Beyond the bluegrass: Tales of craft beer, fashion and fighting for a better future
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A music festival is not just about the music.
For proof, look no further than WinterWonderGrass in Steamboat Springs, a three-day jubilee that attracts not just bluegrass fans flocking to their favorite string-picking bands, but ski enthusiasts, craft beer lovers and eccentric fashionistas.
The word ‘festival,’ which historically referred to religious holidays but has since been used to describe any type of special gathering, foretells the communal aspect of such events. A walk through the bustling festival grounds, ideally in waterproof boots to avoid the snowy slush and muddy puddles, shows its capacity to galvanize vastly different personalities all nodding along to the particular tunes that catch their ear.
The beer of bluegrass
It is that fusion of different worlds that brewer Nathan Lincoln highlighted as he slung beer samples for Joyride Brewing on Friday. This year’s WinterWonderGrass marked the first collaboration with the Great American Beer Festival. From 2 to 5 p.m. every day, ticketholders could partake in free beer, cider and wine tastings from Colorado companies.
At Joyride Brewing, music has been a cornerstone for the owner’s business model, Lincoln said. Many of the beers it crafts are named after or inspired by bands.
“The owner just brewed a beer for Greensky Bluegrass to show his appreciation,” Lincoln said. He described the beer as a take on a Kentucky common. Though not so common since Prohibition, the taste is similar to a cream ale.
“It’s just an out-there beer,” Lincoln said.
The Denver-based brewery has created a variety of music-inspired beers, such as a series of brews named after Bob Dylan albums.
“We just try to come up with beers based on things that influence us,” Lincoln said.
Steamboat breweries also have capitalized on the blend between music and beer. The Traveler Brut IPA from Butcherknife Brewing Co., which launched over the summer, is a collaboration with the local bluegrass group Buffalo Commons, according to account manager Erin Orr.
A bluegrass fan herself, Orr looks forward to working the music festival each year, which serves the added benefit of exposing people from far-flung parts of the country to her company’s beers.
But among Orr’s favorite parts of WinterWonderGrass is the fashion scene. Music festivals have long presented an outlet for people to let loose and express themselves through their clothing, but dressing up in a mountain town presents some unique opportunities for outfit-watching.
“Everyone is trying to be warm but noticeable,” Orr said.
Denver resident Lindsay Burton — no relation to the late snowboard mogul — achieved that fashion balance by sporting a chrome-colored, one-piece snowsuit. The reflective material shone like a purple-tinted disco ball under the lights of the Jamboree beer hall on Friday while also insulating Burton from the cold temperatures that would dip below 0 degrees by nightfall.
A platform for activism
With thousands of people flocking to a single parking lot for an entire weekend, WinterWonderGrass presents another unique opportunity — providing a platform for activists to spread their message.
Among the beer stands and music stages inside the Jamboree tent was a table with a Protect Our Winters — also known as POW — banner spread across it. Started in 2007 by pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones, the Boulder-based nonprofit has amassed an international following all in the name of combating climate change.
Lucy Winslow, a volunteer for the organization, handed out free stickers and passed around a sign-up sheet to recruit additional volunteers at the festival. Fresh out of college, Winslow wanted to find a way to champion environmental activism but had no interest in the political side of things. She appreciates how POW uses grassroots efforts to educate everyday people about their capacity to affect widespread changes in the environmental movement.
One of the organization’s short-term goals, Winslow said, is to turn outdoor enthusiasts into climate activists.
“I think that’s huge,” she said. “In the outdoor community, we are relying on nature to keep those healthy seasonal balances. Climate change threatens our recreational abilities and fun times.”
Tabling at WinterWonderGrass allowed her to spread the organization’s message and garner support. About half of the people Winslow spoke with had never heard of POW, she said, many of them from states like Iowa or Texas, where the organization is not as active.
The stages, too, presented a literal platform for activist messaging. The all-female group Della Mae, who took the main stage on Friday, used that exposure, in part, to be a rallying force for women.
Before performing the title track from their latest album, “Headlights,” lead vocalist Celia Woodsmith gestured to a girl in the front row of the audience.
“That angel right there is the future of our world and the future, hopefully, of music,” Woodsmith said.
The song that followed, borne in the wake of the #MeToo movement, is a beacon of support to women, a call to help each other and “to believe one another’s pain,” as Woodsmith put it.
“You are a headlight in this dark night,” she belts in the song’s chorus. “They might not believe you, but I do.”
Coronavirus takes the cups
The festival was not without its hiccups, however unusual.
Many guests were surprised to learn the coronavirus had consequences on this year’s festival. While ticketholders were each supposed to receive a steel, decorative cup to hold their libations, shipping delays have made it uncertain when they will arrive. An email sent to ticketholders on Friday advised them if the cups do not arrive by the end of the weekend, they will be mailed out.
The same email also reminded guests to be respectful of one another and Steamboat during the weekend, something that appears to be an overarching value of the festival’s organizers.
On the WinterWonderGrass website, in bold lettering on the home page, is the festival’s mantra: “We all breathe. We are all one.”
It is a testament to the power of such festivals to create a community, one stained with beer and hoarse from singing along, if only for a weekend.
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