If you go
What: 18th annual Frozen Dead Guy Days
When: 4 p.m.- 1 a.m. Friday, Blue Ball: Hawaiian Luau; 11 a.m-10 p.m.Saturday; noon- 9 p.m. Sunday
Where: Throughout Nederland
Cost: $20 for the Blue Ball, $20 wristband per day gives access to all three live music tents on Saturday and Sunday
More info: frozendeadguydays.org
It's hard to believe that one Norwegian man's decision to schlep the corpse of his grandfather to a mountain-top shed and store it on dry ice would inspire a long-running festival revered for its deliciously bizarre essence.
Frozen Dead Guy Days is part macabre, part kitschy and all things Nederland. Kicking off its 18th year this weekend, the winter festival continues to be one of the most anticipated events of the season — a yearly offering that is just as chillingly entertaining as it is offbeat.
"We've worked hard to stay true to our roots," said festival owner and coordinator Amanda MacDonald. "We don't really have any corporate sponsors."
Despite its desire to remain small and rather intimate, the fest has caught the attention of national and international news outlets looking to get a taste of this quirky happening. In previous years, TV journalists from as far away as India, Japan, Belgium, Sweden and Canada have made the journey to witness the zany shenanigans that occur every March. This year, the fest is a nominee in USA Today's readers' choice awards for "Best Cultural Festivals in North America."
"It's more like a holiday at this point," said MacDonald. "It's about settling into the tradition. Bigger doesn't always mean better."
The revenue FDGD brings into Nederland is quite significant. In its first year the single-day event attracted 1,700 attendees. In recent years, the 3-day event has been estimated to draw 25,000 folks looking to take in frozen T-shirt contests, ice carving competitions, ice turkey bowling and snowy human foosball.
Those who brave the frigid water, in the best costume, this weekend in the Polar Plunge will win big with an Eldora season pass. The runner-up will have no excuse not to stay hydrated with a prize of a one-year supply of Eldorado Natural Spring Water. Swag from outdoor gear company Kelty will also be up for grabs.
A new addition to the festival comes in the form of a heated round of trivia, while participants will put their knowledge and tolerance for intense spice to the test. Ned's, a restaurant known for its comfort food, will be serving up fiery hot wings — which contestants will have to consume between answering questions starting at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The festival's opening party, Blue Ball, brings a tropical feel to winter in Nederland with the theme of a Hawaiian Luau. At tonight's event, attendees can feast on authentic island fare, sip boozy punch and take in the tunes of Envy Alo, Kind Country and Latin Gypsy Ensemble.
Soundtrack of the dead
Over the course of the weekend, 34 bands will play in heated tentsas well as spreading out to area eateries like Kathmandu Restaurant and Pioneer Inn.
"Musicians get to play to a very varied crowd," said MacDonald. "It's really a bunch of people that would never have another chance to see [your band play]. We have 60-somethings all the way to millennials. Everybody belongs there. It's a very appreciative audience."
FDGD consistently remains a unique platform for performers that may not be as well known. MacDonald has never been tempted to rein in truly big headliners, as it would take away from the festival's hometown feel.
"I love to find hungry new bands," said MacDonald. "Dead Pay Rent is a grungy band from Denver that are really unique in their sound. PJ Moon and The Swappers are out of Durango and have a Widespread Panic vibe, but all original."
Other artists on FDGD's lineup include Boulder-based bands Foxfeather and Banshee Tree.
"This is a one-of-a-kind festival from the theme to the events," said Ray Smith, guitarist of "blue collar folk" duo The Strangebyrds, who will perform at "The Not Yet Dead in Ned" tent at 11 a.m. on Saturday. "It sets itself apart just being held in the coolest town in Colorado."
Avid Frozen Dead Guy Days festival-goers, this is the first year Smith and his partner Cari Minor will treat audiences to their stirring sound as they play music in the vein of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
"We live in Rollinsville, but there is nothing there, so Ned is our go-to for everything," said Smith. "I think the biggest stand-out moment was watching the coffin race one year — and the determination of the racers was impressive."
Braving muddy snow banks, coffin racers truly take on the role of speedy pallbearers carrying a decked-out coffin with one live participant riding inside. The whole display is reminiscent of a Tough Mudder challenge, yet somehow evokes images of bobsledders. Seeing a pack of grown men in unicorn onesies hoisting their friend through rocky terrain is likely worth the ticket price.
"People come from all over," said MacDonald. "My first priority is to make sure everyone is safe and has a good time."
Dead man on ice
The man whose body is still resting on dry ice, Bredo Morstoel, was an individual who allegedly enjoyed skiing, wetting a line in the waterways of his native Norway and occasionally pushing paint to canvas. Over the years, resting in the Tuff Shed, he's been visited by investigators, journalists and psychics. Apparently, his grandson's end goal was to keep his granddad cryogenically frozen for an eventual reemergence into the world of the living.
Granddad passed in 1989 from a heart condition and was shipped to the Trans Time cryonics facility in Oakland, Calif., where he was placed in liquid nitrogen for close to four years. Later, in 1993, he was relocated to Colorado to stay with his daughter Aud Morstoel and his grandson Trygve Bauge — a pair who had plans of one day opening up a cryonics center of their own. But, the entrepreneurial venture was cut short when Trygve was deported for an expired visa. Yet, his wish to keep his grandfather preserved is kept alive today by the efforts of Brad Wickham, a Nederland resident tasked with the job of replenishing the dry ice monthly.
Grandpa Bredo was the director of parks and recreation in Norway's Baerum County for more than 30 years. Something tells me the outdoorsman would delight in the sight of a strange flock partying, in his honor, at an elevation of 8,228 feet.
"The spirit of helping people out is present in the festival," said MacDonald. "It's about the bigger picture of creating something. It takes a lot of energy."
Bredo, a man who never took an actual breath in Ned, is oddly an intricate part of this mountain town's makeup. He's inspired the work of brewers, filmmakers and songwriters — perhaps a testament to the inclusiveness found in this historic mining town just a 25-minute drive from Boulder. While his grandson wanted this cryonaut to one day rise, in a way it's as if he already has — sparking yearly frigid festivities for fans of the icy and unusual.
"Nederland is strongly rooted in community," said MacDonald. "The town is really a microcosm of cross-sections of society. There's an odd magic that goes on when you need help with something and all of a sudden someone appears."
Kalene McCort: 303-473-1107, firstname.lastname@example.org