Starting on Thursday, June 21, and ending on Sunday, June 24, I was glued to the internet radio feed from KOTO, Telluride Colorado’s community radio station, whose annual broadcast of almost every act to perform on the Telluride Bluegrass Festival’s main stage from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM, has become an annual “must listen” for me.
I don’t listen for the sound, which I’ll discuss in detail later, I listen for the music. High points this year’s festival began on Thursday with Del McCoury and his band, I’m With Her, a Chris Thile Solo set, and ended with the Tedeschi Trucks band. Friday’s highpoints were the Norwegian band Frigg,The Jerry Douglas Band, and The Telluride House Band with Sam Bush, Bella Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Bryan Sutton, and Edgar Meyer. Saturday’s festivities included Bella Fleck with Brooklyn Rider String Quartet, St Paul and the Broken Bones, a live to air broadcast of Chris Thile’s “Live From Here” radio show (Here’s a link to the show itself), and the Sam Bush Band. Sunday closed out the festival with a rousing gospel set by The War & Treaty, Followed by an instrumentally astonishing two-double-bass set featuring Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer with mandolinist Sam Bush joining them for several numbers. The last set broadcast (Sturgill Simpson declined to have his set, which was the final show of the evening, broadcast) was from the Punch Brothers, who are easily my favorite acoustic band. To call their set amazing would be an understatement.
Was every set from Telluride stellar? Well, no…Peter Rowan and his Free Mexican Airforce sounded under-rehearsed with vague rhythms and loose harmonies. Another disappointment was Phoebe Hunt and the Gatherers whose set was mired in sound issues that turned the band’s broadcast sound into a wall of mud.
The sound for the broadcast was a mixed bag at best. The first issue that I expected from listening to past broadcasts was the sound from the main stage was mono. That’s right, no stereo feed. The sound was lumped all together in the middle of the soundstage. This mono effect was quite obvious when the broadcast switched over to recorded tracks between sets – then the sound would bloom into full-width stereo.
The second sonic issue was compression. As to where and how – whether it was in the recording, encoding, or broadcasting stage, as a humble listener, I have no idea, but I do know what the effect was at my end – as the volume or complexity of the music increased the decipherability diminished. The louder the music got, the more homogenized the individual parts became. A tune that sounded pretty good when it began with just a solo vocal and one instrument turned inexorably muddy as the song continued. I tried several different “feeds” I used Tidal’s Internet Radio tuner to find, save, and play KOTO’s broadcast. I also tried a feed directly from Koto’s website as well as a signal from the Sony HAP-Z1ES Tune-In Radio app. All three had similar compression issues. Using Roon I could “gang” all my Roon-aware players and send the KOTO signal to almost every room in my house, so I wasn’t chained to my desktop for the entire long weekend. I even managed to get a feed from my iPhone to a pair of Bluetooth earphones so I could listen to KOTO while I was working out.
I found the best way to “listen into” the mix, which at times was difficult, was with a pair of headphones. Since I just received a pair of Earsonics EM10 CIEMs for review I spent a good part of my four-day listening with them stuffed into my ears. While they certainly did not eliminate the compression problems, they did make it somewhat easier to listen through the haze.
As to why I’m filling you in on what you missed – KGNU, Boulder’s community radio station does a live Internet broadcast of the Rockygrass Bluegrass Festival, which begins on July 27. The line-up of artists is here. You can even check out past year’s performances at KGNU’s After Hours site (which will also rerun sets during the festival.)
So, if you want to join me, remotely, at the Rockygrass Festival, bookmark KGNU and log into them on July 27th. It should be a great show…