“Get out here Silas, this is a festival and there’s about to be a whole lotta pickin’ goin’ on”, beckoned a smiling and bundled up Vince Herman to his mandolin-playing son, who was waiting just offstage.
The younger Herman was summoned early on to join his dad’s jamgrass band, Leftover Salmon as they headlined the first night of what’s become an annual three-day spring event held in the westernmost parking area at one of the premiere ski destinations in the world, Squaw Valley, CA.
Hit the slopes at the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics in the morning, have a bite and a nap and put your party goggles on for eight hours of music and laughs to finish a full day? Seriously? Hell yeah!
Winter WonderGrass Tahoe was the third and final gathering of the season in an east-to-west traveling bluegrass odyssey that frankly, is supported by what has to be the heartiest collection of music fans on the planet. Last year’s wild weather led me to compare it to Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” in my recap of the 2018 event. The 2019 edition however featured three glorious days of sun, a crisp evening chill as the sun disappeared behind the tram up to High Camp, and set after set of outstanding music.
The WWG folks create a self-contained and cozy environment to enjoy top shelf talent. The spectacular visual surround of the Sierra Nevada Range also sets it apart. The sell-out is about 4,000 fans and with a modicum of planning you can rail-ride any set you really wish. Food, drink and even warmth are always just a few hundred yards away at most.
Festival headliners Leftover Salmon, Greensky Bluegrass, and Trampled by Turtles did their thing to close out each day. Fruition, Jeff Austin Band, Lindsay Lou, The Sam Bush Band, Billy Strings, and The McCoury’s all brought inspired performances in their run-up slots on the main stage.
ALO, whose front man Zach Gill joked to the audience, “didn’t you know we were a bluegrass band?” played to a large contingent of home-town fans supporting them from their nearby Northern California base.
But the brilliance of WWG are the intimate, and often impromptu tent performances.
Attendees satiated their tastes for beer, fiddle, mandolin, acoustic or electric guitar, more beer, and beautiful vocals simultaneously in any of the three perimeter tents while the main stage changeovers were completed.
Pixie and The Partygrass Boys, Upstate, Pickin’ on The Dead, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, Jack Cloonan Band, Driftwood, Daniel Rodriguez, One Grass Two Grass and Tahoe City residents Jenni and Jesse Dunn lit up the perimeter venues. Vince and Silas Herman, Andy Thorn, The Travelin’ McCourys, and Lindsay Lou also played tent shows in addition to their main stage sets.
For those who wished to venture outside the confines of the festival grounds, there was also a high noon set by Andy Thorn and Co performed outdoors at the top of Squaw Valley, impromptu jams in a gondola up to High Camp, and enough late-night options to satisfy the most hard core fan.
In true to festival tradition, collaborations abounded as artists shared various stages with one another. Odd were the sets when at least one guest wouldn’t make their way through the crowd and hop on stage with string instrument in tow. As Vince Herman promised, there was a whole lotta pickin’ to be found. The Winter WonderGrass crew deserves a nice break after star-filled stops in Vermont, Colorado and California. Here’s looking forward to the surprises and continued detail improvements in store for 2020.
View the full album below or full size images via Flickr at https://flic.kr/s/aHsmCA9Kbf