WinterWonderGrass 2024 Brought Fresh Powder and a Country Outlaw to Steamboat - Festy GoNuts!

WinterWonderGrass 2024 Brought Fresh Powder and a Country Outlaw to Steamboat

by Apr 17, 2024Featured, Music, Reviews, Uncategorized

The 11th WinterWonderGrass Festival returned to Steamboat Springs, Colorado on March 1 – 3, 2024.   This three-day sold-out festival experience took place at Steamboat Resort, featuring bluegrass, country, folk and Americana musical acts, including the Dead South, Paul Cauthen, Kitchen Dwellers, Andy Frasco & the U.N., The Infamous Stringdusters, and Sierra Ferrell.  Attendees enjoyed a family-friendly atmosphere, daily local brewery tastings, and mid-mountain pop-up shows.  

Epic Snow, Amazing Performances:  2024 WinterWonderGrass (Steamboat, CO)

article by Phil Ziols

The snow didn’t stop coming on Saturday when I headed into the festival grounds at the Upper Knoll parking lot. After successfully skiing powder all day, on the Olympic trails from when Steamboat Resort hosted the 2010 Winter Games, it was back out into the true elements for my first WinterWonderGrass Music Festival.

It was a star-packed lineup for this winter music festival, and I was glad to have purchased a three-day pass earlier that day. The snow had subsided at first when I got in on Saturday but by the evening when Paul Cauthen was set to rock the stage, the wind and snow were full steam ahead. The big man came out after a long introduction that included samples of “Another Brick in the Wall” by his amazing band, and exclaimed, “Hello Steamboat, who’s ready to f***in’ party!”

Just as they started to go into his first song a man dressed in full snow gear whispered in his ear about the announcement yet to come: “Unfortunately, we need to wait for the wind to die down before we can play our set.”

I was heavily disappointed along with the crowd where the built-up energy awaiting the outlaw star had seemed to dissolve with the wind madly ruffling the tarps displaying WINTERWONDERGRASS 2024; but, we weren’t going anywhere as we awaited the Saturday night headliner.  We huddled (and drank) as much as we could to stay warm.

It was very cold, downwards of 20 degrees, but it was Saturday night, and we were there to party.  I had heard a lot about the year before, for a mid-afternoon set with families more abundant, when people had wondered whether he would play his hit, “Cocaine Country Dancing.”  To quell any doubt amongst the crowd, he opened with a 15-minute version of the song.

During the wind delay, I hurriedly went into the nearby Sierra Nevada tent to refuel and talked to one of the beer vendors.  “I just want to see Paul Cauthen,” I said, “He’s an outlaw.” “Everyone here is excited to see him,” said the vendor, “Were you here last year? He absolutely won us over, and that’s why he had to come back this year.”

I was stoked to see the Elvis-style crooning, outlaw country artist play this year after hearing all the hype from last year and contemplating attending for a year, only to make my dream a reality. I got back to my spot where my friend, who I had convinced to come, was eagerly awaiting the music. I’d almost berated him about how this was not just the show we wanted to see, this was a show we needed to see.

And Paul and his wonderful band did not let us down. As the snow continued to fall, and the wind howled some mighty stage rattling gusts, Paul walked back onstage. Dressed in an old, beat-up leather jacket and red beanie, he raised a beer to the crowd, chugged it and spiked it down on stage, exclaiming, “Alriight Steamboat, sorry for the delay, let’s f***ing party!”

WinterWonderGrass 2024 - Steamboat Springs, Colorado - Paul Cauthen

Paul Cauthen | WinterWonderGrass Steamboat, CO | Photo: Tim Dwenger

The keyboard player went effortlessly back and forth between his two-layer electric pianos and the guitarist played light distorted chugga-chugga riffs through the festival grounds. Paul’s voice echoed through the cold, evaporating our numbness as we sang along and chugged beers on Paul’s cue, who seemed to have a new beverage every few songs. Particularly, “Rain on My Mind,” and “Country as F***,” were perfect deliveries of his Outlaw, country, preacher aesthetic. 

Both Cauthen’s Dad and Granddad were preachers in the Conservative Christian Church of Christ in East Texas, and instead of following in their footsteps, he’d chosen the route of outlaw music. Despite his departure from the family tradition, in every song he sang you could sense the deep-seated roots of his forefathers—he would’ve been the fifth generation of preachers/song leaders—in his delivery and timeless voice. “Cocaine Country Dancing” was his final song as he’d grown in stature to a true headliner at the gritty cold festival. 

Before he even started the lyrics, the band again teased, “Another Brick in the Wall,” and the crowd rallied. We’d all warmed up from shouting and dancing ebulliently to his rocking set. “Cocaine Country Dancing” finally came as a solid extended version to send us all off into the night; as some migrated into the nearby tent for the Fretliners’ late-night show, I was frozen in place, completely gratified by his larger-than-life persona and stage performance to back it all up.

Molly Tuttle at WinterWonderGrass 2024 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway | WinterWonderGrass Steamboat, CO | Photo: Lauren Hartmann 

Sierra Ferrell Headlines Sunday Night in Snow White Regalia

Sunday’s main goal was to see Sierra Ferrell. Riding solo after another great day of skiing in fresh powder all day, a bit wiped and cold, I arrived as Molly Tuttle and The Golden Highway were on stage. I’ve seen Molly and her amazing band plenty of times, but not in such conditions or on a giant stage plopped in the middle of a ski resort with mountains all around and snow dumping down. 

The snow wasn’t stopping and the ground was covered in a thin layer of playful ice—like we were all on a festy ice-skating rink to move easily and fluently to the ensuing bluegrass. The powdery white snowflakes contrasted against the colorful snowsuits the band wore. Three women in front of me were still wearing their ski boots and colorful onesie suits as I ate a gummy and got ready for the rest of the evening. 

Kyle Tuttle played a song about Boulder Canyon, where I reside, and I felt at home despite the reckless cold. Dominick Leslie shredded the mando along with Kyle’s elegant banjo. Molly Tuttle ripped the guitar through and through all the way into her favored cover of “White Rabbit.” The snow was pouring in perfect white flakes and the white rabbit was on stage infusing us with her magical music. It got cold—really cold –  but somehow the snow and music did not stop this WWG first-timer from enjoying every minute. 

As darkness set in after their set, I started to lose feeling in both of my hands.  I was thankfully gifted extra gloves by my friend Katy. I bought two tequila drinks to attempt to warm my mind and soul, but they re-chilled my hands so I retreated into the heated Pickin’ Perch tent for 30 minutes until they regained feeling.  I celebratorily downed one of my overly strong Casamigos drinks while Shadowgrass jammed steadily in the background. 

WinterWonderGrass 2024 - Steamboat Springs, Colorado - Sierra Ferrell

 Sierra Ferrell | WinterWonderGrass Steamboat, CO | Photo: Carl W.

WinterWonderGrass - Steamboat Springs, Colorado - Andy Frasco

Andy Frasco & the U.N. | WinterWonderGrass Steamboat, CO | Photo: Lauren Hartmann

I had been up and sleep-deprived since Friday when I attended the late-night Andy Frasco show—indoors— where Andy and his band proceeded to drink an entire bottle of Jameson Whiskey, constantly switch instruments, and beat each other up on stage.

At one point, Andy reached for the mic and fell over with it. It was a raucous, wild time, filled with plenty of 80’s covers, most notably, to this Talking Heads fan, “Burning Down the House.” They brought on Max Davies from the Kitchen Dwellers for a few songs. Frasco and crew rocked the banquet hall; at one point having the whole room form a circle as he was on a chair held up by the crowd to acknowledge his Jewish roots with a Hora dance. 

I saw him Saturday night outside of the Jamboree tent right before the Kitchen Dwellers, and I offered him some gratitude. 

“Hey Andy, I met you at the Magoo show at Globe last Saturday, you absolutely crushed last night! Thanks, thanks for that energy.”

“I remember, how are you man? Thank you. Appreciate you.” 

It was a great, casual set up making it easy to see the members of any of the bands walking around. I also saw Max Davies just hanging out while I was waiting for the bus to go back to the Rabbit Ears Motel. Although I ran into some performers, I was most upset that I couldn’t muster up the energy Sunday night to go to the Kitchen Dwellers late-night, as I later learned that Sierra Ferrell and Paul Cauthen attended together. 

The Infamous Stringdusters were a perfect finish to the festival Sunday night. It may have taken me a week to defrost from the prolonged exposure to the elements, but it was well worth it; especially for that last set seeing Jeremy Garrett and Chris Pandolfi duel on solos and rip through the collective frost that had covered the crowd through the weekend.

Before they went on, the newly adorned Queen of Country Bluegrass, Sierra Ferrell, dazzled the entire crowd with her undulating performance in her Disney Winter Princess outfit; her voice echoing and resounding through the cold. 

I’d waited for Sierra’s set all day and was not disappointed. She sang and played to us through the persistent snow, warming us all and filling our souls with the goosebumps her old-time voice brought.  Her covers of “Me and Bobby McGee” and the Beatles, “Don’t Let Me Down” were incredible highlights. 

She performed her new song “American Dreaming” from her recently released album, which got me thinking.  If this isn’t the American Dream – skiing for three days in fresh powder and seeing Bluegrass Country music in Steamboat Springs – what is??

~Phillip J. Ziols

Phillip J. Ziols is an American poet, originally from Chicago, now residing in Boulder, CO.  Along with releasing several books of collective poetry, in 2023 Phil ran for Mayor of Boulder. 


Sierra Ferrell takes the stage in her Winter Ball Gown at WinterWonderGrass 2024 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Sierra Ferrell | WinterWonderGrass Steamboat, CO | Photo: Tobin Voggesser

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