Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ruffo previews Wintergrass highlights

Considering that RiverCity is sort of an upstart festival compared with the better established Wintergrass, coming the following month in a neighboring city, it was something of a surprise to find none other than Stephen Ruffo, one of the Wintergrass partners, working RiverCity as the artist liaison.

There's nobody better for such a role than Ruffo. the personable, silver-maned promoter who seems to know everybody in the business. He allowed that it isn't ideal to have two festivals competing for the same audience, especially with Seldom Scene heading both lineups.

"Both festivals have the mission to further bluegrass, so it's all good," he said.

I took the opportunity to ask Ruffo about the Wintergrass lineup and about the festival theme of "transformation."

"The hotel change was huge," he said, referring to the makeover of the festival hotel following a change of ownership. Gone is the Sheraton Tacoma name (now it is The Murano), but the changes are much deeper than just the nameplate. Positioned now as a boutique hotel, the decor and fixtures were significantly upgraded, and some architectural changes were also made.

The latter necessitated some changes to festival performance venues. The upper lobby hotel bar is no longer available as a stage, but the roof restaurant will now be used. Beds can no longer be removed from rooms for picking suites, but all the usual public jam spaces will be available. Seating capacity is a little less in the main pavilion because different bleachers will be used.

"I'm a guy who doesn't like to buy new pants, I like the comfortable old ones. But, hey, they did a beautiful job with it. People are going to like it," he said.

On the program, Ruffo said he was excited about the special Thursday night show Black and Bluegrass with Laura Love, Ruthie Foster, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and others, exploring diverse early influences to bluegrass music.

The lineup offers plenty of straight-ahead bluegrass, from Bobby Osborne to Michael Cleveland, but Ruffo is most jazzed about the lineup of progressive bands such as The Infamous Stringdusters, Crooked Still and especially Chris Thile's Punch Brothers band.

"Wintergrass has always been progressive. It is about a morphing of styles, and how that happens organically. We're always going to be a little edgier than a regular bluegrass festival," he said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just wish that security at the church would atleast try to enforce the non-saving of seat rule...It wasn't much standing while several empty seats were in view...One lady did not let me sit next to her because the seat was for her husband...WHO NEVER DID SHOW UP!!!