How Ingenuity, Fun & Flavor are Redefining the “Wintergrass” Festival

September 29, 2020 – Check out more profiles and community stories from the Heart of Bellevue campaign.

Face-to-face interactions have quickly become an underestimated source of joy and nostalgia – something we crave like a favorite meal. In an era of portable convenience and virtual reality, one local nonprofit has made a remarkable stride in helping bridge the socially distant divide: create a festival that can travel in your pocket.

But there isn’t anything pocket-sized about the entertainment value. For 45 minutes on the second Thursday of each month, a newly developed production will remind viewers that nothing – not even a pandemic – can stop the zeal of show business. Pocketgrass dreams up a digital spin on the popular Wintergrass festival from Acoustic Sound, an esteemed American acoustic music organization in the Pacific Northwest. In years past, the musical event rounded up artists and entertainers from 37 states and seven countries to commune in an education and celebration of American folk and bluegrass music.

Amid cancellations at concert venues far and wide, methods of creating and sharing music needed different outlets to reach ears during the pandemic. 

“It’s a requirement, it’s a necessity,” Acoustic Sound Philanthropy and Publicity Director Wendy Tyner said.

Created to carry on the Wintergrass vibes, each Pocketgrass episode whisks viewers off the couch on an immersive “festival” journey with storytelling, recipes, and miniature workshops featuring classic American instruments. 

After Wintergrass coordinators pulled the plug on the annual festival due to COVID-19 concerns, Tyner said Pocketgrass found its footing in the importance of cultivating and preserving community through music. 

Original acts in the Pocketgrass series are packaged and delivered in the form of an online variety show, featuring all manner of creative movers and shakers. From magicians to singer-songwriters, returning performers and new collaborators have assembled to launch a captivating experience to ensure live entertainment can still reach audiences.

An introduction from a lively character, “Aunt Mama,” kicked off the first episode with stirring words on the universal qualities of food and music and how those widely shared passions connect people. Blackberries were the motif that guided the first episode, complete with a delicious recipe viewers could follow and whip up in their own kitchens.

Social media has been a powerful tool in treading new ground with the Pocketgrass project, Tyner said, and essential for spreading joy usually found at Wintergrass festivals. Since the first episode debuted on September 10, 2020 at 7 p.m. PST, the pilot has racked up over 1,850 views on Youtube. Episodes are free to stream on the official Wintergrass YouTube Channel. The second installment drops Thursday, October 8 at 7 p.m.

Unique offerings like exclusive archival footage from previous festivals and virtual after parties for viewers to connect with musicians have banded creative efforts across Acoustic Sound to draw more engagement, Tyner said.

Extracurricular activities are also offered to expand artistic outreach, like the Youth Orchestra, partnering with local high school students and Seattle Pacific University to organize a virtual concert for the spring. An upcoming performance series by the Youth Academy will also reunite students to rehearse with Education Director Beth Fortune and legendary performing artist Joe Kraven, who performed with Jerry Garcia from The Grateful Dead and helped pioneer these programs over two decades ago.

With Wintergrass cancelled for its 2021 season, tickets booked in advance will be fully refunded, though Tyner said some people have kindly donated their refund back to the organization. Financial support from the Arts Commission Program and generous grants from the City of Bellevue and 4Culture have also helped Acoustic Sound keep its virtual doors open.

“We’re pretty excited about the future, we’re still moving forward.”

Mark your calendars, our upcoming Bellevue Jazz & Blues Music Series kicks off October 5 and runs through October 9! We may be spending more time at home, but there’s no shortage of local music to fill your ears.

This blog is part of the Heart of Bellevue: an advocacy campaign to showcase local businesses while connecting you with stories of activity, creativity and recovery. Find out about our campaign and explore more of what’s happening around Downtown.

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