Last weekend (Dec. 14-16), I got the pleasure of covering the WinterWondergrass Festival at Stratton Mountain. The festival started in Colorado and is in it’s seventh year there, and also goes to Lake Tahoe. This was its first time on the East Coast. For a first-year festival I was impressed with the setup and layout of the area. They took over a main parking lot at Stratton and put up a big main stage and three tented side stages. They also had a kids’ tent, merch tent, first aid, big water stations, food trucks, vendors and lots of bathrooms. A big plus that I haven’t seen at any festival was a beer and cider tasting all three days – for free – from 2-5 p.m. The organizer, Scotty Stoughton, and his team at Bonfire Entertainment have a great vision for this festival. They focus on the community and make sure all involved have a good time – from the musicians to the audience. Stoughton is a genuine person and very thankful to Stratton for hosting his event. I spoke to some of the musicians who are also grateful for getting to be a part of this.
Let’s talk about the music. Every single band was spectacular, and there was not one musician I would not go see again. I love discovering new music, and for me, I found some new favorites. From the side stages were John Stickley Trio, Ghost of Paul Revere, The Kitchen Dwellers, Lindsay Lou, and Grant Farm (who did both a regular set and a gospel set). Starting the day on Sunday with some gospel was quite the treat. Another huge favorite of mine was the Jeff Austin Band. I’ve seen Austin with Yonder Mountain String Band, but he left them to form his own band. He took a risk, and it definitely paid off.
I spoke with Stickley who had one of the best and funniest quotes I’ve heard from a musician. We were talking about bluegrass and the genres it covers. He said how metal and bluegrass are similar, which I agree with, and watching him play you can see the similarities. That’s not the funny part. He said, “The reason we’re all here is because of the ‘Cotton Eyed Joe.’”
He’s referring to the 1995 remix by Rednex. He then went around to all the other musicians in the press tent, telling them this. Being a DJ and having played this song thousands of times, I never would have thought of this because the Rednex are a Swedish Eurodance group. They took this traditional folk song and remixed it dance-style with their banjos and fiddles, which most bluegrass bands have in their ensemble. I’m not sure if Rednex feels this way, but since Stickley sees bluegrass cross many genres, he is glad they did what they did.
I also discovered some main stage acts that I now absolutely love. Fruition’s harmonies were on point and their music moved me.
I’ve seen Keller Williams many times and am a long time fan. He was on fire with his funny talk while tuning his guitar. The music was a huge wow for me. I’ve never seen him with the Keels and now want to see them every chance I get. They did so many great covers like “Sex and Candy” from Marcy Playground, “Roadhouse Blues” by The Doors and “Seven Bridges Road” by The Eagles.
If moe. was a bluegrass band, you would have Billy Strings. moe. is known for it’s long jams,and a set might only seem like a few songs since they just play and play. That was Billy Strings. Their music is incredible. Billy is an amazing picker and shreds a guitar. Every musician on the stage ripped their instrument. After their set, I believe I speak for the audience in saying our minds were blown.
The main stage closed out with Railroad Earth, and what a way to go. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen these guys, but they’ve only got better. They’re an eclectic group of guys who are all amazing musicians. You can see the good time they’re having on that stage. It was an amazing show and they had two special guests: Charlie Rose (banjo/guitar/peddle steel) and Danny Louis, keyboardist from Gov’t Mule.
See photos on page 15B.