There are few things that speak more to Colorado’s collective soul than fresh powder, acoustic roots music, and craft beer. It’s the Rocky Mountain lifestyle, and no festival captures it better than WinterWonderGrass Colorado. The outdoor event takes place February 20–22 in Avon and highlights Colorado vendors and musicians, creating a community gathering unlike any other.
Now in its third year, WinterWonderGrass was a long time coming for Scotty Stoughton, who founded the festival after 20 years of producing, attending, and performing at various happenings throughout the country. “I wanted to bring together all things authentic, and gather people on the grassroots level,” Stoughton says. Eventually, he teamed up with Jennifer Brazill, and together they set about crafting a boutique festival that emulated their ideal lifestyle.
The duo books bands according to what sounds good unplugged and around a campfire, which tends to lead to a lot of string music. This year’s lineup includes bluegrass legend Sam Bush, Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang, and the Wood Brothers, as well as Colorado favorites Leftover Salmon, Jeff Austin Band, and Elephant Revival (to name a few).
Couple the music with the local companies featured at the event, and it’s easy to see why this festival is a new Colorado favorite. “We don’t use any sponsored products or corporate sponsors,” says Brazill. “All our juices and sodas are Colorado produced, and we don’t step outside our messaging on that.” That means sacrificing a little on the financial side, but it enables attendees to be exposed to more local goods—and they’re not lacking for choice. This year’s event features two heated beer tents with 16 Colorado breweries, including Great Divide and Crazy Mountain, and from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. every day, ticket holders are offered free tastings from all of them. The only liquor served is handcrafted in Colorado, and all the food trucks, including crowd-favorite Moe’s Original BBQ, are local (though guests are welcome to bring their own food).
WinterWonderGrass also places a heavy (and refreshing) emphasis on sustainability. Each three-day ticket comes with a complimentary Kleen Kanteen mug, vendors use compostable materials, and there’s no bottled water for sale. In fact, there are no plastics on site—no exceptions. Car-pooling is encouraged, and public transportation between Vail and Avon will be increased for the weekend. The festival has also partnered with Walking Mountain to manage the recycling, composting, and trash; last year they had a 75 percent conversion rate.
For kids, the festival features a heated tent filled with face painting, hula hooping, and crafts, and if your child is 12 or under, their entrance is free. “It’s a festival meant for everyone of all ages,” explained Brazill. People come straight from the mountain, often in their gear, as the music doesn’t start until after 2 p.m. “It’s kind of the ultimate après ski,” said Brazill. Once the sun goes down, the party really begins, with headliners’ performances, as well as fire dancing and other acrobatic stunts courtesy of the Boulder circus arts collective Fractal Tribe. There are even late-night shows—at an additional cost—for those who want to keep going once the main stage shuts down.
As WinterWonderGrass has gained more recognition, the festival’s mission remains unchanged. The biggest alteration this year is the brand new $4 million stage, which is state-of-the-art and backs up to Nottingham Lake. With a capacity of 3,500 a day, tickets are going fast and will undoubtedly sell out. Get yours while you can and spend the weekend away from your phone and immersed in the Rockies, reconnecting with friends, family, and string music.
Who should attend: “People who share the belief that the journey is just as important as the destination; people who come with a positive vibe and a willingness to be flexible. That transcends age and socioeconomic status,” Stoughton says.
Go a day early for: The kickoff party Thursday night at Vilar Performing Arts Center (tickets are an additional $20). Elephant Revival and Stoughton’s own band, Bonfire Dub, will play an acoustic show, and there will be a silent auction featuring signed festival photos from 2014.
Don’t miss: Any of the headliners, along with festival favorites Fruition and newcomers Dustbowl Revival. Also, don’t neglect the two smaller stages inside the beer tents.
Three-day passes are $139, single day passes start at $59, and kids under 12 are free. WinterWonderGrass, 1 Lake Street, Avon; winterwondergrass.com.