Written by Brendan Foster
Photos by Tom Hellauer
The vibes were higher than the Sierra’s themselves for the long awaited return of WinterWondergrass Festival at Palisades Tahoe in Olympic Valley, California. After three long, weird years, you could really feel the energy amongst festival-goers and performers alike at this jam-influenced roots and bluegrass extravaganza. Fueled by a plethora of craft brews, warm weather, epic mountain peaks, and the excitement that rides along with the first festival of the season, you really couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere to let loose and celebrate life with music loving friends, old and new.
The event called out to a heady bunch of roots music fans of all ages, streaming in from Northern California, Colorado, and elsewhere. The festival attendees seemed to be seasoned veterans and came ready to get down. The Palisades parking lot was transformed into a somewhat familiar “lot” scene as many festival attendees used the space to car camp, mingle, link with friends and party before walking into the venue. Those who weren’t sleeping in the parking lot could find lodging at the Palisades resort or in nearby Truckee or Tahoe City. I could tell people were really stoked to be there and the joy was visibly emanating out of everyone. Inside the festival, a supervised “children’s zone” allowed young parents to be at ease and enjoy the music while the kids played together and danced to the tunes themselves. It really felt like a family affair!
One of my personal favorite aspects of the festival was the layout of the four stages and the way the artists were scheduled among them. The Main Stage was large and positioned so that the entire crowd could gaze up at the stunning mountain faces and peaks that Palisades Tahoe is known for whenever an artist was performing. Surrounding the audience area of Main Stage were three heated tents, Jamboree, Pickin’ Perch, and The Soapbox, that supported secondary stages, large bars, and smaller pouring stations for select craft breweries. The larger acts took to the Main Stage for 60 to 90 minute sets with top tier production. These headliner sets were split by 40 to 60 minute sets at the three tent stages by the remaining acts. The tent stages were a great place to grab a refill, warm up in the later part of each night, and catch some epic vibes from both established and up and coming bluegrass and roots talent. All of the artists that played in these tents were given multiple sets throughout the day, so you could actually catch everyone you wanted to see on the lineup without any overlaps (HUGE).
The sound system and lighting production at Main Stage made for really epic performances by every band that performed there. D&B audiotechnik was brought on for Main Stage sound reinforcement, and the system was tuned fantastically for the space. The lighting rig was captivating but not overdone. Its design was slim enough for the more classic bluegrass vibes, but dynamic enough to really bring the jams to life later in the evening. Additionally, many of the trees that surrounded the venue were accented with blue and white uplighting once the sun dipped behind the horizon, keeping your mind in the mountains when it was too dark to catch the peaks.
The three headliners, Billy Strings, The Infamous Stringdusters, and California Honeydrops, really brought on the heat and absolutely crushed their Main Stage performances.
Billy Strings performed two incredibly fun sets on Friday night, one in the twilight hours and the other once things got a little darker. His first set was 60 minutes long, during which he played some classic originals such as “Red Daisy”, “Away From The Mire”, “Must Be Seven”, and “Hide & Seek”, while also gracing his Dead influenced fanbase with a fantastic cover of David Grisman’s “Ralph’s Banjo Special”. Overall, it was a fantastic first year back for WinterWondergrass and we can’t wait for its return to Tahoe in 2023.
Stay tuned for more details about the 2023 installment at WinterWondergrass’s official website here: https://winterwondergrass.com/tahoe/
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