After driving over 200 miles in one of America’s largest national parks, I take one last look at the entrance sign and continue towards my next and final stop. The Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival. Situated on the western edge of the Grand Tetons and known for having some of the best and deepest powder in the country, the resort plays host each year to an iconic music festival. The Friday lineup includes some amazing musicians such as the up and coming artists, Mandolin Orange and Sierra Hull, as well as music legends Darrell Scott and the Traveling McCoury’s. On top of all that, the headliner for tonight happens to be my #1 favorite band to see live - The Infamous Stringdusters. It’s my ultimate cherry on top for an unforgettable week.
        Before I can jam out with the Dusters, I get to drive through another iconic national park, The Grand Tetons. The Tetons are widely considered as one of, if not the most scenic mountain ranges in the world. I was able to see them on my trip out here as a child and the image of the steep rugged peaks has left an impression that few other mountains have since. Coming in to the trip, there was one shot at the Tetons that I REALLY wanted to get, which is the T.A. Moulton Barn. It’s one of the most photographed landmarks in the country and I can’t wait to add it to my portfolio.  
         As I’m making my way through the park on a winding road surrounded by tall trees on both sides, I look up and notice the sky is completely covered in a dark grey haze. After another ten miles or so, the road opens up and I quickly realize that I wasn’t going to get the photograph that I was previously so excited about capturing. The famous mountains are to the west in the not-so-far distance, but there is virtually zero visibility and I can only see the outline of the powerful peaks. Well shit, that’s kind of a buzzkill, I thought while disappointedly driving past the turnout to the famous barn. I mainly feel bad for the people who traveled all the way out here only to be greeted by a near invisible mountain range. Refusing to let this or anything else bring me down, I start thinking about how I decided not to include Grand Tetons NP to the itinerary, for the sole reason of needing more time to spend exploring the park. I’ll be back, I confidently thought as I exited.
        After about an hour of driving, I finally make it to the beautiful town of Jackson, which is the mid-way point between Yellowstone and the Grand Targhee Resort. It hits me that I haven’t thought about where I’m going to sleep tonight after the festival ends, so I start looking up and calling the motels as I pass them in town, which I (not surprisingly) find they are all full. It’ll work out, it always does, I thought as I leave the town and begin my journey through the imposing Teton pass.
         It’s now 5:00pm and seemingly out of nowhere, the sky has morphed from haze to storm clouds, and the rain begins to fall. Those who have traveled through a mountain pass in bad weather know it’s not a place you want to be. As I reach the top just before the decent, at over 8,400 feet elevation, the rain starts coming down even harder and after passing a sign reading “Steep 10% Grade: Proceed with Caution”, I may or may not be a little scared at this point. With my hands at 10 and 2, I slowly make my down the curvy mountain road and finally reach the bottom.
         With only twenty minutes to go, the rain begins to lighten up and I’m now bullish that it will pass by the time I get to the festival. I make a turn back east towards the mountain and now that the sky is clearing up, I can finally see the scenery ahead and it is breathtaking. The road is taking me through rural residential areas and while beautiful, it’s hard to imagine this leading to a resort. I make it to the base of the mountains and as I take the winding road up, I come to a sign that reads, “SLOW - cattle crossing area”. No more than two minutes after passing that, I make a sharp turn on a curve and am forced to slam on the breaks as there is a ‘family’ of 7 cows crossing the road. “Get the hell out of the way!”  I impatiently yell out my window as they cross at a record slow pace. After the random but somewhat amusing delay, I finally get to a sign pointing to a road that leads down to the festival. The rain is on its last legs and virtually over, which provides me a sigh of relief as I pull up to the parking attendants.
         “Welcome to Targhee! Pull around to the left and Sean will show you where to park” said the chipper festival worker, who waved me on with a smile. I pull in to the spot and am beyond excited to get out and enjoy the rest of the music filled evening. As I’m packing my day pack with my camera and a few layers, a friendly looking gentleman in his mid-60’s approaches. He’s a big dude, over 250lbs I’d guess, and he’s sporting a full grey beard with a killer Tedeschi Trucks t-shirt. “Hi-yah! Ready to jam out at the festival?” he asks with a big smile. “You know it! ”  I reply. “It’s my first time here, pumped to cross off another iconic bluegrass festival from the list. Have you been before?”  I ask while feeling confident that I already know the answer. “I have indeed. This is my 10th festival at the Grand Targhee”, he replies proudly. “My wife and I come down from Bozeman each year. She’s sick so she stayed back home, but no way in hell I could miss it. I’m especially excited because I have yet to see the Infamous Stringdusters, who I’ve heard so much about”, he continued. “Good choice!” I reply with a smile to help confirm his decision of leaving his wife back home, assuming (hoping) it was nothing serious. “I’ve seen the Dusters over ten times, and they bring the house down each and every time. You’re in for a treat.”  I say as I get my bag packed up and lock my car. We walk together down to the festival entrance and have an enjoyable conversation talking about the various bands and festivals we’ve been to. “Well good sir, I’m going to hit the head before going in. Pleasure talking with you, enjoy the festival!” he says as we part ways.
         I walk in the main entrance and after first stopping to get a cold beer (naturally), I’m immediately hit with the beauty of my surroundings. The stage is situated facing the notorious ski mountain and surrounded by massive pines, with views of the Tetons at every turn. The rain has completely stopped and the clouds have broke, which are now being illuminated by the sun that’s beginning to set. There are hundreds of people across all generations, who are commingling and as I scan the crowd, I see they all have one very noticeable commonality. Ear to ear smiles.
         I find an empty area off to the side of the stage, where I sit and enjoy the music of Darrell Scott. I’m not super familiar with him but I heard he’s collaborated, played with, and wrote for legends that include Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris, and Tim O’Brien. He’s also had his songs covered by country music superstars such as, Brad Paisley, Faith Hill, and the Dixie Chicks, so yeah, he’s kind of a big deal. Just as I sit down on the damp grass and get myself comfortable, he starts playing one of his most famous songs, “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive”, which is also on my playlist for the road trip. The weird timing coincidence forced me to join the club and plant a big smile on my face and that might not have changed throughout the evening.
        I finish off my hard earned beer and am feeling hungry, so I get up to check out what I’m working with. They have a lot of options which includes the usual pizza slices, corn dogs and philly cheesesteaks, along with a few other ‘better quality’ foods. I notice that one vendor tent has a line that’s about 5x longer than any other booth. There has to be a good reason for that, I thought curiously as I start walking towards the clearly popular tent.
       I approach the tent and see a sign that simply reads, “Thai Curry”, along with a few drink options. As I’m reading, someone taps me on the shoulder, so I turn around and see a guy, around my age, holding a bowl of green thai curry. “Dude - if you haven’t had this yet, you need to try. Well worth the wait.” he said before continuing on his way. It did look really good and considering I’m in no rush whatsoever, I make my way to the back of the line after getting another freshie.
        The line moved fast and I excitedly step up to the table, where I’m greeted by an older American guy and his wife, who I assume is Thai. “Green or yellow?” says the women who indirectly confirmed why the line was moving so quick. “Green, please” I reply. As I await the much hyped curry, I can’t help but notice their simple, yet efficient setup. They only have a table, a couple of crock pots, and at least 4 coolers, which I see the man is stuffing with rice.  This clearly wasn’t their first rodeo and they are running an impressive well oiled machine, which I very much have respect for. “Here you go, thank you!” said the women as she handed me the hearty bowl of green thai curry, which looks amazing. As I’m walking down closer to the stage to get a good spot off to the side, I am salivating at the thought of consuming this bowl. I take a seat and immediately fill my spoon with perfectly cooked white rice that’s soaked in the bright green curry.
        Oh. My. God. I thought as closed my eyes, tipped my head back and focused on all the unbelievably tasty flavors in my mouth. “Dude I told you!”, said a voice that I surprisingly realize is from the same guy in line who told me I needed to try this. With a full mouth from my aggressively sized bite, I flash him a hang loose and big nod of approval, as he and his girlfriend have a laugh. I’m a (self-proclaimed) foodie and I love curry, especially thai curry, and I think this very well might be the best I have EVER had. Not necessarily something that I imagined I would find more 8,000 miles from Thailand, but it couldn’t be more satisfying and I proceeded to finish every drop.
       Just as I’m finishing up (licking the bowl), the Grammy winning Travelin’ McCoury’s begin to play and I’m more than ready for the next set of music. If you’re not familiar, Del McCoury is up, or at the top of the list for bluegrass legends. Him and his band, which includes two sons, Ronnie and Rob, have performed with rock legends such as The Allman Brothers and Warren Haynes, as well as legends in their own category, Phish. While some of their songs are a little more “old school” for my taste, they embody the exact reason of why I enjoy bluegrass in the first place, which I can only describe as ‘real music’.
        As I’m watching, I can’t help but be honed in on the guitarist, who I’m admittedly not familiar with, but the dude can flat out shred and is one of the best I’ve seen. Like many artists I follow, the talent of all of them is overwhelming and while I don’t play an instrument myself, I truly admire those who can play at this level. I look him up and find out his name is Cody Kilby, and he joined the McCoury’s two years ago, after previously playing with the legendary Ricky Skaggs. He is also a child prodigy who was endorsed by Gibson at the age of 11, and at age 17 he became the national flatpicking champion (style/technique of playing guitar). That explains a lot, I thought as I turn my phone back off and enjoy the rest of the set.
        The sun has now set on the festival and the main reason for me being here is finally about to begin. As the Infamous Stringdusters are setting up on stage, I start thinking about where the hell I’m going to sleep tonight. I passed a couple motels in the city just before I made the turn into Targhee so I figure I’ll just wing it and hope for the best. As much as I want to slam a few more beers, like I normally would do while at a music festival, I know I’ll have to get behind the wheel in a few hours, so I opt for another always reliable concert combo - an edible and a water.
          Since it’s between sets, most of the crowd is filling up on beer and food (line for curry still popping) so I head down to post up by the stage. I plant myself on the far right side and luckily get a spot up right against the rail, which I know is where I’ll be for the next few hours. Feeling chatty yet again and never opposed to talking with strangers, I start conversing with the people around me and we all become fast friends. After talking, laughing, and sharing festival stories, we mutually agree this spot by the stage is ‘ours’ and it shall not be overrun by “the hippie kids,” as one guy hilariously put it.
         I look down at my watch and see it’s 9:30pm, and just as I’m looking down, I hear the crowd erupt. I excitedly take position against the rail as the Stringdusters begin to take the stage. The next few hours are filled with singing, dancing and staring in amazement of the undeniable talent of the five band mates in front of me, which is something that I’ve done many times before. One song in particular, called ‘Places I’ve Been’, is a track that is a personal favorite but I have yet to experience in the dozens of times that I’ve seen them live. It’s the name and first song of the playlist I made for this trip and the one I’m hoping they play tonight over any other. Nearing the tail end of the performance and as I’m leaning against the rail just feet front the band who near single-handedly got me into bluegrass, they start playing, you guessed it, ‘Places I’ve Been’. Coincidence that they played it to cap off my big trip? Yeah most likely, but I don’t even care as I’m on cloud ten at this point (not because of the edible... I’m pretty sure).
        They went on to jam out past midnight and ended what was another epic performance, which I have no doubt left everyone in attendance keeping that same ear-to-ear smile until the next morning (ending only when realizing the hangover presumably). Feeling great and riding the wave of adrenaline, I make the decision to follow the plan that I listed as an ‘option’ on my itinerary… Drive towards Denver and stop when the head bobs start.
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