Wintergrass 2024 – Whispers of the North

Tony Trischka’s EarlJam at the 2024 Wintergrass festival – photo © Dave Berry

The folks at Wintergrass have, no surprise, done it again. Bringing together friends, new and old from far and wide to celebrate all variations of the music referred to as bluegrass. The theme this year was Whispers of the North, honoring the people and music of our northern neighbors in Canada. Whispers of the North is a Gordon Lightfoot song included on the Tony Rice Sings Gordon Lightfoot album, and what better way to prepare for the event and celebrate the music of the two countries than to listen to that wonderful album?

The 2024 lineup, which crosses many musical and cultural boundaries, featured headliners such as Mighty Poplar, Tony Trischka’s Earl Jam, Tim O’Brien Band, Mr Sun, Vasen + Hawktail, Laurie Lewis & Nina Gerber, John Reischman, Mile Twelve, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer with Chao Tian, plus far too many more to list here. Festival Art Director Maria Camillo has created a Wintergrass 2024 Spotify playlist which is the perfect way to check out the artists and music.

Wintergrass really has it all with the youth programs, workshops, shows, and great jamming. There are four stages, spread across the three-building Hyatt complex, which can present some issues navigating from show to show, especially at the elevators, but the good news is it makes it easy to get lots of steps in. I counted six miles one day as I went back and forth to catch the various acts, take pictures, and of course, do some late-night jamming.

If you plan to attend, you should definitely book your room early to ensure you get the lower group rate. I could go on and on about what I enjoyed, but I find it best to get it from the artists and attendees who were very friendly and approachable, so read on.

Andrew Heist from Juneau, Alaska helps out at Fiddle Mercantile, had this to say.

Andrew Heist with Fiddle Mercantile at Wintergrass 2024 - photo © Dave Berry

“I have been coming to Wintergrass for over 20 years, and I love the chance to come and play with other musicians, some that I know, and also meet and play with people that I’ve never met before. Also, hear some great music and meet other members of the bluegrass and wider music community.”


Bill McKean from Reno, Nevada said.

“I’ve been here since, I guess we got here Thursday and took the intensives (workshop), great time. I’ve been coming since it was down in Tacoma. The music, the lineup is always excellent.”

Concourse jam at Wintergrass 2024 - photo © Dave Berry

Debbie McKean (Bill’s wife) added this.

“I’ve only been coming here for about four or five years and really there’s nothing not to like about it.”

I met Kaden Hurt, instructor and mandolinist in the band Never Come Down, from Portland who shared this.

Beer jam at the 2024 Wintergrass festival - photo © Dave Berry

“This is my sixth year, I think. Wintergrass, as someone who lives on the West Coast, feels like the closest counterweight that we have to an event like IBMA. I can count on seeing all of my friends and peers as everybody has the excuse to be in the same place at the same time.”


As I mentioned, the artists are very approachable and I was lucky to greet Wintergrass veteran Chris “Critter” Eldridge who was in from Nashville to play with Mighty Poplar. 

“You know, I’ve been here probably like this is the seventh or eighth time going back to playing with the Seldom Scene. That was the first one, and I played with them several times, and then the String Dusters and the Punch Brothers played here. I also played here with Julian Lodge in 2014 and now Mighty Poplar. It’s a great community.

Mighty Poplar at Wintergrass 2024 - photo © Dave Berry


He continued…

“You know, I have a lot of good memories of being a kid and just, like, getting into great jams in the hallway. I mean, this is where I met Alex Hargraves who now plays fiddle in Mighty Poplar. There are just a lot of great young musicians who, when I was younger, we met because they do such a good job of fostering the hanging out jam environment, which is baked into what bluegrass is.

I feel like Wintergrass does a good job of leaning into that and just making it happen in a really nice way.”

Joyce Lee, from Berkeley, California is a picking pal that I see at a lot of Bay Area jams, who is coming back for her second time.

“I was here back in 2022 and I just love that there are all of these different artists in, you know, different genres. I mean, I’m most experienced in bluegrass and going to bluegrass jams, but it’s great to hear all these other genres. Quebecois this year is really, really cool. And (I like) to be able to jam with a lot of other people who love this type of music.”

Linda Leavitt from Sisters, Oregon who is very active in the Oregon Bluegrass Association shared this.

Tom Nechville and Linda Leavitt at Wintergrass 2024 - photo © Dave Berry

“I’ve been coming to Wintergrass since 2001. Wintergrass is like, it’s bluegrass now. All my friends are here from all over the world and I get to see them. And it’s, you know, it’s just, it’s really fun.”


Linda’s partner, banjo innovator Tom Nechville who IS Nechville Banjos, has a booth at Wintergrass. I asked him how long he’s been coming.

“Well, how long have they had Wintergrass? I was here at the first one yeah, 20-some years. I love the Northwest. The Northwest, there’s a certain attitude here of acceptance, and everybody likes what I’m doing in the banjo world. I think our brand is king in the Northwest.”

Another vendor with Aragorn Guitars that I just met, but have seen on the Mandolin Cafe, is Martin Stillion from Edmonds, Washington who operates a website called 

“I sell mandolins, mostly electrics, but I have built up quite an inventory of acoustics as well, so I’m here at Wintergrass to show them off. The first Wintergrass I came to was, I want to say in the late ’90s. I saw Bill Monroe here and met him and got his autograph.

I love bluegrass and I love all the related styles and derivatives thereof, so it’s a good opportunity to experience the whole spectrum of acoustic music. I’m a bit of an instrument geek so it’s fun to check out what everybody’s doing in terms of new and old instruments.

We’ve got a great selection of guitars and mandolins for people to come by and check out. I’m also with the Seattle Mandolin Orchestra, which is why we have this mando bass here and we play all styles of music from classical to folk and international stuff. It’s a great opportunity for people who can read music and play a mandolin family instrument.” 

I know Steve and Ramona who live in Grass Valley, California from various California Bluegrass Association (CBA) events, and we shared some fun old-time jams this weekend. Steve Ladonga who plays guitar and was on the CBA board of directors, now just volunteers at Father’s Day Festival shared this…

“This is my second trip to Wintergrass. The first one was seven years ago. It’s got all kinds of great talent and some fun jamming, and it’s a beautiful hotel we stay in.”

Steve’s partner fiddler Ramona Bearsford-Howe said…

“This is my fourth or fifth trip but I’m not 100% sure. There’s so many musicians and so many great acts. And there’s, what, three or four stages every year? So you just figure out how to get from one to the other really quickly and then see a lot of people.”

Well there you have it, a quick recap of what some call the IBMA of the West. Wintergrass has a whole lot of everything relating to bluegrass, and you needn’t worry about the weather because you can go the entire time without leaving the confines of the Bellevue Hyatt bluegrass compound.

I’m sure the Wintergrass gang would love to have you check it out next year. Until then, here’s some stellar traditional bluegrass from this year.

Photos by Dave Berry

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About the Author

Dave Berry

Dave Berry is a California based author, mandolin picker, and composer who writes the California Report column for Bluegrass Today. He grew up in the Ohio Valley right between where the Big Sandy and Big Scioto rivers dump into the Ohio. His articles, Morning Walk album, and video are available on streaming sites and his website at