There are few things that pair better than music and skiing—especially when it comes to bluegrass. Improvisational at its core and often upbeat, bluegrass music found its roots in the mountains. Bluegrass musicians are impeccable players equally adept at navigating the intricacies of their plucky, songwriter-inspired songs alongside sweeping jams with no end in sight. Like skiers taking every nuance of the snow and finding the smoothest way down the hill, these musicians find their way through a live performance with a deftness we can all appreciate.
Last weekend in Steamboat Springs, Winter WonderGrass (WWG) took over the town, treating the ski community to a rip-roaring, three-day series of bluegrass performances that had the audience reeling in happiness. With the similarities between skiing and bluegrass, it’s no surprise that, after a two-year hiatus, the festival was greeted with an overwhelmingly positive vibe in its return to the home of Champagne Powder. It’s no secret that people in mountain towns love skiing—isn’t that why we live there in the first place?—but the pairing of skiing all day with live bluegrass performances late into the evenings is hard to beat.
FREESKIER knows the festival well and we’ve been on-site to cover it before, always leaving with good vibrations in our stride. But this year was different, an emotional return for the musicians, festival organizers and the community of music lovers who make their way to the festival every season. With social restrictions preventing the Winter WonderGrass community from gathering in-person in 2021, live streams replaced live performances; but there’s nothing quite like seeing the real thing. For festival founder Scotty Stoughton it was an emotional trip back to Steamboat. “Returning to Steamboat and reconnecting with the WWG Family was incredibly emotional. Artists and fans crying and hugging, the WWG Crew shedding tears of joy and love. It was a major emotional release for all of us.”
As for the weekend full of performances, Stoughton was blown away. “Every show had its highlights. Really. Every single set was delivered with thoughtful intention and open hearts. The WinterWonderWomen collaborations are so special as everyone is out of their element and improvising a bit. Both The War & Treaty and Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real made their WWG debuts and absolutely crushed their sets. It’s always fun to watch new acts feel the love and warmth from the WWG community while equally braving the elements.”
A highlight performance for the FREESKIER crew happened on Saturday night, when Big Something, a North Carolina-based jam/funk/rock band took the stage at the Steamboat Grand Hotel for a special Grass After Dark performance. While the band’s repertoire strayed from the usual bluegrass-focused bookings at the festival, the audience couldn’t get enough; even after the lights went on and the place cleared out, the people just kept dancing. “They certainly brought the energy given they didn’t have a festival set and this was their main performance of the weekend,” said Stoughton. “And their seamless ability to move between heavy rock songs and funky, danceable tunes had WWG fans grooving into the wee hours of Sunday morning.”
While music is certainly the catalyst that brings Winter WonderGrass to life, festival-goers and organizers always find a way to speak about the community of people that the event brings together—for everyone involved, community is the most important aspect of the weekend.
So, not only is WonderGrass a celebration of music; it’s a celebration of being together in the mountains. “I believe WinterWonderGrass is not only special for the ski community, but for the entire community,” said Stoughton after the weekend full of performances. “We have an incredibly eclectic group of people who attend from all over the country plus the diehard Steamboat locals. It’s special because we, as organizers, put enormous amounts of intention, love, detail, planning, and passion into these gatherings, and it resonates with this environmentally conscious and music-loving culture. The ski community is also so helpful, supportive, and a ton of fun to be around. They take care of the artists and each other, in the venue and on the mountain. It’s real. I don’t think you find that at any other festival.”
Since humble beginnings, Winter WonderGrass has grown into a series of festivals around the country. Steamboat is the kick-off party, but there’s still time to find your way to Tahoe when the festival rolls into town April 1st-3rd, 2022. And beyond the flagship festivals, Winter WonderGrass is always finding new ways to bring people together through music: WWG TV is the easiest way to enjoy WonderGrass vibes from your home and a series of river concerts—bringing live music to the water’s edge—throughout the summer months.