Flashback to May 2011. Brian Eyster, marketing director, Planet Bluegrass, urged Telluride Inside…. and Out to interview a newbie in the line-up of the 38th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Apparently his boss, festival director Craig Ferguson, was over the moon about a young singer/songwriter. And Craig has a talent for spotting emerging talent. Case in point: he was one of the earliest boosters of Mumford & Sons.

Our first conversation with Joe Pug (see Related Posts and click on the Bluegrass story to hear the podcast) was wide ranging. We asked him if there were any hints of what his life would become growing up as a boy in Maryland. Did he receive any formal training for his career as a singer/songwriter? Has he found that his major in college, playwrighting – before he dropped out in despair – serves him well in his new life as a singer-songwriter? Did his first album, Nation of Heat, an eventual hit, come easily?

Joe Pug helped generate his own buzz by giving away free samples of a two-song sampler CD, even covering the postage, so we questioned how he came up with this riff on the razor/razor blade idea. And we asked Joe if he was excited to be coming to Telluride and a sharing a stage with the likes of Steve Earle, an idol. He answered with a candor and maturity beyond his 20+ years, shades of good things to come. But we had no clue just how good.

Craig Ferguson generally schedules Telluride Bluegrass virgins early in the day, when the crowd is still mellow and Town Park not quite as packed as it would be later in the program. At 11 a.m. Friday morning, June 17, 2011, a skinny kid with a mop of brown hair and big blue eyes walked out onto the Fred Shellman stage with only his guitar for company, a truth-telling troubadour in the tradition of Woody Guthrie.

We had seen powerful solo performances at Telluride Bluegrass. A year earlier, another young man, cellist Ben Sollee, had captured hearts and minds. But more often the no-frills acts are seasoned and well known, like Jesse Winchester. A few licks, and Joe Pug had the crowd on its feet eating out of his hand. The soulful, red hot poetry of his lyrical vignettes is the stuff future generations of writers are made of. While pointing the finger at himself, his words reveals universal truths without an ounce of pretension. It became clear Joe, the natural heir to Dylan, Springsteen, Ritter, and Earle, could well be the new standard.

“I came out for the festival, and we were completely stunned by the reaction, especially since it was so early in the morning. It was a very, very special show,” said Joe’s manager, Don Bartlett.

Indeed it was. And if you missed it, or if you were lucky enough to be in the audience and want more of the same, don’t miss Joe Pug’s encore. He returns to Telluride to perform Tuesday, December 27, part of the Sheridan Arts Foundation’s Holiday Concert Series at the Sheridan Opera House.

To learn more about what Joe’s been up to since June, click the “play” button and listen to our conversation.

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