Meet WinterWonderGrass founder and new Steamboat resident Scotty Stoughton
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Scotty Stoughton wears many hats — he’s the frontman for roots band Bonfire Dub; he leads the production company Bonfire Entertainment; he’s the co-founder of Stand Up Paddle Colorado; he’s collaborated with a slew of nonprofits focusing on the environment and community. Most locally significant, perhaps, is the fact he’s the creator of outdoor, winter bluegrass and beer festival, WinterWonderGrass, whose flagship Colorado event has taken place in Steamboat Springs since 2017, as well as Campout For the Cause, which is held in Buena Vista in May.
Explore Steamboat chatted with Stoughton to learn more about his inspirations, his processes and his new life in Steamboat.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Explore Steamboat: How did you first get interested in music?
Scotty Stoughton: It’s a compilation of so many moments, but probably the most important one — I saw the Grateful Dead and saw a drum circle for the first time and thought, “Wow, there’s some really beautiful community love.” So, I went on tour with the Dead and sold grilled cheeses in 1994. I realize, now, the impact of that music and the ability to be free and less conformed to society — dancing, traveling, singing, playing drums, helping brothers and sisters on the road.
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ES: How did the idea of WinterWonderGrass first come about?
SS: I’d moved out to Colorado and started playing bongos with a band and found State Bridge, where all these different people come together around music. I was there in its heyday in the ’90s; it taught me a lot about music and community. At the time, my band was playing in Steamboat a fair amount — I think we played every venue in town. I was realizing that as much as I love playing music, my true calling is creating a space for other people to perform their craft and for staff and attendees to feel welcome and supported and nurtured by the experience. So, State Bridge burned down, and there was a huge hole in the community. My band stopped touring, and I’d been booking bands that now had nowhere to play. Concurrently, I’d helped create Snow Ball Music Festival (an outdoor festival), so I had some experience in producing them. I was very much missing the community of bluegrass and roots artists who cared as much about the audience, the community, the earth, and I wanted to create something that brought these elements together in an outdoor setting, where Mother Nature got to play second fiddle. I decided, “I’m going to bring the best musicians with the best beers in the mountains — no brands, no bulls*** — and it’s gotta be as healthy and holistic as possible.” Four months later, we did our first one.
ES: You moved from Denver to Steamboat this summer. What influenced that decision, and how have your first few months here been going?
SS: I moved the festival to Steamboat because it was the right fit and the right community. The welcome I got was so real and so warm there — it was refreshing. It felt like, “these are my people.” I also got married, recently, to an awesome girl from Vermont; she and her daughter moved in with me in Denver, which was great, but it was another lightbulb moment. I’d spent a lot of time in Vail and was pretty much over the lifestyle there, but Steamboat is not Vail. Being back in a “mountain town” — it’s not a ski town, it’s a mountain town — that’s really cool. I love what I’ve seen so far, and I’m just peeling the first layer of the onion back. I can’t wait to help the community wherever I can and be a part of the town.
ES: What have you learned from your decades of working in music that could be helpful to those who are just getting started?
SS: When I was really getting going and learning what risk was, and “this festival costs a million bucks; if tickets don’t sell, who’s going to pay for that?” That’s a pretty scary thing that I didn’t realize, going in. Friends don’t let friends throw music festivals. It’s not about you. It’s not about even the band; it’s about the people who are coming to the show. That’s the most important thing in the world. Have a foundation; have a mission statement. Do philanthropy and shine a light on people in the community. But also, don’t (throw a music festival) in the first place.
ES: Is there anything you’d like more festivalgoers to know about music festivals?
SS: I think we do a pretty good job highlighting our staff and our crew; I think our message has gotten out. We really truly honestly deeply look to each person who comes into the festival as a partner. I want to see you thank the security guard and give them a high-five or help recycle at the end of the night. It’s still a party; we want you to have a good time. But we can do this in a way that helps us feel better the next day: supercharged, enlightened, inspired by the people you met.
ES: What are you most looking forward to about WinterWonderGrass this year?
SS: Always, the new bands that come. We have a lot of people who’ve never been to a big winter festivals before; Margo Price and Nikki Lane have never been here — they have no idea. When those artists see what we do, that pumps me up. That and the baby bands, the amazing bands that have never been heard by our audience — people are going to have their minds blown. Always, I look forward to the collaborations — the bands playing together spontaneously, the things that aren’t necessarily orchestrated, but we’re putting the right ingredients on the counter. Those kinds of things, I love.
Learn more about WinterWonderGrass at winterwondergrass.com.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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