WinterWonderGrass - 2015 - Thursday
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
A bluegrass festival. In winter. Outdoors, you say? You must be mad. Or just into mad fun. Suffice it to say, I had my ignorance-born reservations about some of the finer points and details of such an endeavor, however, there was just far too much potential for unfathomable amounts of musical joy and festival soul-enrichment to say no. So we bought our tickets, packed up all our cold weather gear and other sundries and loaded up to head west for some frigid fast pickin'.
The drive through the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Avon might just be enough of a reason to make the trek to WinterWonderGrass (for those who did not get stuck in weather or delays on I-70, my heart goes out to all those who did!). Climbing up over Vail Pass right at sunset, the mountains around us all a watercolored masterpiece in hues of reds and oranges and purples, our excitement growing with each passing mile, we knew that with a line-up as stellar as this year's and a setting almost indescribably wintry and lovely we were in for a weekend like no other. And we weren't wrong.
WWG Kick-Off Party
We were lucky with Thursday's weather in that we got to Avon by dark, got into our condo near the venue, and got back on the road to the Vilar Performing Arts Center for the WWG Kick-Off Party with Elephant Revival and Bonfire Dub. The Vilar PAC is a small, gorgeous, intimate arts venue that sees a wide variety of acts throughout the year. Thursday night's menu was going to be heaping helpings of folk, strings, and grass...and it was oh-so tasty. Sadly we were only able to catch the last few songs of Bonfire Dub's set but we definitely enjoyed the groove we jumped into. As we found our space, we wandered past groups of folks dancing in the aisles, all ages, all imaginable types of people. It was clear that a few Vilar PAC season ticket holders were in attendance in addition to the rest of us WWG festival-goers, but they seemed nonplussed by any of our culture's normal shenanigannery. It's amazing the power that fine-quality music can have on a group of seemingly disconnected humans, right? Besides, no single group owns a franchise on having a great time through music...which is one of the very reasons we all love and need it so much.
Prior to Thursday I was largely unfamiliar with Bonfire Dub or their music. Unfortunately, given that we only caught a smidge of their set, I cannot say that much has changed. However between the positive messages in their music, the unique instrumentation, and the friends guesting in from Elephant Revival, I thoroughly enjoyed their vibe. With the likes of Bonnie Paine on washboard, Bridget Law on fiddle (who plays with Bonfire part time), and Daniel Rodriguez on guitar on hand to lend a helping note or two (or a hundred) it was no surprise for me to look around a see that not a small amount of those heads dancing in the aisles were covered in white hair. We all know it's hard to keep one's seat when the music is just so, so good. The vice-mayor of Avon (and, apparently, the gentleman responsible for bringing WWG to Nottingham Park and to all of us) even joined in for a song on the talking drum. Talk about cameos! One of my favorite aspects must have been Bonfire Dub percussionist Mark Levy's instrument: what appeared to be a stringless banjo whose skin he played with his hands and a couple of crash cymbals bracketed to the side, all of which was held against his body like a cello. Add a foot drum and you have one of the more fascinating, non-traditional "drum kits" I have ever seen. Gotta love folk music. Their final song of the night, "Fare Thee Well", was shot throughout with a joyous and uplifting message for all: be well. Well-wishing is such a compassionate hallmark of our species and of our culture, both our music culture and the greater culture at large, and to have it woven into a musical embrace as such certainly left me warm, weighty, and ready for some further revival, Elephant Revival, that is.
Almost immediately into Elephant Revival's first set Daniel broke a string on his guitar...but this minor tragedy led to serendipity: an a cappella treat from Bonnie, a haunting, entrancing song her grandmother had given to her. There are caves deep under the surface of the earth where no life can live at all that are thousands of times noisier than the Vilar PAC hall was as she passionately sang. It was a breathtaking string of memorable moments. Talk about why we get out and see live music -- gathering together for a very powerful reason, one that transcends all other gatherings for things like politics or protests or parades, one that nurtures us through interaction and absorption. And the soulful serenades that Elephant delivered all throughout their first set were just that very kind of nurture. However, it really was the second set that held the fire that night. Oh, I don't know why, really...maybe it was the 14-person-strong folkgrass supergroup that took to the stage? Members of The Infamous Stringdusters, Fruition, and Bonfire Dub all amassed to augment Elephant Revival for a series of white hot numbers that produced a wall of stringed-up sound the likes of which I know I had never seen nor heard before. In such a small space, in such close proximity, it was spectacular, as you can imagine. Andy Hall (Stringdusters) on vintage mando? Did I even see a melodica up there?!? As I said, gotta love folk music. This awesome force for musical good sizzled through song after song to include absolutely nailing Fruition's "Shine Your Light" (after the supergroup had specifically requested to do one of their songs...too cool). The last song of the evening was a riveting version of Elephant's "Over the River" -- led by Bonnie, we all were once again treated to some a cappella goodness care of some 14 voices and a bit of groovy hand percussion. As the last note rung out into the hall and just before the first round of applause began, I had time for one quick, but lovely thought: this WinterWonderGrass thing is going to be one hell of an amazing way to spend a winter weekend in the mountains.