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Michael Bialas

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Fathers, Mumford & Sons at Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Posted: 06/21/11 05:55 PM ET

Somebody at Planet Bluegrass must have been thinking ahead. Punch Brothers and Mumford & Sons back to back on Father's Day?

It was definitely a family affair, but by the sounds of it, young sons and (especially) daughters were the kinsfolk enjoying a special gift on the final day of the 38th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

The buzz has been building for Mumford & Sons since their first appearance at Telluride last year, and it may have reached epic proportions on June 19, 2011.

The sky above us shoots to kill /
Rain down, rain down on me

Lyrics from Mumford & Sons' "Thistle And Weeds"

Mumford and Sons lights
From left, Ben Lovett, Marcus Mumford, Country Winston and Ted Dwane.


The four London lads were protected by the huge Shellman stage in Town Park, but the early evening crowd weathered a heavy rainstorm that never let up until near the end of the band's 75-minute set. By that time, snow could be seen on the peaks of some of the surrounding mountains.

It obviously didn't dampen the spirits of a crowd full of fans not old enough to care about the Sixties' British Invasion, as the screams brought back memories of another Fab Four to their dads and granddads.

Marcus Mumford heartAs soon as hunky frontman Marcus Mumford (left) finished the opening number, the title cut to their platinum-selling debut album Sigh No More, the hero worship began. "I love you, Marcus!" was shrieked repeatedly in the direction of the nattily dressed subject of many a schoolgirl crush.

But Mumford was more than just a teen dream, along with bandmates Country Winston (banjo), Ben Lovett (keyboards) and Ted Dwane (bass). The group also was celebrating a one-year relationship with their special guest, Ross Holmes of Fort Worth, Texas (and formerly of Cadillac Sky), whom Mumford said will help arrange some strings on their next record and "is one of the finest fiddlers in the land."

For a newcomer to this festival who also was seeing Mumford & Sons for this first time, this grand performance will be the most memorable of TBF '11. And that's saying a lot, considering the impressive four-day lineup that included startling acts making their Telluride debuts such as The Head and the Heart and Trampled by Turtles appearing on the same stage as music legends Sam Bush, Emmylou Harris and Bela Fleck.

Mumford and Sons crowdThe nasty conditions gave anyone in the audience who braved the elements a chance to forever brag about their "I-was-there" moment. But Mumford & Sons had so much to do with adding fuel to that unforgettable fire. Could this rival U2 at Red Rocks as a history-making rock show? Even if it's at a bluegrass festival?

Mumford had the crowd in the palms of the capable hands he uses to play guitar, mandolin and even drums.

"Well, we're really sorry we brought the weather with us," he said before they presented "White Blank Page," another captivating cut from Sigh No More. "But it was really kind of you to arrange for it so we felt a little bit more at home. It's like a beautiful British summer. You're dealing with it very well. I can't believe how well-prepared you are. ... You're real Coloradans."

With his unmistakable charm, booming voice and magnetic stage presence, the 24-year-old Mumford can't escape comparisons to U2's Bono, no matter how hard he tries.

Bono was 23 in 1983 when the band played through the rain and fog at the natural amphitheater west of Denver, and it forever established the Irish rock band as a must-see act. Mumford & Sons have already built a foundation in that regard, and this dramatic convergence of events -- albeit with fog machines replacing the real thing -- will undoubtedly enhance their reputation.

Even rock's golden god, Robert Plant, closing the festival with Band of Joy, seemed bowled over by the group that proceeded his. Near the end of his set, which was very similar to the one performed at Denver's Fillmore Auditorium in April, Led Zeppelin's lead singer said Mumford & Sons were "marvelous," adding "I'm proud to be British today."

Mumford & Sons, who played new songs "Hopeless Wonder" and "Walk Slow" that relied heavily on a two-man horn section, were both humorous and magnanimous regarding others in the day's lineup. After dobro master Jerry Douglas joined the group for "Thistle And Weeds," Mumford joked that since last year, "He's getting so much better; it's really encouraging to see."

Chris Thile lookAbout premier player Chris Thile (left) of Punch Brothers, who preceded Mumford & Sons on the main stage, he said, "I've actually been teaching Chris the mandolin this year. And he's really coming around well," making sure everyone knew he was kidding.

Then Fleck and his wife, clawhammer banjo player Abigail Washburn, came out for "Awake My Soul." Lovett, showing his warmth despite wearing a sleeveless T-shirt, said, "Coming all the way from London, and we come and get to play with your greats ... this is fucking ridiculous."

Of course, Mumford, later seen backstage rocking out to Band of Joy, gave his fellow Englishman the royal treatment. "To be here on this stage before Mr. Robert Plant himself is the hugest honor. ... Are you looking forward to Robert Plant? If you're not, you're fucking mental."

With that, Mumford tore through "The Cave" another slow-building number that takes listeners on an emotional journey ending with a fist-pumping chorus.

By then, there wasn't a dry eye -- or any other body part, for that matter -- to be seen for miles.

Concert photos by Michael Bialas.

See the slideshow from Day 4 of Telluride.

 

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