Wintergrass festival makes its Bellevue debut

Wintergrass will be held outside of Tacoma for the first time this week. And as the popular bluegrass festival gears up at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue for its 17th annual run, organizers are cautiously optimistic about its future sustainability.

“We’re really, really happy with how things are going this year, but we’re not drawing any conclusions,” said Patrice O’Neill, who runs Wintergrass with co-director Stephen Ruffo.

O’Neill cited $15,000 to $20,000 in savings from hosting most of the festival under one roof this year – versus renting satellite venues and shuttles in Tacoma – and a 30 percent spike in ticket sales from last year as signs that Wintergrass was bouncing back.

Wintergrass was headquartered at Tacoma’s Hotel Murano in 2009. But organizers began eying a move to Bellevue late last spring, concerned by the slumping ticket sales, which they said were exacerbated by rising hotel costs and restrictions on jamming in the hallways at the Murano.

The festival board of directors voted to move in June after an official with Provenance Hotels, the Portland company that owns the Murano, characterized requests for discounted room rates as “economically unsustainable.”

In Bellevue, Wintergrass has benefitted from a base room rate of $109 per night at the Hyatt versus $159 at the Murano last year, a factor O’Neill believed translated into ticket sales.

But O’Neill also acknowledged a few down sides to the move north.

“In Tacoma, we were a big deal; in Bellevue, not so much,” she said.