Review – WinterWonderGrass Bears The Cold For Bluegrass’ Sake

The seventh annual WinterWonderGrass in Steamboat kicked off on Friday under stormy skies to the song of great folks, even better beer and the best music. That trifecta is precisely what founder Scotty Stoughton tries for when curating his festivals. He aspires to create a sense of community quality beverages and musical lineups that are curate. Though they re slated as music festivals, the WinterWonderGrass’s — located in Vermont’s Stratton Mountain, North Lake Tahoe and Steamboat, Colorado —  are much more than that. Between the amount of charitable causes a sum of ticket sales go to and the fiercely loyal dedication to partnering with local companies like Oskar Blues Brewery, Stoughton’s WinterWonderGrasses could be described as community festivals more than anything else. They re for the people, by the people, and for three weekends a year.

WinterWonderGrass Steamboat

Photo by Dylan Langille | ontheDL Photography

What brings the people from their winter hibernations to brace the bitter cold is first and foremost the music, the first few sets of which started in the afternoon with the Jay Roember Band, the Sweet Lillies, and Lonesome Days in the 3 adjacent tents — Jamboree, Pickin’ Perch and The Soapbox. The boys of Tenth Mountain Division sat in for a song using the Sweet Lillies before notorious WinterWonderGrasser Lindsay Lou things up on the main stage. The late afternoon saw Jeff Austin’s wizardry on the mandolin songs like “Ten,” “Raleigh and Spencer” and “Steep Grade, Sharp Curves. ” Fruition took their place just after sundown with a quick nod to the dedicated WinerWonderGrass fans from Jay Cobb Anderson — “I can t feel my fingers, but can I feel this crowd. ” The Portland rock ‘n’ grassers debuted two new songs, together with busting the especially Labor of Love. ” Love Canon, Rapidgrass and Pixie and the Partygrass Boys raged the 3 tent stages before the evening’s headlining performance.

Friday night’s headliner was the incendiary Railroad Earth, whose ten-song set hit every chord imaginable. The group included this group, together with guest sit-ins’ now five members from keyboardist Bill McKay and former Elephant Revival member Charlie Rose. Erik Yates very gracefully filled in for the Andy Goessling, playing the flute on “The Hunting Song” and “Like A Buddha. ” The Americana-folk masters played a set that included the whole crowd singing along to “Bird In A House,” tossing their cards to “Elko,” and dance among the snow to “Storms. ” And though Railroad Earth closed out the main stage festivities, festival-goers had a couple of options for late-night shenanigans, like taking the gondola to Thunderhead Lodge to catch The California Honeydrops perform funky covers like “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and originals like “When It Was Wrong. ”

WinterWonderGrass Steamboat

Photo by Tobin Voggesser

Day two saw some unexpected snowfall as things kicked off with River Whyless and Montana’s Lil Smokies on the primary stage. Upstate, Wood Belly, Town Mountain and Chain Station kept things warm in the music tents, but the highlights of these tent sets were both out of the “WinterWonderWomen. ” The two brief but oh sets included and had sufficient girl ability to fuel the whole festival but were not limited to Fruition’s Mimi Naja, the Shook Twins and goddess Bridget Law.  The California Honeydrops threw an epic dance party on Saturday evening with jams like “Brokedown” and “Having A Party” before Trampled by Turtles graced the main stage for the first time in WinterWonderGrass Steamboat history. Considering celebrity Dave Carroll is a Steamboat neighborhood, this made for an additional special hometown show where fans were treated to several highlights from the high-energy and fast-paced bluegrass group — from originals like “Codeine” and “Wait So Long” to an awesome rendition of Faces’ “Ooh La La.”

The night was still buzzing long after the festival had closed up shop, and among a few late-night happenings was the Jeff Austin Band at Schmiggity’s, where lucky folks caught “Rag Doll,” “Snow On The Pines” and “No Expectations. ” Saturday night ran into Sunday, which saw sunny skies and a vibrant place on the primary stage from Della Mae featuring the radiant Bonnie Paine and a brief appearance from Mimi Naja. The effervescent Shook Twins came next, dressed to the nines and performing songs of their own, like “Safe” and “Window,” and a cover of “Mad World. ” Meanwhile in the Pickin’ Perch tent was another set from “WinterWonderWomen,” and adjacent in the Jamboree tent was Pickin’ On The Dead, which ran through bluegrass renditions of the Grateful Dead catalog and included “Bertha,” “Althea” and “Big Railroad Blues. ”

WinterWonderGrass Steamboat

Photo by Molly McCormick

The sun set as Billy Strings took the stage for “Meet Me At The Creek” and gave a raucous performance, demonstrating he s the in the genre and is the group to keep an eye out for. And it lie when they say the best is yet to come, with the Infamous Stringdusters delivering the last and quite possibly the most epic set of the weekend. The Grammy-winning six-some was as tight as ever on Sunday night, setting the place on fire regardless of the freezing temperature and running through covers, originals.  The Infamous Stringdusters performed fan favorites “Colorado,” “Fork” and “Get It While You Can,” their renowned cover of “Walking On The Moon,” a rendition of Phish’s “Possum” and an encore of the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias. ”

All in all, the seventh annual WinterWonderGrass Steamboat was a success, bringing founder Stoughton’s of bringing great people in communities songs ” to life vision. The festival is the “quintessential Colorado experience,” from its aggressive sustainability effort, nonprofit benefactors, promotion of local companies and cultivation of visionary musicians who wish to be a part of the larger community. The WinterWonderGrass triplets, in the words of Jeff Austin, contain an “infectious love and energy” that’s unique to these festivals, and to Colorado with its ears. And as Austin mixing and mentioned during the hustle of this weekend dance parties, involving beer tastings and mingling, there’s room for everyone, so “keep spreading the good, and let’s f*cking rock. ”

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