WinterWonderGrass - 2015
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Friday - February 20th
Locale and Travel - Festival Grounds, Venue, and Family Atmosphere - In-Processing - Food
So the very concept of an outdoors bluegrass festival during the winter in the Colorado Rockies might seem a bit too non sequitur when compared to most other outdoor fests at first blush… Certainly the majority of festival organizers host their events in the warmer months of summer or spring or at least in warmer climes. Not so, however, for the madmen and crazy women who put on WinterWonderGrass!! Avon, CO, is located just west of Vail on I-70 — for those who aren’t familiar, this means the fest is held smack dab in the middle of Colorado ski country. In February. Now you’re getting the idea. Avon itself is a little town comprised mostly of ski condos and hotels and the restaurants and other supporting logistical businesses that help keep the nearby Beaver Creek resort up and running every winter. This means a handful of good and close by restaurants and bars and things like grocery and pharmacy needs. Whether you opt for hotel or condo accommodations, the location of Avon, nestled in a bowl of snow-covered mountains on all sides, ski slopes, pine trees, ski gondolas floating by…all these things paint a strikingly different picture from any other festival setting to which I’ve been. However, this setting also has the darker side of potential weather and travel issues, as were all-too apparent this year. Snow storms either closed or severely slowed traffic on I-70 coming from Denver, so many folks were late to WWG or had to cancel. Sadly this is just one of the realities when thinking of this festival in the future — just watch the weather like a hawk, consider coming up early if you can, and just know that if you can get to WWG it will be so freaking worth it!!
The WonderGrass festival grounds are situated in Nottingham Park, a public space right in the middle of town. This year we had the pleasure of seeing the brand new permanent stage and bandshell being used for the very first time. As WWG is a small fest, the usual festival offerings are also on a small scale, but the quality is certainly there. Each of the side stage tents, the Jamboree and Pickin’ Perch, are both sufficiently large enough to get inside, get warm, and grab a beer from one of the 15+ Colorado craft brewers on hand to serve. One caveat to this would be when a super popular band (like Fruition on Saturday, but I’ll get to that) is doing a ‘tweener and the place gets packed to the point of immobility. Luckily that didn’t really seem to happen much throughout the weekend and, besides, there’s always the OTHER tent. The WWG folks also put together a nice bonfire and keep it going throughout day and night out near the main stage. So, all in all, if you dress appropriately and take advantage of what WWG has to offer, you shouldn’t get all that cold. Families should feel welcome enough at this fest as well — I certainly saw many folks with children of all sizes. I would say only these two things: one, the obvious weather considerations…it did get pretty cold this year, but I know kids love snow and cold weather and that parents can get them warmed up in several places around the fest as well, so… and two, it must be said that this is a beer fest as well as a music fest…and it shows quite a lot at times. While I am all for partying and having a good time, this is just something to consider for those with little ones. The veritable “trading tickets for wristbands” process went smoothly and there weren’t any horrid lines which was good considering some inclement weather setting in at the prescribed time. The WWG staff certainly cannot control the weather! Finally let’s talk eats…my favorite subject. Small festival does equal small selection, but what was there was delicious, warm, and affordable. The Moe’s BBQ and Cilantro food trucks were there serving up everything from traditional BBQ sandwiches to green chili to BBQ tofu to vegan/vegetarian dishes. Another food truck served Latin-Asian fusion (think spring rolls and churros) and the fest provided a coffee/tea bar and tent for further warmth. All told the food was very good and very welcome in the cold. My crew and I tended to balance out snacks in the venue and meals in town or back at our condo, however, one could eat both lunch and dinner inside WWG and be very happy.
Once through the gates we caught our first real glimpse inside the festival grounds: the warm tents waiting with music and beer, the main stage dominating the landscape, a stilt-walker and a hooper with a giant uberhulahoop on hand to “festy up” the environs for us, skiers on the slopes in the distance, flakes gently falling — in a word, WinterWonderGrasstastic. One of my favorite aspects of the entire endeavor had to be the outfits people rocked all weekend: countless examples of vintage ski gear, goggles, animal print onesies, unicorn costumes…it was such an eclectic mix of fun, funny, and fantastic!! But, honestly, there was music, too…
Gipsy Moon - Fruition - Elephant Revival - The Infamous Stringdusters
The first notes I heard at WWG sounded from the Jamboree Stage as Gipsy Moon helped kick things off while Chain Station did the same in the Pickin’ Perch Stage tent. Side stage tent sets were limited to 30 minutes throughout the weekend, but all that meant was that every band packed tons of energy and life into each. If there was a theme for the weekend it had to have been “fast pickin’ polar-style” and Gipsy Moon’s opening set established that tone for the weekend. Sadly, however, 30 minutes flies by and next we knew it was out to the main stage for some Fruition. The cold wasn’t severe enough to make things unpleasant as we walked towards the stage — it was WINTERWonderGrass, after all. In fact, with a couple of small exceptions, the persistent wintry weather throughout the weekend punctuated by small periods of sunshine and sunset made for a stunning and magical way to fest it up. Interesting to see the differences in stage set-up, too, as Fruition helped to roar this festival to life: huge heaters with blower fans all at the front of the stage working double overtime to keep the performers warm, roadies tossing hand warmers to them, and just snow on a festival stage to begin with. Fruition certainly brought the heat with them as they tore into their set even giving us all a little Greensky Bluegrass cover — what a treat! The WinterWonderGrass folks most certainly knew what there were doing getting Fruition to open things up for the 2015 festival main stage. After a quick trip back to the condo (the proximity of so much accommodation at WWG makes floating back and forth quickly an easy prospect) to grab more layers, it was time for Elephant Revival to take to the main. With a head full of amazing music from them the night before, I had great expectations and certainly wasn’t to be disappointed. I had never previously heard them cover Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”, however, I will never forget hearing Bonnie’s distinctive and stirring voice lilting out those iconic lyrics. As the crescent moon rose from behind the stage and over the festival goers, Elephant’s notes drifted as sweetly sighing water falling up into the winter sky only to return to us as the very snow flakes that gathered on hats and instruments and eyelashes and hearts. I really cannot hope to express to you here the utter beauty of the loving and lusty marriage that is a winter night plus bluegrass. The Infamous Stringdusters were the last act of the evening at WWG before the late night shows out in Avon later that evening. An early-placed and driving “Colorado” sent us all into an appropriate frenzy getting mile high and touching the sky and keeping the feet dancing, the face smiling, and the body warm. Lots of good Stringdusters standards with some crowd-pleasing covers peppered in rounded out their set to include “If I Had a Block of Wood”, John Denver’s “Country Roads”, and even a little Grateful Dead with a grassy and moving “He’s Gone”. Friday night came to a slammin’ close with their encore of “Where the Rivers Run Cold”, a personal favorite of mine and one that was most certainly apropos given where we all were standing at that moment. We all exploded into cheers and applause at The Dusters’s final notes and were left with faces split into huge grins as we all began to filter out of the WWG grounds and into the town of Avon for our chosen late night musical treats. Mine was to be Fruition at Agave’s, a story I’ll tell you now…
Late Night - Fruition - Agave
Agave is a Mexican restaurant/tequila bar turned tiny music venue for WinterWonderGrass late night shows. The place is small, but has two levels and lots of different angles for seeing the music. They also seemed to do a very good job at keeping the numbers of ticketed people manageable overall — it was never so packed you couldn’t move. The Stringdusters showed up and chilled out in the green room and around the balconies for awhile watching Fruition just hammer and nail their late night show. In addition to several strong selections from their catalog, the Beatles’s “Get Back” was a welcome cover early in the set and they simply spanked it. Late in the night our spirits were once again roused to raucous action by a little Zeppelin, mainly some “Rock and Roll”. And at a bluegrass fest, too, right? I know, I know. Well, it was extraordinary, no doubt. And, as is so wonderful with bands like those at WWG, several members of The Dusters sat in with Fruition throughout the night, each time increasing the value that much more of the tickets we all bought for entry. The last music finished around 1:45AM and so it was time to wake the wooks in the corner passed out and napping on piles of coats and spirit hoods and make our way home for some necessary sleep for, as delightful as Friday was, Saturday and Sunday were still just around the corner…