WinterWonderGrass 2019 Review: Community of Music , Culture and Adventure
WinterWonderGrass 2019 Review: Community of Music, Culture, and Adventure
There’s a reason that we are Festy GONUTS. Sometimes that’s what we do – Go Nuts.
Going nuts doesn’t mean doing something stupid, or unsafe, or unproductive.
It means doing something out of the ordinary. Getting outside your comfort zone a little bit. Doing something that may be shocking to some, but incredibly inspirational to others.
Sometimes we all have to go a little nuts.
Sometimes, we get together with 5,000 people, play in the Colorado snow, dance our asses off, and seriously go nuts!
This is WinterWonderGrass.
We often write these reviews focused on the Music, Culture, and Adventure that permeate every aspect of a great music festival. That’s what we’re there for. The music is important, for sure, but the culture and adventure are what drive us to pack up the car, caravan across the country, sleep on the ground, and enjoy every moment that surrounds the music festival.
WinterWonderGrass epitomizes this formula. Packed with the best music around, filled with a culture of love and inclusion, and absolutely surrounded by adventure – WinterWonderGrass has it down.
But there is one more element that WinterWonderGrass adds to the mix, that takes this winter music festival beyond possibility and into the realm of the unreal.
WinterWonderGrass is not a music festival – it is a community. A community of people celebrating music, culture, and adventure.
The WinterWonderGrass Music Community
Any music festival can put together a good lineup of talented musicians. WinterWonderGrass assembles a community of artists.
This is a group that is excited by the shared experience of performing in the elements – of getting weird on stage as the snow piles around their equipment – and this excitement leads to some of the most electric performances you’ll find at any music festival.
After our recent chat with Jeff Austin, we were absolutely certain that he would be playing his main stage set in a snowstorm. Despite the weather reports to the contrary, we informed everyone to be prepared for this. The snow was already falling when Lindsay Lou opened the main stage, and, as predicted, the Jeff Austin Band brought a blizzard.
“My band was so freaked out!” Jeff said. “As soon as we hit the road to Steamboat, it started dumping!”
And it kept dumping! But the band had no problem shredding in the elements, and the crowd generated so much energy feeding off of the music that there were absolutely no complaints about the cold and snow.
This energy is a part of the musical community of WinterWonderGrass. The artists have an “all for one and one for all” mentality. It’s something crazy and different for most of them, and they embrace the shit out of it. If it starts to snow harder, the musicians all start to play harder, without exception.
The community feel also lends itself to a ton of collaborations. Paul Hoffman and Dave Bruzza of Greensky Bluegrass, whose names weren’t found on any official announcement, both braved the elements just for the opportunity to be a part of this special event. Hoffman sat in with Fruition for a beautiful rendition of “The Meaning” on Friday night, and then he played during the entire Lil Smokies’ Grass After Dark show later that evening. Bruzza made appearances all over the festival, most notably with a killer “Mr. Charlie” along with the “Pickin’ on the Dead” band on Sunday.
Members of Fruition were also found all over the place, with Mimi Naja taking up the electric bass for a WinterWonderWomen set. And Kyle Tuttle of the Jeff Austin Band sat in with just about everyone, all weekend long.
We were blessed with some of the best in the business – Railroad Earth, Trampled By Turtles, California Honeydrops, Jeff Austin Band, Billy Strings, Fruition, and freaking Grammy Winners Infamous Stringdusters.
The Lil Smokies, Shook Twins, Della Mae, and River Whyless all rocked the main stage throughout the weekend as well.
Then there are the tent sets, where discovery is the word. Between each main stage act, there are 40 minutes sets in the three heated tents surrounding the festival grounds. The community of musicians performing in these tents throughout the weekend played their hearts out, many introducing themselves to fans for the first time.
Colorado favorites like The Sweet Lillies, Chain Station, Tenth Mountain Division, Lonesome Days, RapidGrass, and Wood Belly all delivered to energetic crowds.
Jay Roemer Band, Love Canon, and Town Mountain played to new and old fans alike, while we all were treated to the best collection of beer samples you’ll find at a festival.
Pixie and the Partygrass Boys and Upstate were new to many of us at the start of the weekend, but those who caught their performances left in love! And the Pickin’ on the Dead sets presented us with a rotating cast that kept the Jamboree Tent overflowing on Sunday.
And the winner of the weekend’s tent sets – the WinterWonderWomen! Every female at the fest graced this lineup at some point, with highlights from Katia Racine and Amanda Grapes (of Pixie and the Partygrass Boys), The Shook Twins, and Bridget Law. Then there were Megan Letts (Mama Magnolia) and Tiffany Christopher, who both played more instruments than we could count, often several at the same time. And who doesn’t love the washboard and kazoo styles of Mel from The Sweet Lillies?
If you want to know about the community of musicians at WinterWonderGrass, look no further than the WonderWomen. They are a community that is strong, supportive, and incredibly talented – and they rocked the shit out of the festival all weekend long.
The WonderGrass Community Culture
WinterWonderGrass describes their mission as an “intention to create a platform for artists, vendors, attendees, and our planet to unite as one – connecting the tribe.”
The “tribe” connected in ways beyond belief at WinterWonderGrass in Steamboat Springs this year.
A community vibe is made strong with adversity. Sure, we join in a community when we effortlessly dance together with our toes in the sand at an all-inclusive resort, but that community grows even stronger when we have to work for it.
When the temperatures dip as the sun goes down, when the snow begins to pile up on your shoulders, when the lights (directed by Andrew Lincoln of Greensky Bluegrass) illuminate every flake – this is where strong bonds are formed.
There is not a stranger at WinterWonderGrass. There is without a doubt a “we’re all in this together” feeling among the fans, artists, staff, and crew alike.
And what we’re all in together is a festival culture like no other.
This culture values more than just music. It’s about taking care of each other, taking care of the environment around us, and taking care of ourselves.
Communities gathered all weekend long, in and outside of the festival. Hot tubs and pools, restaurants, gondolas, late-night-picks, and morning coffee runs were all made more enjoyable and special by the overwhelming sense of the WonderGrass culture.
Even the locals felt it – those driving the shuttles and operating the lifts all took joy in the festivities and embraced the culture.
The result was a place and a moment in time that was bigger than any one element. It was the whole of WinterWonderGrass in Colorado.
A community of Adventure at WinterWonderGrass
It all starts before the first chords are struck on stage. Attendees begin their arrival in Steamboat Springs as early as Wednesday evening. Festy GoNuts was able to arrive on Thursday morning, and we hit the mountain right away.
On the first lift rides of the day, we immediately encountered “the tribe.” The mountain was populated with early-bird WonderGrassers, and we enjoyed a beautiful day of riding and skiing before congregating at Gondola Village for the first music of the weekend with Love Canon and Buffalo Commons.
At that point, as people are starting to get their first festival groove on while still wearing ski boots, the adventure became apparent.
When several inches of snow pile up on your shoes while you’re soaking in a hot tub, the adventure becomes real as hell!
Every festival should be an adventure, but this goes above and beyond.
When the snow continues to pile up as you’re leaving a Grass After Dark show at 2 AM, and you get up in the morning to play in the powder all day before making it down the mountain and back to the festival in time for the daily beer tastings, well, now you’re a certified Robert Falcon Scott (look it up!).
And the rewards are great! Some of the best powder in the country is complemented by one of the most beautiful hot springs in the state just a short ride away.
Of course, it’s an adventure in itself to put on all of your layers under a snowsuit and still find a way to look and feel your fest self!
People come stand outside in below freezing temperatures just to listen to music and drink beer. Most people wouldn’t want to go outside in this cold weather. But then Scotty puts together something like this, and everyone’s like – Alright, let’s do it!
Tell people who are unfamiliar with WinterWonderGrass about it, and inevitably you will be met with the same questions of disbelief:
“Wait, it’s outside?!”
“This is in the winter? In Colorado?!”
“Are you crazy?!”
It makes you think… Are we crazy?
Are 6000 fans and hundreds of artists, staff and crew members insane?
Are founder Scotty Stoughton and the rest of his team completely certifiable?
Or are we truly on to something? Something wonderful? (see what I did there?)
But it’s not just a good play on words, it’s more revealing than that. The winter is important – it’s what helps to make this festival unique. The grass is the all-encompassing way of trying to describe the genre of music that we all love. But it is the wonder that truly makes this festival special.
And it is the wonderful community that takes WinterWonderGrass beyond special and into legend.
Check out the entire album of WinterWonderGrass images HERE!
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Phantasy Tour has partnered with NIVA to produce a series of collectible trading cards featuring independent venues!
A video interview with banjo wizard Kyle Tuttle, including a few tunes from his latest album, “Live in 2020.”