A weekend of the finest jamgrass around made its debut appearance in Vermont over December 14-16 at Stratton Mountain. WinterWonderGrass, now in its 7th year, has held events in Colorado and California since 2012, with founder Scott Stoughton and his team creating a musical village with a welcoming vibe at all turns.
Stratton was as idyllic a setting out east as WinterWonderGrass could have asked for. Located in south-central Vermont, the mountain is tucked away and has sprawling condos and chalets, a village that practically transports you to the Alps and world class skiing. This weekend added in 8 hours of bluegrass daily, with artists from across the country making the inaugural WinterWonderGrass at Stratton a rousing success.
Scott spoke to Jambase earlier this month about the inception of the WinterWonderGrass: “The original idea for WinterWonderGrass came together because I saw a lot of different music festivals happening,” Stoughton explained. “I saw the beer culture expanding. I was also living in a mountain town at the time, and I saw corporatization of mountain communities, influx of people, everything was branded, and it wasn’t feeling right. It wasn’t authentic.”
The result of Scott’s strive for authenticity is a music village that could be found at any ski mountain – after a run down the slopes, take off your skis and head over to the sound of banjos, mandolins and dobros and take a break with a cold one (or some hot coffee, cocoa or yerba mate). Walking into the venue each day, you feel like a member of a larger family, one that is smiling, laughing and dancing, and most of all, welcoming and friendly to all.
Friday kicked off with multiple sets from Pappy & Friends, Beg, Steal or Borrow, Fruition, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Pickin’ on the Dead and Vermont’s own Saints & Liars. With the three tent stages all close to each other, catching all three was as simple as strolling 50 feet away for a taste of something new. Headliners Jeff Austin Band and The Infamous Stringdusters had the crowd looking forward to the next two days, with powerhouse sets from both. Jeff Austin led a Yonder-style band with a set of speedy jammed out bluegrass originals and covers, capping the set with crowd favorite “Sideshow Blues,” while Stringdusters took spins on Phish’s “Possum” and “Bathtub Gin,” and invited up artist-at-large Bridget Law for Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Late night sets featured more from Saints & Liars and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, as well as John Stickley Trio and Beg, Borrow or Steal.
On Saturday the crowd trickled in after a day on the slopes and filled the WWG village tents and main stage with eager anticipation. The Larry Keel Experience gave a dose of dark sci-fi weirdness to the day, while Horseshoes & Hand Grenades performed “This Must be the Place (Naive Melody),” possibly the most fitting song of the weekend. Fruition was once again a big draw on the main stage, and invited up Craig Brodhead of Turkuaz for “Never Again.” Tweener sets of Rumpke Mountain Boys and Kitchen Dwellers gave a taste of what to expect during their late night co-bill, while Jeff Austin Band tore through “Snow on the Pines.” Closing out the night was Keller Williams and The Keels who revisited tracks off their 2006 collaboration Grass and covers of Beck, Jerry Garcia, The Butthole Surfers and Tom Petty. Late night sets with Rumpke Mountain Boys and Kitchen Dwellers were as satisfying as could be, with Rumpke jamming on “Harry Hood” and Dwellers going yard on “Cold as Ice.”
A rainy Sunday started out slow but heated up fast, with two of the hardest working bands you’d find over the weekend, Rumpke Mountain Boys and Kitchen Dwellers kicking things off. The ‘Galaxy Grass’ of Kitchen Dwellers, was notable on “Chest Fever,” “Gypsy,” and an impressive “Fire on the Mountain” jam. Upstate (formerly Upstate Rubdown) was like a show revue featuring a trio of energetic singers, Melanie Glenn, Mary Kenney and Allison Olender who drew the audience in with their banter and harmony.
Billy Strings, the fastest guitarist you’d find all weekend lives up to the hype that precedes him. Billy took the crowd on an intense journey and as the rain came down, he just played harded. The highlight was a touching cover of “China Doll” -> “I Know You Rider,” and it is safe to say that Billy secured some new fans and will be in demand back east in 2019. The main stage was closed out by Railroad Earth who invited up Danny Louis from Gov’t Mule and Charlie Rose (formerly of Elephant Revival) during the set, and closed the evening with “Captain Nowhere.” Late night featured Billy String and the WWG Allstars for a pickin’ party going into the wee hours of the morning. Given the response from the crowd, musicians and organizers over the course of the weekend, you should certainly be seeing WinterWonderGrass return to Stratton in 2019.