A Rendezvous Retrospect • Volume

Written by: Adam St. Simons | Photo(s) by: Amy Jimmerson Stephen Shelesky Lexis Ely

A Rendezvous Retrospect

As someone who finds adventure in the mountains, solace in the snow, and dedicates most of their waking life to live music and the spirit of rock and roll – Jackson Hole’s Rendezvous Spring Festival was inked into my calendar the moment the lineup was first announced mid-December.

The end-of-season two-day free event was set to host two of my all-time favorite live acts – New Orleans chart-toppers The Revivalists (arguably one of the last-standing real rock bands of Gen X) and rising country star and Yellowstone sensation Ryan Bingham (although his achievements reach far beyond the current fanfare of America’s most popular TV show). The announcement immediately prompted a series of texts to close friends in SLC as I began to assemble a small touring party to make the five-hour roadtrip up to Jackson for an extended weekend of world-class live music, snowmobiling, and spring skiing. 

Fast-forward three months to our crew of eight friends and a 100-pound Great Pyrenees named Thor loading into two SUVs and hitting the road ready for adventure. The team at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort did a great job of curating a playlist with all of the artists performing the festival that we streamed on shuffle as we made our way up I-15 before heading east on SR-30, driving through the snowy Caribou National Forest during sunset – one of the most beautiful scenic routes of the Mountain West. By the time we were coming up on Alpine the entire sky was gently illuminated by the alpenglow with the horizon speckled by the incandescent shimmering of porch lights. We stopped at the Bull Moose Saloon – a favorite Alpine locale right off the Greys River snowmobile trailhead – for dinner and drinks before finishing the drive to The Virginian Lodge where we checked into our charming eight-bed bunk house, kicked up our boots, cracked open some local beers, and watched snowboarding films until calling it a night.

Thursday morning we woke up early and walked across the parking lot through a light but steady snow to The Virginian Restaurant – located next door to the lodge and purported to have the best breakfast in town. Beyond the stone’s throw proximity to our room, the homestyle cooking, friendly service, fresh brewed coffee, and enormous cinnamon buns brought us back each morning of our stay. After properly caffeinating and fueling up we dropped Thor off at a dog sitter we found on Rover and made our way to Jackson Hole Adventure Rentals where we had four sleds reserved for a full day of snowmobiling.

Owned and operated by Dave Walters – founder of the annual Reggae in the Rockies festival that takes place on the Palisades Lake in Alpine each summer – Jackson Hole Adventure Rentals is the largest powersports and recreational vehicle rental company in Wyoming and has been family owned and operated since 2007. Beyond supporting an awesome independent business, one of the most appealing parts of renting from Dave is that the rentals are self-guided – meaning that so long as you have confidence with the machines you’re welcome to pick a trail and find your own adventure instead of hiring and following a guide.

After having had the “delightful” experience of digging out a buried a sled in waist deep powder with my girlfriend a month prior, I encouraged our group to opt for two-person touring sleds and a groomed trail ride 22 miles outside of town to Granite Hot Springs. The 10 mile trail through the Gros Ventre Mountain Range dead ends you into a natural hot spring with water temps as high as 112 °F and an epic waterfall – both of which are only assessable by snowmobile or dogsled during the winter. Our crew suited up, drove the truck and trailer to the trailhead, and proceeded to have the absolute time of our lives! There are few things in life more exhilarating and enjoyable than speeding through snow-covered backcountry trails with your best friends on snowmobiles, sipping whiskey and sharing a joint while taking in the beauty of a winter waterfall, and then soaking in a mineral-rich natural hot tub in the middle of a forest. By the time we returned the sleds you couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces if you tried. 

The rest of the first night got a little blurry as it ended at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – a famous Wyoming watering hole situated right on the town square and known for its quintessential western charm. Our group drank, sang, and danced to all the western classics and current hits performed live by Texas born and raised Drew Moreland and the Neon Hustle before heading back to the bunk house to rest up for day two of our trip and the first official day of Rendezvous.

On Friday our crew made our way to Jackson Hole Resort to spend the day riding. Located 20 minutes outside of town in the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains, Jackson Hole is a world-class big mountain resort known for its vertical rise and rugged terrain. Given the substantial snowfall of the season the conditions didn’t feel like a typical spring day – there was still plenty of soft snow covering the steep slopes with stashes of powder hidden throughout the trees. We took the tram up on our first run to peer over the edge of Corbet’s Couloir two-story drop – famous for its annual Kings and Queens competition but well beyond most of our riding abilities – and then spent the day bouncing around from lift to lift exploring the mountain and stopping in at various lodges for the occasional drink. By the time the lifts began to close our legs were exhausted but our spirits were high and we were excited for the night ahead.

Rendezvous Festival takes place across two locations – Jackson’s town square on Friday night and then the parking lot of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort at Teton Village on Saturday. With gates for Friday night’s event opening at 5pm and The Revivalists’ headlining set not starting until 8:30pm, we decided to get dinner at a local mountain Tex-Mex favorite. Known for serving up homemade signature classics and a la carte street tacos since 1969 (along with the best margaritas in town) Merry Piglets is a great casual dinning option and has always been consistent in my experience. The only blemish in another otherwise positive review of a great group dining experience would be the severe allergic respiratory reaction my girlfriend began having within minutes of beginning her meal.

After realizing this wasn’t just a minor reaction, the two of us left the table and quickly exited the restaurant, walking over to the ambulance that was parked just outside the festivals gates. There we were greeted by a team of friendly EMTs who, after explaining the emergency, brought us into the vehicle and immediately began taking vitals and treating her symptoms. As one of the techs prepared to give Lexis a shot of epinephrine for the first time she expressed nervousness, having a fear of needles. He assured her everything would be fine and to just look Sam, the other EMT, in the eyes. As she did, Sam, the classic cowboy type, smiled back. As tense as the situation was, in that moment it was funny to watch the woman I love manage her anxiety while simultaneously swooning over these two young mountain medics as they helped her navigate an otherwise scary situation. I can’t blame her, they were both undeniably handsome and I’m sure elicit that response from the ladies regularly. Great job guys and thank you again, I hope you end up reading this. 

After her reaction subsided we declined their advise to go straight to the hospital and instead chose to monitor symptoms on our own, making that call later if we felt it necessary. By the time we got off the ambulance the festival was at capacity with the line to get in wrapped all the way around the square. As a free event, tickets, unfortunately, didn’t guarantee entry. A bit deflated, we slowly strolled through the town square and ran into half our group as The Revivalist took the stage. 

As we discussed our options, the band began playing their second song, “Criminal”. I quickly made the call to head towards the inside fence line that cornered on E Broadway and Center Street and faced the stage on the other side of the intersection. We hopped up and stood on the top rail of the doweled natural log fence that surrounds the square and leaned up against the temporary chainlink fencing set for the event. We had a clear line of sight to the band above the crowd. Given how packed it was, our “seats” actually weren’t all that bad. As we watched David Shaw command the crowd in true rockstar fashion we belted along to the lyrics. The music was electrifying and we felt like kids trying to sneak into a concert for free. Even more amusingly, we later found out that the other half of our group actually did jump the fence. Kudos gents, as they stay in Jackson Hole… stay wild.

When the band transitioned from “Criminal” into “It Was A Sin” in their third song of the night, our crew lit up with emotion as the entire town square sang along to our favorite song by the band and arguably one of the best modern rock ballads of our time. The energy continued to build as we howled along with Shaw, tears running down our cheeks, arms slung over each others’ thick winter coats, swaying together in the snow and taking in an absolutely perfect live concert experience. We knew there was no topping that moment (we didn’t have a crystal ball to see what was still in store for night two). As the song came to a close we looked each other in the eyes knowing that our night was complete. We jumped down from the fence, shared a big group hug, and made our way back to the lodge. The rest of the night was filled with laughter and love as we shared stories and played drinking games in the bunk house and began to pass out one by one.

On day three of our trip our whole crew slept in. While we had planned to ride both days of Rendezvous we decided to take it easy and instead spent the afternoon downtown, shopping for small-batch craft whiskey, new hats, and making sure to stop in at Jackson’s Pendleton location which features a variety of limited-edition blanket designs exclusive to their store. After dropping a months rent worth of cash on high-quality western goods we caught a light buzz over at Roadhouse Brewing, sampling their wide-selection of in-house craft beers and snacking on elk tostadas before heading to Teton Village for day two of the festival.

As Jackson Hole’s end-of-season event, day two of Rendezvous has become the locals’ Gaper Day – an annual tradition and rite of passage among ski towns throughout the country where locals dress in ridiculous outfits and retro attire, celebrating the end of another season and bringing a fun and colorful element to the festival experience. By the time we arrived the costume contest had already taken place but there was no shortage of enthusiasm for all the wild and whacky outfits adorned by many of the attendees. As multi-platinum country queen Elle King took the stage the venue was filled with fans, drinks in hand, and a steady snow starting to fall from the sky. 

Between songs, while drinking whiskey and reminding the crowd how crazy we all were for partying in the middle of a blizzard, King shared how her band’s semi truck got stranded in a snowstorm en route to Jackson and how Ryan Bingham’s backing band – The Texas Gentlemen – graciously allowed them to use their instruments and gear to be able to play the festival. She belted out hit after hit in her distinct Joplin-meets-Parton-with-a-hint-of-Winehouse vocal style as her band kept cadence for the rowdy audience of boot-stomping country-loving fans. By the time her set was over it was beginning to get dark and the snow continued to come down heavier.

Finally, a ski goggle and brimmed-beanie clad Ryan Bingham took the stage in the middle of an all-out snow storm. After leading with the high-energy hit “Nothing Holds Me Down”, Bingham joked with the audience about how nothing goes together quite like water and electricity before moving right into “Jingle and Go” – another soulful fan-favorite. As Bingham and The Texas Gentlemen continued to play on, the storm continued to pulse. At about thirty minutes into his set the band began to play “Sunrise” – a song about life on the road and appreciating the beauty in the little things that it has to offer. The song’s tempo picks up about two-thirds of the way through and then continues to build faster and faster until the end. As this happened it was as if mother nature wanted play along. The winds picked up rocking the lighting rig and video walls and pummeled the stage with snow. As Bingham and the audience sang the final lyric together – “stuck in a storm, do a rain dance” – the crowd went absolutely wild! Bingham thanked the audience and announced that the producers had decided to call the show early due to the high winds and everyone’s safety. It was a surreal moment for everyone in attendance and without a doubt the most epic live performance I have ever witnessed. 

As the crowd exited the venue and began walking back to their cars in the middle of the storm, Jackson Hole proceeded to set off an incredible twenty-minute firework display. Fans tailgated in the parking lot, cracking beers, watching the explosions, and blasting all their favorite Ryan Bingham songs that the band didn’t get to play from their car radios while singing along. It was a magical and wholesome moment filled with camaraderie and connection that brought an undeniable warmth to an otherwise frigid winter environment. Our group ended our night back at The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar where we shut the place down with Drew Moreland and the Neon Hustle once more before getting kicked out with the rest of the rowdy stragglers in town for the festival.

Rendezvous was yet another reminder of how fortunate we are here in Utah to have so many amazing mountain destinations right in our backyard, along with the undeniably adventurous spirit that defines the culture of the Mountain West – connecting those of us who call it home.