Culture in the Vail Valley

All Things String

“A beautiful three-day gathering in the heart of the Vail Valley.”

It’s a festival whose time has come: bluegrass music, craft brewing and two passionate music-industry pundits. Add in a stunning venue (Beaver Creek as a backdrop, not bad), three stages and the three-day event is a fiddler’s dream. The WinterWonderGrass Festival, deemed all things string by event co-organizer and long-time local Scotty Stoughton, is just that… a gathering of like-minded fans of amazing bluegrass music and the art of craft brewed beers.

“For this festival, I wanted to get back to my roots and roots of the Colorado music scene, to take on an event to promote and produce acoustic roots music. It’s Americana, a little country, but primarily bluegrass,” Scotty says.

The way Scotty waxes poetic about the festival, the beauty of not only where we live but the overall Colorado music scene, it’s obvious the Winter WonderGrass Festival is much more than a job for both Scotty and his partner, Jennifer Brazill.

Between the two of them, they know music. Jennifer managed bands for more than a decade-most notably for the Dave Matthews Band. After sitting in greenrooms for a “zillion hours”, she realized that managing bands wasn’t where she wanted to go.

“It was an amazing experience,” Jennifer says of managing bands and traveling with them. “But I started working with Scotty and it’s been incredible.” In other words, Jennifer is not looking back and is excited for this year’s WinterWonderGrass… and what it can become for years to come.

Scotty, meanwhile, has been producing, promoting, writing, singing and playing shows in the Vail area for 20 years, and as part of Bonfire Entertainment has been involved with many different national music events. Experience plus timing brought success to the first WinterWonderGrass, and it’s quickly becoming the place to be for music in the mountains.

“We are lucky enough to be in this emerging music scene, it’s such a hot bed of unique and forward-thinking music,” Scotty says. “Colorado has always produced great string and jam music, which has influenced modern, wave, electronic and rock music. We are at a really massive point in Colorado music history.”

Hence the inaugural festival that took place last year at Crazy Mountain Brewery in Edwards. Even with only grassroots marketing, the line wrapped around the block by 3 p.m. when doors opened.

It might’ve been that the price of the ticket included beer samples from the valley’s and state’s best craft brewers. Or it might’ve been that there is no other outdoor music festival like it around. Or perhaps it’s an all-age groovefest.

“We launched this whole thing very grassroots, I don’t think either one of us realized how successful it would be right out of the gate,” Jennifer says with a laugh. “We’re really thankful. It made us realize there is a niche that could really grow. Bluegrass music and craft beer are big, together, it’s a huge force.”

There is a definite community vibe to the overall event, which is just the way Scotty pictured it. “I wanted something more the old style, back to the reasons we all came here: Listening to great acoustic music, after skiing, having a great beer to end your day,” he says.

Although the festival has outgrown its original space, the duo is quick to say they are growing the event thoughtfully, keeping a small-town feel with big names.

“We want to grow it slowly and specially and provide a wonderful experience for everyone who comes, whether bands, concert-goers, locals and visitors alike,” Scotty says. “They all get to experience something special.”

Something special indeed. They’ve expanded the venue to Nottingham Park in Avon for 2014, added a day, will be bringing in at least 20 craft breweries and are being sought after by big music-industry names to play. What big names? Bands with serious followers: Leftover Salmon, Green Sky Bluegrass, The Infamous Stringdusters and Elephant Revival. They promise 20-plus national, local and regional string bands altogether.

“It’s so fun. It’s a big dance party,” Jennifer adds. “The music spans all ages, it’s a really cool genre of music.”

Just remember to bring your dancing boots: last year the festival was graced with a huge snowstorm on Sunday night. Instead of sending the audience flurrying away, it just added to the specialness of the event—kids danced with their parents who bonded over the elements with the help of good beer, music and snow.

This is one winter event you won’t want to miss.