This weekend, the yearly Wintergrass Bluegrass Festival and its killer lineup fills Bellevue’s Hyatt Regency with more banjos and bucket beards than Bellevue may be prepared for. (One of the sideline delights of a day at Wintergrass is spying these folks all over their decidedly non-native habitat, Bellevue Square.)
This year's festival—which runs Thursday, Feburary 27 through Sunday, March 2—accommodates both bluegrass purists and newgrass progressives—and more modern musical offshoots than in previous years—through its theme: “The Power of Interaction and Collaboration.” That’s fancy talk for jamming (which will happen this weekend—at times gloriously—in every nook, cranny, hall, even elevator of the Hyatt), mixing styles, and spontaneous guest appearances—which are all but guaranteed on the festival’s four stages.
With over 25 different acts, there’s a ton to see for $140 (cost of an adult all-weekend pass; single day adult day tickets start at $30). A few of the notables include singer/songwriter/producer/virtuoso multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott, along with O’Brien’s sister, the big-voiced Mollie O’Brien, performing with her husband and collaborator Rich Moore. Also in the Big Damn Deal category are string wizards Mike Marshall and Chris Thile, the latter being the mandolin child prodigy-turned-MacArthur Genius Grant winner who gained fame in Nickel Creek, then Punch Brothers. (Try to sit close for this one; Thile’s flying fingers are a thing o’ beauty.)
Bluegrass purists should aim for Dailey and Vincent and Town Mountain—and Seattle’s own terrific Downtown Mountain Boys—while those who favor a more contemporary Americana will want to hear the high-energy Canadian band, The Duhks; Colorado’s supercool indie-inflected Elephant Revival; and the Milk Carton Kids, flatpicking folkie darlings whose harmonies recall Simon and Garfunkel.
Then cleanse your palate with forays to Scandinavia (the stunning Swedish fiddle music of Väsen) and South America (the “Brazilian bluegrass” of Matuto). And whatever you do, do not miss cello virtuoso Rushad Eggleston, whose extraordinary musicality is topped only by the brazenness of his performance style. This dude can put on a show—expect the weirdest thing you’ll see all weekend, hands down, and all the proof you need that bluegrass ain’t just bluegrass anymore.
Wintergrass Bluegrass Festival
Feb 27–Mar 2, Hyatt Regency Bellevue Square, $30–$75; festival pass $140