For more than three decades, the Midwinter Bluegrass Festival has been bringing together pickers from across the Front Range.
While there are plenty of opportunities in Colorado for music fans to see and hear their favorite bands, this festival is designed to bring players together to learn from each other, develop new friendships and, yes, enjoy world-class bluegrass.
“Our festival is the first major bluegrass event of the year in Colorado,” says Midwinter founder and promotor Ken Seaman. “People have been cooped up all winter long and are itching to play. If you step into the venue, you’ll know immediately that you’re at a bluegrass festival, because there’s jamming everywhere.”
This year's edition, which takes place February 14 to 16 at the Ramada Plaza Northglenn, marks the 35th anniversary of the event.
Seaman began promoting bluegrass festivals in the Ozarks back in the ’70s. Over the years, he's taken inspiration from events around the Hannibal, Missouri, bluegrass scene, including the Tri-State Bluegrass Organization's jam sessions, winter fiddle contests, and the Land of Mark Twain Bluegrass Festival. Many of those events took place at a Holiday Inn (now the Hannibal Inn), where famous bluegrass musicians would show up and play alongside locals, both novices and veterans.
While he appreciates outdoor festivals such as WinterWondergrass (February 21 to 23 in Steamboat Springs) and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (June 18 to 21 in Telluride), Seaman likes the homey atmosphere of indoor venues, which allow for a mix of concerts, jamming, and markets where vendors can peddle their instruments without the risk of inclement weather.
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Seaman held the first Midwinter Bluegrass Festival at a Holiday Inn in Fort Collins in 1986. In 1998, having outgrown that venue, he moved the event to the Northglenn Ramada, which was big enough to host more festival-goers while keeping the comfy, down-home feel of the weekend.
“We draw a wide variety of people. It’s a cross-section of people, young and old, who just love the music," Seaman says. "It’s like a huge family get-together.”
The festival's schedule reflects that. Vendors sell instruments, jewelry and food, while music contests, such as the Great Rocky Mountain Band Scramble and the Midwinter Open Fiddle Contest, let musicians test their mettle against other local and regional performers. There are workshops for novice and experienced musicians alike, as well as daily beginner jams for those still finding their way up and down the fret board.
“It’s a very friendly festival for people who are just learning how to play,” Seaman notes.
So whether you're interested in working on your vocal harmonies or learning how to pick a banjo or write a song, there will be something for you. The only requirement? That you care about the music and the community.
“The people that show up are really in love with bluegrass,” says Seaman. “They are there to get immersed in the music, and many of them are just hungry to jam and meet new friends. The thing about bluegrass is that you can walk up to a jam session and meet people you’ve never seen in your life, and within ten minutes you’re almost friends; that’s the spontaneity of it. Bluegrass brings people of all walks of life together. That’s what I love about it more than anything.”
And, of course, even if you don’t play bluegrass yourself, you can enjoy the performances. There will be concerts from vintage acts such as the Seldom Scene, which has been touring the country since 1971; High Fidelity, a band that harks back to the classic era of ’50s and ’60s bluegrass; the up-and-coming Price Sisters, led by twin sisters who shred the mandolin and violin; and plenty of local acts, including Turkeyfoot and Wood Belly, which just dropped its third album, Man on the Radio.
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Above all, Seaman touts the festival as being “three days of nonstop music, wall-to-wall jamming, and almost a guaranteed good time.”
With his commitment to bringing in quality acts, you never know who you might catch.
“We’ve had a lot of performers who went on to be well known but were not at the time,” says Seaman. “The Dixie Chicks came through in 1992 in one of the first gigs they ever had.”
The Midwinter Bluegrass Festival runs Friday, February 14, to Sunday, February 16, at the Ramada Plaza Northglenn, 10 East 120th Avenue Tickets, $25 to $180, are available here.