Feature, Interview, Preview

WinterWonderGrass (CO) Preview: Yonder Mountain String Band

Jake Cudek / From Mishawaka Amphitheatre

By Kevin Alan Lamb

Who knew we needed an ongoing global pandemic to remind us that the best place to be is outside, we take seeing loved ones for granted, and community through music remains the most plausible path forward as a species, and planet? If you are reading these words you’ve endured great obstacles, executed evasive and tactical Kung fu you didn’t know was in your arsenal, and have earned every particle of jubilation and wonder which awaits you on the other side of this journey.  

The crystal ball is still hazy, but perhaps that’s because it’s depicting the fun the Universe intends you to have Feb. 25-27 dancing in the winter wonderland of Steamboat Colo., for WinterWonderGrass 2022.

WinterWonderGrass Tickets

What began as a bluegrass festival for 1,400 people in the parking lot of  Crazy Mountain Brewery in Edwards, in 2013, has shape shifted into a vehicle with 4,000 passengers who gather with open hearts and open minds, removing the illusion of separation, and birthing inspiration upon a foundation of nature, authentic music, and communal family. 

“WinterWonderGrass began in 2013 as a tiny, homegrown music festival in a parking lot in Edwards and is now returning for its seventh year in 2019 at its new home in Steamboat Springs, with sister festivals in Lake Tahoe, California, and Stratton, Vermont. The trifecta that founder Scotty Stoughton and his team have created over the past seven years is not only tremendously impressive but is also a blessing for bluegrass and string music fans across the nation. Stoughton and crew are also the faces behind Campout for the Cause, and though they’re not strangers on how to carefully curate a near-perfect festival, the WinterWonderGrasses are officially in a league of their own.” – 303 MAGAZINE

In the wake of loss comes learning and space; what you do with this knowledge and space is entirely up to you. Like those who curate, support, perform, and attend WinterWonderGrass, I choose to dive all in on passion and the very facets of this life that remind me what a blessing it is to breathe, be, and build a dream worth sharing. Aligned within the beating heart of that dream is music, and those who give it life, making it possible with their hard work, love, and commitment to serve something bigger than themselves. 

Somehow, I have never been to Colorado, but here I am sitting at my desk in Michigan, writing about one of it’s most magical offerings, learning about it from the performers who anoint its stages. That’s the power of music. 

Originating in Nederland, Colo., Yonder Mountain String Band are freewheeling, battle tested, pioneers and innovators who first offered their  take on bluegrass in the fall of 1998. Composed of  Adam Aijala (Guitar), Allie Kral (Fiddle), Ben Kaufmann (Bass), Dave Johnston (Banjo), and Nick Piccinni (Mandolin), Yonder’s ninth studio album Get Yourself Outside will be released on February 25.

It features founding members Adam Aijala on guitar, Ben Kaufmann on bass, Dave Johnston on banjo, alongside the 2015 addition of Allie Kral on fiddle, and newcomer, multi-instrumentalist Nick Piccininni handling duties on mandolin, second fiddle, and anything stringed.” 

Coheadling with The Wood Brothers, closing out Sunday at WinterWonderGrass, Yonder Mountain String Band are grateful to be a week into their tour, recommend wearing two pairs of long underwear at WWG, and like most people (including myself), have broken bones on the slopes. 

Read my quick chat below with Ben Kauffmann, Adam Aijala, and Dave Johnson ahead of their performance at WWG ‘22. 

WinterWonderGrass Tickets

Members: Adam Aijala, Allie Kral, Ben Kaufmann, Dave Johnston, Nick Piccinni

Watch: Yonder Mountain String Band, WinterWonderGrass 2018  

Listen: ‘Into the Fire’

What do you love most about WinterWonderGrass?

Ben: It’s a completely unique festival experience.  Being at the base of the mountain in the winter.  Such a fun vibe!

Adam:  The Venue!  I love to snowboard and play music, it’s the best of both worlds.

If you’ve been before, what are a few distinct memories that stand out?

Ben: I mean, I have a vivid memory of the way the lights looked shining through the snowstorm that happened during our set.  Just amazing.

Who on the bill have you played with before? (or who haven’t you if it leans that way)

Ben:  I don’t think we’ve played the same bill as Lukas Nelson before? The War and Treaty will be a new band for us too.

Who on the bill are you friends with?

Dave:  I think we’re  friends with all the people we’ve played with, haha!

What about playing festivals feels different this time around? (2+ years into global pandemic)

Ben: Any experience that’s outdoors just feels like everyone can relax a little bit more completely. It feels like a relief, to be honest.

Dave: Well the amount of time you get to visit with your friends is fairly curtailed, but at the same time there is some pretty palpable enthusiasm from both musicians and attendees.

Do you participate in winter sports? I broke my collarbone in two places the last time I went skiing, any wild stories if you do?

Ben: I grew up skiing on the East coast.  It turns out I’m way more talented at falling and crashing than I am at actually skiing.  So, no more fun winter sports for me.  A broken wrist would not endear me to my band-mates.  

Dave:  I’m a big wimp when it comes to winter sports. I stick to snowshoeing.

What three things does the band have going on right now that you’re most stoked over? 

Ben:  Our new record Get Yourself Outside comes out the day before the festival. Obviously, very excited about that.  

We just got the final cut of an animation we had made for one of the singles.  It’s just incredibly cool.  

And as of this email, we’re a week into tour and everyone is still healthy.  That makes the list, for sure.  

What advice or WWG insight/tips/tricks can you offer others?

Ben: Long underwear.  Why not go crazy and wear two pairs?  

Dave:  If at all possible, try to heat your fingerpicks.

Part of loving yourself is retreating yourself to the places, and spaces that fill you with life. What purpose would endurance serve, if we didn’t enjoy the race? Perhaps this joyous precipice of music, sport, and communal adventure is the solace your soul seeks to shine. I assure you, it’s difficult to know if you never go. Just in case you were listening for one, This is a Good Sound. 

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