Taking the first half of its handle from the Norse god of winter, UllrGrass, pronounced "oolergrass," is the brainchild and passion project of Golden residents Chris and Susannah Thompson. The Thompsons, who have lived in Golden since 2001, felt their home town would benefit from a winter-themed outdoor music event to enliven the local community. Festival-goers, some of whom dress in Viking regalia, revel in the January air with live music, performing arts and craft beer over the course of the three-day celebration.
This year's festival, which runs January 24 to 26, includes a lineup of bluegrass, newgrass, funk and jam band artists, and is a volunteer-based nonprofit event with proceeds that benefit the Kids Music Project by Coral Creek, an organization that delivers music education and performance to elementary school students in Colorado.
The event's beer festival takes place on Saturday afternoon; you can enjoy live music on two alternating stages while sampling craft brews and ciders from more than thirty breweries from across the state. The evening shows on Friday and Saturday night take place in Parfet Park under heated big-top tents. Sunday is Family Day at UllrGrass and includes a dance performance, an UllrEgg hunt, a costume parade, craft activities and games. Food trucks will provide a variety of edible fare throughout the weekend.
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Westword spoke with musician and festival founder Chris Thompson about the event's origin and what to expect in late January in Golden:
Westword: How did UllrGrass come about?
Chris Thompson: This is our sixth year. It kinda came about as an evolution of a concert series that I had been putting on in town. I'd been organizing concerts during the summer in Golden, and we thought we could evolve our music series into a bigger event. There are so many festivals during the summer in Colorado that summer weekends were pretty well filled up, so we thought, "Hey, why don't we do something outside during the winter?"
How often does it snow at UllrGrass?
Well, we've been lucky and have had some really good weather in years past, but sometimes we've had some really slurpy weather, too. I mean we haven't seen a cloud in three weeks, but yesterday I watched the weather report, and sure enough, now the weather report is calling for some rain and snow in the forecast. Ullr is on his way!
Who are some of the bigger names playing this year?
Every year we have a bluegrass all-star set that headlines one night and then a big-name act that headlines another night. This year the all-star band features some members of Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band. It's a nice opportunity for these musicians who tour a lot with their own bands to collaborate and play with other people in a festival setting. Other bands this year will include Head for the Hills, The Big Wu, Thunder and Rain and my band, Coral Creek, which is the host band, plus a bunch more.
How long has Coral Creek been around?
For about five years in its present incarnation, which includes Bill McKay (formerly of Leftover Salmon). We've become songwriting partners ,and we're the main singers in the band. Although I toured with the band before, I feel like this version with Bill was sort of the beginning of Coral Creek.
Does your band mainly play bluegrass?
My band Coral Creek String Band was more centered on bluegrass, but in Coral Creek we play a lot of rock, Cajun and island music and Grateful Dead material. So we're not really a bluegrass band, though we do still play some bluegrass songs. And I have another version of the band called Rum Creek that plays bluegrass music, though it also includes a saxophone. So it's a string band with a sax.
There's a beer element to the festival, too, right?
Yeah, Saturday is when we do the beer fest. It's a prominent feature of the weekend. My band plays a set during the day on Saturday that features sit-ins by some big-name artists. This year we will be joined by Drew Emmitt from Leftover Salmon and Allie Kral from Yonder Mountain String Band. A lot of people come out for the beer fest and then stick around for the night music afterward. We get a lot of students from the Colorado School of Mines who come over, as well. It makes for a pretty raucous day in the park.
Can you tell me a little about the Kids Music Project by Coral Creek?
We put together a curriculum for kindergarten kids. It helps promote music in elementary schools that aren't otherwise receiving music-education funding. We try to get the music started early on in the music-education process. Science says that's the time when kids can really pick up music.
Is the festival kid-friendly?
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The night shows are more for the adults, but daytime in the park is definitely kid-friendly. There's a whole kids' area, and this year we're going to have a science exploration trailer from the Colorado Science Museum. And Sunday is family day, with special events including a performance by the Virtuosity Dance Centre.
What else might people want to know?
We had been doing our night shows at the Buffalo Rose, but this year we're going to keep everything at Parfet Park, so this should be exciting. We're setting up another big top tent this year to be our bar. We're going to keep it all in one place. We're gonna make this new tent nice and toasty. Once the sun goes down, we'll direct people over there and get the night music going. People get excited about this fest. It's a great thing for the town of Golden to generate a little bit of economic stimulation during an otherwise pretty slow time of year, and it gets people out of their houses and socializing with their neighbors.
The sixth annual UllrGrass Music & Beer Festival runs Friday, January 24 to Sunday, January 26, in Parfet Park, 701 10th Street, in Golden. Tickets are $15 to $100 and available at the UllrGrass website.