Mountains and music: WinterWonderGrass ‘magic’

Marcus King performs April 1 at WinterWonderGrass at Palisades Tahoe.

Marcus King performs April 1 at WinterWonderGrass at Palisades Tahoe.
Photo by Kyler Klix.

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Thousands of people gathered at Palisades Tahoe for WinterWonderGrass. The music festival, March 31 to April 2, sold out each day and brought many newcomers and returning guests. The weather stayed fairly clear all weekend, but a blizzard came in April 2 to close the festival while Trampled by Turtles played through the wind and flurries.

“It’s what we live for and it’s amazing,” said festival founder Scotty Stoughton. “The feeling from them (Trampled by Turtles) was it was one of their best sets they played. It was really special.”

Stoughton said this year’s WinterWonderGrass went very well, and attendees have given him a positive response.

“I heard the word ‘magic’ quite a bit, which is always nice to hear,” he said. “The energy and the crowd was so thick and positive. We all had a very lovely experience.”


The festival brings out a mix of seasoned WinterWonderGrassers and many who are enjoying the festival for the first time.

Mike Stapleton said he’s been to all of the events in Tahoe and he enjoys the layout and how it takes place at the end of winter.

“It’s one of my favorite weekends of the year,” he said. “It’s just such a good vibe and the music is phenomenal.”

He said the place gives him the opportunity to discover new music and he found at least one new band.

“Sicard Hollow out of Nashville — they killed it,” he said. “They’re phenomenal.”


Some fans flew across the country to attend, like Suzanne Savery from Delaware. She said it was her first WinterWonderGrass.

“I thought it’d be kind of fun and a new, novel experience,” she said. “It’s been fabulous. I’ve been adjusting the cold weather, so that’s a little different for me.”

Savery said she attends many festivals, and she said WinterWonderGrass fits into the festival culture that she’s seen elsewhere in the country. She said the only difference is experiencing it in the cold vs. in the warm.

“There’s a lot of unique people and everybody is out there having a good time,” she said. “So, it’s just a different version up in the higher elevations vs. at sea level. I’ve been having a good time, and everyone is very friendly.”


Jillian Nielsen of South Lake Tahoe was attending her first WinterWonderGrass. She decided at the last minute she would like to attend, so she found a ticket through volunteering for the festival.

“This has been one of the best organized, large events that I have been part of,” she said. “And it really makes me love the Sierra Nevada community. It’s cool to see some sustainability practices and everyone is having a good time.”

Nielsen said she moved to the area a few years ago from Nashville and loves live music, so WinterWonderGrass seemed like a great fit. She said she’d like to return next year for more.


While many fans experience their first time coming to the festival, some bands are also playing in the area for the first time, like Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country. Donato played three sets to fans on Sunday on a side stage. His shared his initial thoughts of the festival: “Music in nature makes a lot of sense, every time.”

He said everyone at the festival is friendly and everyone is on the same page. He credited the production of the festival as being very professional.

“It’s organized extremely well and it’s an experienced, tenured production that is really efficient and empathetic on the producer and consumer side, which makes the music better, I think, and makes the experience more real,” Donato said. “And you’re in nature, so it makes it 10-times more real. It’s exactly what it should be.”


There’s no shortage of children at the festival, with its 12-and-under are free policy, many families can easily bring their kids to experience WinterWonderGrass.

The Kids Zone was packed every day with children doing multiple arts and crafts activities and games. Outside they were splashing in puddles, trying to hula hoop, or running around with their painted faces.

Shauna Mills, from Truckee, came with her family and brought along daughter Lennox, 3, and son Nash, who is 8 months old. Sunday was the first day they went into the Kids Zone, and they made a bracelet, a noisemaker and played ring toss. Mills said it’s a great festival to bring the kids to.

“Our daughter loves it, and our son is barely awake this year, but he slept through it,” she said.

She said the festival is not too crowded, there’s easy access to restrooms and if they need to go to the car for the kids, it’s not too far away.

“We’ll keep coming back and we’ll be bringing back the kids,” she said. “We love it, we love WinterWonderGrass.”


Stoughton said the festival flowed nicely and went just as planned. They had to adjust a couple of things because of heavy wind April 2, but he said that’s normal.

“You play the hand you’re dealt, and the production was stellar,” he said.

He said they’ll send out surveys to attendees and based on input and feedback they might make some tweaks, but otherwise Stoughton thinks the layout and production is set to how they like it.

“By year seven we really found the sweet spots. The tents are intimate but still have enough space. We made some nice site improvements that worked really well,” he said. “The flow is awesome.”

Stoughton gave thanks to the local community for their help in putting on WinterWonderGrass.

“My whole staff really felt a lot of love and support from the local community and that just means the world to us,” he said. “We felt appreciated and supported and everyone came out and wants to be a part of the event.”


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