Welcome to WinterWonderGrass weekend 2020 | SteamboatToday.com

Welcome to WinterWonderGrass weekend 2020

Billy Strings is slated to play Friday, Feb. 21, and Sunday, Feb. 23, at WinterWonderGrass in Steamboat Springs.
Katie Berning

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Over the past few winters, the signs have become synonymous with the season itself: a small city of tents sprouting, all of a sudden, out of the Upper Knoll Parking Lot; bluegrass tunes floating through the frozen air, across town and into the night; a noticeable uptick in humans in animal onesies, neon costumes and huge grins. WinterWonderGrass Colorado, a celebration of bluegrass, beer and mountains, is back. 

While the Wisconsin-based quintet Horseshoes & Hand Grenades will get festivities rolling Thursday with the annual Gondola Stage free kick-off party, the three-day outdoor bluegrass festival officially begins Friday. 

The three-day festival features headliners Greensky Bluegrass, Billy Strings and Margo Price. Playing throughout the days, evenings and late nights of the weekend will also be the following bands: Keller & The Keels and Nikki Lane, the Travelin’ McCourys, Molly Tuttle, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Della Mae, The Bluegrass Generals, Alo, Lindsay Lou, WinterWonderWomen, Pickin’ On the Dead, Cris Jacobs, Che Apalache, Jon Stickley Trio, Meadow Mountain, Twisted Pine, Jay Roemer Band, Buffalo Commons, Bowregard and special guests Bridget Law, Jennifer Hartswick, Andy Thorn, Pappy Biondo and Will Mosheim. 

For WinterWonderGrass-goers who’ve been attending for years, the festival scene will feel familiar but with plenty of improvements and upgrades to find, as well.

“Each year, we try to reinspire the aesthetic of the event,” founder Scotty Stoughton said.

His team has been creating new signage, markers and language to make the festival experience “a little prettier, a little smoother.” This year’s box office will be a little nicer; there will be more heating lamps throughout the general admission spaces; and the VIP tent will be a bit bigger. 

Zero single-use plastics

Friday marks the first year in which WWG Steamboat and its two offshoots, California and Vermont, will all three be free of single-use plastics. The trio of festivals, with their beer tasting tents aplenty and their altitude-related emphasis on hydration, have been close to using zero single-use plastics in past years — but the occasional need for an emergency bottle of water still existed. This year, though, there’s a no-plastics plan for these emergency situations: a new partnership with water in recyclable aluminum cans. 

“It feels amazing (to be single-use-plastics-free),” Stoughton said. “All the credit goes to our Green Team partner: Waste Free Earth.” 

Greensky Bluegrass’ Paul Hoffman, on mandolin, and Mike Devol, on upright bass, play to a packed crowd at a past WinterWonderGrass. Greensky plays again Saturday, Feb. 22.
Katie Berning

Waste Free Earth is a Vermont-based sustainability consulting and lifestyle brand that specializes in event waste reduction, diversion and management, headed up by Marina McCoy.

“(McCoy)’s been giving us tools to succeed and holding us accountable,” Stoughton said. “And as much as we’re excited to be single-use-plastics-free, we still have more work to do.” 

“Eventually, our goal is to be carbon-neutral,” said WWG publicist Juliana Todeschi. 

Water won’t be the only beverage newly available in aluminum cans instead of plastic. This weekend will also see the debut of — what else — WinterWonderWine. WinterWonderWine, available in red and white blends, is produced and canned by Castoro Cellars, a certified-organic, sustainability oriented, California winery. 

“It’s amazing,” Stoughton said, “and very recyclable.”

Wondergrass attendees can support festival sustainability efforts this weekend by bringing their own reusable water bottle, an insulated cup for hot drinks and reusable utensils, as well as taking the public bus rather than driving as much as possible. 

Another significant change from last year is one festivalgoers may not realize, but its effects exist. In the past year, Stoughton and his family moved from the Front Range to Steamboat Springs.

“It’s given us a chance to see if we’re being as locally minded as possible,” Stoughton said.

The fact that Steamboat is Stoughton’s newly adopted hometown provides practical benefits, as well. His house has been serving as a community hub for the WonderGrass team, and his wife — who he describes as an amazing cook — has been cooking up meals for the entire festival crew as they work to create the grounds through temperatures dipping into the negatives. 

While Stoughton loves traveling to Tahoe and Stratton for the other festivals, “when you live here, it’s playing a home game,” he said. 

First time at WWG

The festival also welcomes a batch of musicians for whom it will be their first time WonderGrassing. 

“For me, it’s always the most fun to see an artist’s first time (at WinterWonderGrass),” Stoughton said. “They’ve got no idea of the community we’ve created; I know it’s going to blow their minds.”

He especially loves seeing new artists interact with snowfall on stage.

“(The new artists) look around, then the crowd sees they’re confused, so the crowd goes crazy,” Stoughton recalls from past snowy festivals, “then the artists pick up on that energy, and they go crazy, and the music picks up, and the tempo picks up.”

Stoughton wants all artists to feel appreciated and welcomed; he also gives several a special shout-out.

“Molly Tuttle, Nikki Lane, Margo Price — these are three powerhouse gals who are absolutely dominating,” Stoughton said. “I want them to feel not only our support for them as artists but also an acknowledgement of the fact that they’ve risen to the top in a male-dominated industry.”

In addition to new artists, products and ideas, the festival also welcomes back much of what makes Wondergrass, Wondergrass.

Outside of the festival grounds, there will be several events open to the public: on-mountain shows on both Saturday and Sunday on the Basher Deck, accompanied by beer and tacos. Pappy Biondo and Will Mosheim will also host public picks in the Peak View Room of The Steamboat Grand both days of the weekend, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; music fans are invited to bring their instruments and join in.

Like in past festivals, a portion of ticket sales, bar profits and benefit events support several nonprofit partners. This year’s partners include Partners in Routt County, a local youth mentoring program; All Hands and Hearts, a disaster relief organization; Protect Our Winters, which focuses on legislation regarding climate change; The Jeff Austin Family Fund, which supports the family of mandolinist and singer-songwriter Jeff Austin, who passed away in June 2019; and Emmy’s Friends, an organization that helps children facing life-threatening illnesses and their families with better access to organic foods, nutritional guidance and other resources for healthy living. 

For more information about WinterWonderGrass, visit winterwondergrass.com.

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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