What Say You, WinterWonderGrass?

Garrett Bethmann
Tahoe Onstage writer Garrett Bethmann makes new friends at WinterWonderGrass.
First of two stories. The stoke level is rising for WinterWonderGrass’ third trip to Olympic Valley this weekend, Friday, March 31 to Sunday, April 2. The festival celebrates all things bluegrass, beer and skiing — with 27 bands and 15 breweries playing a weekend-long apres ski party beneath the formidable slopes of Squaw Valley. It’s one of the best atmospheres you’ll ever be a part of in the Lake Tahoe region, and for the fans, musicians and organizers the whole thing can feel like a family reunion. Yes, it might sound a touch cliche to refer to the affair as a family reunion, but it feels completely appropriate. A lot of bands at this year’s WinterWonderGrass have played it almost every year since the festival’s inception and have been sharing stages, vans and bottles of whiskey for years with a number of acts on the bill. Festivals are one of the few places musicians get to actually hang out with other musicians. When you get them all in a group, with beer flowing freely and rowdy-ass fans ready to hear some major shreddage, you’re going to have one hell of a special time. If anyone would have stories to tell about those special WinterWonderGrass days and nights it would be the musicians who’ve been playing it over the past five years in both California and Colorado. Tahoe Onstage sent questionnaires to a number of artists to find out about their favorite moments, what beers they are going to try and who is going to be their partner in mountain mischief over the weekend. In today’s installment, get the lowdown on the festival from members of Leftover Salmon, Fruition, The Good Bad, The Dead Winter Carpenters and The Deer.
Andy Thorn, risht, hang out in a horse stall at the High Sierra Music Festival with bandmate Vince Herman. Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Andy Thorn, right, hangs out in a horse stall at the High Sierra Music Festival with bandmate Vince Herman.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Name: Andy Thorn Instrument: Banjo Band: Leftover Salmon How many years have you been playing WinterWonderGrass, either in Colorado or California? I think we’ve played winter Wondergrass three years in Colorado and this will be our second year in Tahoe. But it sure feels like more, it’s definitely one of our favorite festivals! What is a WWG moment that made you think, “I’m sitting on top of the world right now?” This year in Steamboat on Sunday the sun finally came out with tons of fresh snow. I got to do a gig on the mountain with Bridget from Elephant Revival and Tyler Grant.  We had a blast jamming and when we were done we all got to ski out the day in the sunshine and powder. It doesn’t get much better. Who are you looking forward to seeing play at WWG Tahoe and why? Very stoked to see some of my old North Carolina friends, Mandolin Orange and Jon Stickley Trio. They’re some of my best friends and a couple of the best bands that will be at the fest. I always try to make them ski while they’re there. What WWG Tahoe band or musician makes you feel like family? How did ya’ll meet? The guys in Greensky and the Stringdusters feel like family to me. We’ve all been friends and played together since we were starting out and it’s been fun growing together in this amazing scene. I met Travis Book and Anders Beck on a ski trip to Durango in 2002 and have been friends ever since, so we go way back.   What was your last day on the slopes like? Our last ski day was so awesome! We just played the spring concert in Crested Butte this Saturday and then Sunday got to ski in a big group of friends and Drew Emmitt and his family. That’s what Wondergrass is all about: friends and family and great music.   Of the breweries at the festival this year, whose beer do you want in your cup the most? Not sure what breweries will be there but we are great friends with Breckenridge Brewery. They’ve made a signature beer for us and some new stuff they’ve been coming out with is pretty tasty.  Thinking about your weekend in Squaw Valley, finish this sentence: “The mountains are calling and I must…” Ski all day and pick all night.
Sam Bush
Mimi Naja jams with Sam Bush two years ago at WinterWonderGrass.
Name: Mimi Naja Instrument: Vocals & Mandolin & Guitar Band: Fruition How many years have you been playing WinterWonderGrass, either in Colorado or California? Honestly I think we’ve missed one Colorado since 2013.  California since it started I think … 2015?  Do we have six WWGs under our belt? Nice. What is a WWG moment that made you think, “I’m sitting on top of the world right now”? I unfortunately had a high fever for our set with Sam Bush at Tahoe 2015 or that would take the cake. Really just riding the gondola up to Thunderhead in Steamboat to set up for our late-night set was a blessed feeling. “Of all the things people do for ‘work’, this is my commute right now.” Who are you looking forward to seeing play at WWG Tahoe and why? Lil’ Smokies are on fire right now.  Also stoked to see Jon Stickley Trio out west, it’s been a rare treat in the past and I hope they tour this new record hard and keep it up! Insane talent. What WWG Tahoe band or musician makes you feel like family? How did ya’ll meet? Oh gosh, this list is endless, I feel like I’d be doing a disservice to our family of musicians by missing one name. That’s one beautiful thing about WWG — for the artist, it has come to feel like a family reunion. If you are going to be getting into some good old fashioned mountain mischief, what WWG band or musician is the Sundance Kid to your Butch Cassidy and why? Ha ha. See previous answer. If you are putting together your own supergroup of WWG Tahoe musicians, who is in your band and what is the band’s name? HEADLINER! We did a band scramble on tour with Greensky Bluegrass.  I ended up in Headliner playing “Freebird.” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. What is one thing to always remember when playing in the cold and snow? Apologize to and love on your instrument as much as possible.  And remember, it will end and there is a warm artist lounge awaiting you! And there will be dope pictures of you afterwards. Ski or snowboard? I have skied before. What was your last day on the slopes like? Night skiing at Skibowl in Oregon.  Nervous Nellie carving painfully wide for fear of flying. Not my cup of tea. Of the breweries at the festival this year, whose beer do you want in your cup the most? Ooh I have a soft spot in my heart for North Coast but I’ve been drinking cider so I’ll take Two Rivers please. Thinking about your weekend in Squaw Valley, finish this sentence: “The mountains are calling and I must…” Shred. Aaron Lanes Name: Aaron Lanes Instrument: Mandolin & Guitar Band: The Good Bad How many years have you been playing WinterWonderGrass, either in Colorado or California? Officially this is the first year on the lineup. We’ve played at Squaw Village the past two years during the festival. What is a WWG moment that made you think, “I’m sitting on top of the world right now”? Two years ago we had played two, 3-hour sets in Squaw Village in the afternoon. That Saturday evening we signed up for the “open mic” session in the Soapbox Tent. We were slated for a 5-10 minute, three-song little deal but when people started packing the tent (as it was between sets on the main stage) we ended up playing a full 30 minutes. It was our first “official” unofficial set at Wondergrass. At the time we were on top of the world. Now officially being on the lineup and joining some amazing bands and musicians is just an ultimate honor for us. Who are you looking forward to seeing play at WWG Tahoe and why? Where to even start…..There are so many great bands this year! I’m almost equally as stoked to watch the performances as I am to play. I’m a big fan of Leftover, The Stringdusters and Greensky. So stoked that they’re all going to be there. I will say I’ve been listening to a lot of Mandolin Orange — Really amazing. And of course as a mandolin player myself Sam Bush is a must see. In my opinion the shows I won’t miss are The Lil’ Smokies and Front Country. These guys are killing it right now. What WWG Tahoe band or musician makes you feel like family? How did ya’ll meet? We’ve played a number of shows with The Lil’ Smokies and have a good relationship with them. We met at The Lost Sierra Hoedown a few years back and connected over some late night jams. Excellent humans and incredible musicians. If you are going to be getting into some good old fashioned mountain mischief, what WWG band or musician is the Sundance Kid to your Butch Cassidy and why? The Dead Winter Carpenters have all the local knowledge. If you are putting together your own supergroup of WWG Tahoe musicians, who is in your band and what is the band’s name? Man, I’d love to see so many musical combos. The amount of talent that’s going to be at this years festival is just insane. As a mandolin player I suppose I’d like to see Sam Bush and Adam Roszkiewicz go at it. What is one thing to always remember when playing in the cold and snow? Drink more beer.   Ski or snowboard? Snowboard because it’s more like surfing. What was your last day on the slopes like? Powdery. Of the breweries at the festival this year, whose beer do you want in your cup the most? Lagunitas makes the best beer in my opinion. They always have something new and tasty on tap but I am super pumped to taste some other great brews. Thinking about your weekend in Squaw Valley, finish this sentence: “The mountains are calling and I must…” Get some days on the mountain, drink beer, and play lots of music. Though probably most importantly make new friends and share in this amazing community of people.
Tahoe Onstage
Jenni Charles (center) Tyler Grant and Adrian Engfer shine onstage.
Clare Foster photo
Name: Jenni Charles  Instrument: Fiddle Band: Dead Winter Carpenters How many years have you been playing WinterWonderGrass, either in Colorado or California? Four. What is a WWG moment that made you think, “I’m sitting on top of the world right now?” Having Vince Herman from Leftover Salmon come up and sing, “Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes” with us during our late night set last year was definitely memorable. Who are you looking forward to seeing play at WWG Tahoe and why? Everyone! Peter Rowan stands out in my mind as he always has a unique set and often collaborates with fellow musicians to make his performance one of a kind. I can never get enough of his singing. What WWG Tahoe band or musician makes you feel like family?How did ya’ll meet? Tyler Grant of Grant Farm invited us to play his first episode of “Meeting On The Mountain” while we were out in Colorado doing some shows with them. We’ve been really close ever since. They are always down to do family sing-a-longs and whole band sit-ins when we play together. It’s really what playing music is all about: good old fashioned family style collaborations. If you are going to be getting into some good old-fashioned mountain mischief, what WWG band or musician is the Sundance Kid to your Butch Cassidy and why?| Those Portland kids Fruition, and Brad Parsons look like trouble. But I might ask Brad to babysit. He looked pretty comfortable with Jesse’s and my baby, Mabel, in his arms in Portland a couple of weeks ago when we were touring up there. If you are putting together your own supergroup of WWG Tahoe musicians, who is in your band and what is the band’s name? This is a tough one! How about an all female band? Allie Kral (Yonder Mountain String Band), Mimi Naja (Fruition), Melody Walker (Front Country). “Daughters of Winter” just to go with the Winter theme. What is one thing to always remember when playing in the cold and snow? Make sure the heaters work before you start your set and don’t forget your fingerless gloves. Ski or snowboard? Snowboard. What was your last day on the slopes like? Amazing. Of the breweries at the festival this year, whose beer do you want in your cup the most? I hope we’ll get a local representation from Alibi! Thinking about your weekend in Squaw Valley, finish this sentence: “The mountains are calling and I must…” Play!
Jesse Dalton of The Deer. Photo credit: Thedeer.org
Jesse Dalton of The Deer.
Photo credit: Thedeer.org
Name: Jesse Dalton Instrument: Upright Bass Band: The Deer How many years have you been playing WinterWonderGrass, either in Colorado or California? This was our first year playing either WWG in Steamboat and Tahoe. What is a WWG moment that made you think, “I’m sitting on top of the world right now”? Seeing people we have never met before singing the lyrics to our songs was pretty epic, or the late night jam in our good friends, Bonnie and Dan’s hotel room from Elephant Revival. Who are you looking forward to seeing play at WWG Tahoe and why? We love Peter Rowan, so we will definitely be there for that show. What WWG Tahoe band or musician makes you feel like family? How did ya’ll meet? We have played shows with a lot of the bands on the bill. Hot Buttered Rum, Lil Smokies, Head for the Hills, Trout Steak Revival, The Railsplitters, and Front Country have all stayed at our house, so it will feel like a family reunion. If you are going to be getting into some good old fashioned mountain mischief, what WWG band or musician is the Sundance Kid to your Butch Cassidy and why? I have a good feeling that we could easily end up in jail together with Jon Stickley, and hopefully after a few phone calls were made, Vince Herman would bail us out. If you are putting together your own supergroup of WWG Tahoe musicians, who is in your band and what is the band’s name? Peter Rowan on the scarf; Chris Pandolfi on open-back banjo, Sam Bush on Drew Emmit’s mandolin like cuckold style, Jon Stickley on guitar but with Tyler Grant in his ear-buds telling him what modes to play, Ben Kaufmann on a non-stick-upright bass, Matt Butler on stilts and rhythm dancing, and we would be the a five piece vocal choir on stage left. Our band would be called Tulips Below. What is one thing to always remember when playing in the cold and snow? Hot hands. Ski or snowboard? Either Or. What was your last day on the slopes like? Nighttime riding at Steamboat. No lanes, fresh pow-gnar, bro. Of the breweries at the festival this year, whose beer do you want in your cup the most? Lagunitas, duh. Thinking about your weekend in Squaw Valley, finish this sentence: “The mountains are calling and I must…” The mountains are calling and I must-ered.

-Garrett Bethmann

Related stories:

This time, Sam Bush will bring his entire band to WinterWonderGrass.

What Say You, WinterWonderGrass, Part 2 with Infamous Stringdusters, Front Country, Head for the Hills, Trout Steak Revival.

“Glorified volume knob” Matt Butler with Everyone Orchestra.

  • The third WinterWonderGrass Tahoe is March 31-April 2 at Squaw Valley. Bands include Greensky Bluegrass, Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon, the Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush Band, Peter Rowan, Dead Winter Carpenters, Hot Buttered Rum, Fruition, Dustbowl Revival, Mandolin Orange, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, Lil’ Smokies, Head for the Hills, The Bluegrass Generals, Dead Horses, Everyone Orchestra, Front Country, Trout Steak Revival, Jon Stickley Trio, Ghost of Paul Revere, Grant Farm, Brad Parsons Band, The Good Bad, The Deer and Pickin’ On The Dead.

ABOUT Garrett Bethmann

Garrett Bethmann
Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. An eight-year resident of Lake Tahoe, he now lives in Denver, Colorado.

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