For the fourth year in a row, music lovers in Colorado descended on the Vail Valley for some good ol’ fashioned mountain music, Colorado-brewed craft beer and an eventful weekend filled with crisp mountain air, blue skies and an impressive line-up of musicians. For three blissful days at the end of February, the small town of Avon, Colorado served as a one big stage for new and established artists from all over the country—bringing the people of Colorado’s mountain communities what they want: bluegrass. But this year’s line-up featured more than just 72 hours of pickin’ and stomping. This year’s WinterWonderGrass line-up was also the year of brass; and a collective of creative musicians whose passion for music and performing continue to make the boundaries of musical genres obsolete. Read on for our recap of this year’s WinterWonderGrass festival.
Day 1: Was dominated by the fellas. First-day festival goers tromped around a muddy Nottingham Park in Avon to catch some rock n’ roll vibes from Town Cavalry, sweet strumming from Colorado-based band, The Grant Farm, and a solo set from Leftover Salmon’s Drew Emmitt before packing the Pickin’ Perch tent to catch The Drunken Hearts—whose seamless blend of “Americana” music combines instrumentals and songwriting that would make the old timers of the country music scene proud, along with bits of bluegrass as well as electric guitar riffs that will momentarily confuse the hell out of anyone watching the young group of flannel-clad musicians perform. Leftover Salmon owned the top billing slot for the night and stoked the flame of an already rilled up crowd with a cover of “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” by 70s British glam rock band, T. Rex. But the best set of the night went to The Wood Brothers—whose soulful tunes were powerful enough to silence an entire crowd one minute, and have everyone singing along the next. Fresh off the 2015 release of their latest album Paradise, The Wood Brothers are one of those must-see live bands that gain a larger and larger fan base each time they take the stage.
Day 2: While the diverse line-up of artists at this year’s festival made it difficult to nail down just one concurrent musical theme—the overall theme of the fest was mud. But a little (in this case a lot) of dirt didn’t deter the happy go-lucky crowd one bit and once again, festival-goers emerged from hotels, restaurants, and the nearby ski lifts of the Beaver Creek Ski Resort to catch the beginning of Saturday’s festivities—starting with a beer tasting from some of Colorado’s favorite breweries like Upslope, Telluride Brewing, Crazy Mountain and more. Billy Strings, the fast strumming guitar phenom from Michigan entertained beer drinkers throughout happy hour in the Soap Box. The Wisconsin-based Horseshoes and Hand Grenades brought some old-timey, early afternoon twang to revelers in the Jamboree Tent before Fruition, a rootsy quintet from Portland, Oregon, emptied out the side tents with a slew of songs showcasing raw three-part harmonies that drifted out over the festival from the Main Stage. The Dustbowl Revival—a seven piece “American Roots Orchestra” and stand-out crowd favorite from the fest—burst through their fun set in the Jamboree Tent before the crowd collectively wandered back to the Main Stage to catch Greensky Bluegrass play the last set of the night.
Day 3: Started with several all-star mash ups featuring pop-up bands created from musicians still at the fest. The Lil’ Smokies, Noam Pikelny, and Paul Hoffman all played sets in the side tents, but the Main Stage was where it was at on the final day of the festival. Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds kicked off their afternoon set with a sermon-style song that drew people out to the Main Stage like sinners responding to a preachers call on a Sunday morning. The high energy band from Brooklyn, New York played a spirited set with dominating vocals emitting from the band’s lead singer, Arleigh Kincheoloe, which were backed by a funkified big band sound.
The Dustbowl Revival took a rightful spin around the Main Stage next, with lead singer Z. Lupetin singing through a vintage microphone, Liz Beebe switching between vocals, ukulele, the washboard and a kazoo, and the band’s trombone player taking center stage on the final song to belt out a theatrical operatic tune. But the night and even the day belonged to Nahko and Medicine for the People, who took the stage in coordinated ski jumpsuits that the band’s tour manager must have traveled back to 1990 to find. Pressed up against the fencing at the front of the stage, kids and adults, bluegrass fans and rockers, all soaked in the band’s positive message and Nahko Bear’s soothing smile. The feel-good songs and spirit of the final day of the fest proved to be a perfect end to one of those perfect Colorado weekends.