat handwriting. There were sweet and tangy medium roasts — Breakfast Brew, Black Canyon, Blue Mesa; dark and light mixed roasts: Avalanche, Mountain Harvest, Stormcloud.

But my coffee preferences tend to gravitate towards the heavy and smoky dark roasts. I chose the Cimarron Blend, a combination of the French and Dark Magic roasts, and it jolted my senses in the best way possible. The following day I bought a pound of it for $12, a purchase that came with a free shot of espresso.

A woman in a trim biking outfit had come in to buy a pound of coffee before me. The package would not fit in her pocket. Watching her struggle, the barista offered to split the pound into two halves so that the smaller sized bags could fit in each pocket. But she was adamant on getting the one package to fit, and most importantly, she didn’t want to waste a bag.

Not showering for a couple days is one thing. Not showering for a couple days at a music festival is an entirely different thing — especially when you’re sharing a tent with two other people. Near the entrance of our campsite, someone had erected a shower trailer with three private stalls. I handed a woman, bundled in an afghan, a folded five dollar bill from my wallet and walked over to the trailer.

The adjacent San Miguel River rolled on by, cooled the air and made me shiver. The benefit of waking up early meant no lines. When I walked out after my shower, the line stretched by the dozen.

A sign on the door of the shower trailer instructed showers to not exceed five minutes, a rule that conserved water.

A sign on the door of the shower trailer instructed showers to not exceed five minutes, a rule that conserved water.

Inside the shower, the warm water trickling down on me felt like the fleece blanket I wish I had packed. I had just spent the night in what felt like the onset of a New York winter and was having trouble telling my brain it was still June.

Conscious to not waste water, the showers operated on a push and rinse system. Rather than letting the water run, I lathered up my hair with my Public Goods shampoo bar then pushed the button for water to rinse my hair. Lathering up with a Public Goods washcloth and bar soap, I thought about my shower habits home in New York.

Back home, for the past eight years, I have not seen a water bill. Because water is included in my rent, I take advantage of long, hot showers.

Since Telluride I have become more aware of the precious commodity that is water. Now, when I shave off every stubble of hair from my legs or treat my hair to a three-minute deep conditioning mask, I turn the water off. A small step like this may only scratch the surface of a deeper, underlying problem in the case of environmentalism and global warming, but every sustainable choice you make chips away and cracks the surface.

Walking back to my tent from the showers, I stopped at the three giant receptacles. There, a festival volunteer was sorting paper and cardboard, compostables and trash into each. We struck a conversation and I started picking his brain on the festival’s green initiatives. Apparently, a guy in town takes all the paper from the festival each year and uses it for his compost pile. Once again, Telluride and its people left me impressed.

The final day of any music festival is always a bittersweet undertaking. I wasn’t ready to leave my friends or return to the rat race that is New York City. But today Kacey Musgraves and Brandi Carlile would be performing, two of Nashville’s leading female musicians.

Musgraves creates the world in her own image of neon, glitter and rainbows. In a snakeskin pant suit — “I’m braving the cold, though to you guys it’s probably not that cold” she said during her set — with perfectly polished raven mane, and a sharp backing band in matching suits, Musgraves drew an impressive crowd. Throughout her performance, she is all movement of body and spirit.

Just four months after winning Album of the Year at the 2019 Grammy’s with her record “Golden Hour”, she has developed quite the impressive resume with accolades that already include duos with Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn and a performance with Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

At one point, she looked up at the mountains and gushed.

“I can’t think of a better setting to play this song at, my god,” she said.

“I can’t think of a better setting to play this song at, my god,” she said.

Then she transitioned to “Oh What A World” from “Golden Hour.” By the time she covered The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” one thing at Telluride was clear: Kasey Musgraves was loved by everyone.

“I hear you have a Golden here, too,” Musgraves said in between songs.

Musgraves, who grew up in Golden, Texas, has seen her fair share of stages, be it among palm trees in Indio Valley for Coachella, in the tropics of Hawaii, the regal walls of London’s Royal Albert Hall or the electric energy of Tokyo.

“To see human compassion happening. Love for music and just love in general. I think it’s imperative that we hold onto that,” she said.

After her set, as stage crew rearranged gear, a woman nearby pointed to the stage where a Joan Jett song played over the loudspeaker.

“I was six years old when I heard this and I was like, ‘Fuck yeah! Girls can do anything!’ — except I didn’t say ‘fuck’ because I was six,” she said.

At 8:48 p.m., as the sun dipped its rays behind Wilson Peak, an announcer got on stage and thanked everyone for coming to the 46th installment of Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Coincidentally, 46 was also the current temperature.

Though Jamie, Abbey and I had agreed to leave the festival Sunday night in order to cut down our six-hour drive to Salt Lake City airport and make our afternoon flights, we all agreed we would stay for most of Brandi Carlile’s set.

The three-time Grammy winning artist sang about love and forgiveness, setting me off into a whirl of different emotions. In between songs, she invited us in on her personal life.

Her family, she said, had a thing about Telluride.

One year, Carlile was scheduled to perform at a previous Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the day after her daughter was born. Like a badass, she performed at the festival, proving that mamas have to make a living, too.

Later in the set, she called up Dierks Bentley to sing “Travelin’ Light,” a track off “The Mountain,” his ACM Album of the Year nominated record [Musgraves’ Golden Hour won] that was inspired by his experiences in Telluride. By the time she tipped her hat to Johnny Cash with a rendition of “Ring of Fire,” one thing was clear: I should have been listening to Carlile’s music for years.

Before exiting the festival, I met up to say goodbye to Alyssa and Lindsay.

“Isn’t it strange how we always end up in the same place?” Alyssa said and winked.

As I walked away, both reluctantly and feeling so fortunate to be able to have experiences like these, I heard Carlile in the distance, “I’m convinced there’s no better festival.”

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