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February 21, 2014 at 11:25 AM

Wintergrass celebrates bluegrass collaborations | Festival preview

The crowd's part of the show at Wintergrass. (Maria Camillo)

The crowd’s part of the show at Wintergrass. (Maria Camillo)

Organizers of this year’s Wintergrass, the annual bluegrass-music festival hosted in Bellevue, chose “The Power of Interaction and Collaboration” as their theme.

In that spirit, they formed a special band — members include former Prairie Home Companion music director Peter Ostroushko and Pearl Django member David Lange — and will offer workshops on collaboration.

The festival spans four stages — in the Evergreen, Cedar, Regency and Grand ballrooms — and numerous smaller rooms for workshops, in downtown Bellevue’s Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Fans who want to stay at the hotel are too late; it has been sold out for months.

The festival lineup is impressively deep and runs the gamut from old-school grass to modern sounds that expand the genre’s scope. Among the heavy hitters are Mike Marshall and Chris Thile, North Carolina traditionalists Town Mountain and The Cleverlys, who create surprisingly effective covers of modern pop songs.

In other words, it’s a pretty accurate reflection of where the genre is in 2014.

“Bluegrass today, the scene is really vibrant,” said headliner Tim O’Brien, ticking off a list of active artists that stretches from Ralph Stanley to the Punch Brothers. “Bluegrass can be a lot of different things. What’s great is the classic form is still healthy but it’s branching out.”

O’Brien will be doing his part to keep the scene fresh by teaching a harmony-singing workshop with his sister, Mollie. She will be featured on the Grand Ballroom stage Friday night alongside her younger brother in her own collaborative effort with husband Rich Moore. Don’t be surprised if you see Mollie and Moore joining O’Brien on stage later that evening.

O’Brien said festivals like Wintergrass tend to encourage impromptu guest appearances and should keep festival attendees — who last year descended on Bellevue from more than 30 states — on their toes.

Collaboration can be risky, explained O’Brien, who has a yearslong musical partnership with the equally talented Darrell Scott.

“Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” O’Brien said, recalling the first time he played with Scott. “You look for someone that brings something you can’t to it. Ideally it will be equal to more than the sum of its parts. I think with us it does.”

One group O’Brien said he hopes to see at Wintergrass isn’t on the bill. Last year, he produced “I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both Hands,” the third album from Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, and developed a deep respect for the Seattle roots duo.

“They’re some of my favorites, those guys,” O’Brien said, noting their partnership is not unlike the one he shares with Scott. “It keeps me going. I’m going to turn 60 next month and I’m just thinking: ‘Can I just keep going?’ What I’m going to need is people like Cahalen and Eli to keep me inspired.”

Now that sounds like collaboration.


Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 27-March 2 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 900 Bellevue Way N.E., Bellevue; $30-$140 (253-428-8056 or

Comments | More in Americana, Folk | Topics: Chris Thile, Festival Preview, tim o'brien


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