Bidding the barbecue block party goodbye
August 12, 2011
We’ve got a bad taste in our mouths with regard to recent news surrounding the second annual Big Aspen Barbecue Block Party, and it’s got nothing to do with bland basting sauces or boring side dishes.In case you haven’t heard – and there’s a good chance of that – the event, which was planned for the weekend of Aug. 27-28, was canceled in June because it conflicted with the dates for the Wheeler Opera House’sMountainSummit Film Festival, which the city of Aspen produces. In an era of expensive concert and festival tickets, the block party was a low-cost way for Aspen residents and tourists alike to enjoy great food and music in an unpretentious setting. Now it’s gone – and its return in future years is doubtful. Why city officials and barbecue-event organizers didn’t see this scheduling issue coming early this year, we’re not sure. Some calendar-gazing might be in order when it comes to planning local events.Gram Slaton, the Wheeler’s executive director, expressed his concern to the city’s Special Events Committee just prior to the June meeting that the smoke and noise from the barbecue party on Monarch Street would be detrimental to the film gathering. Slaton also sits on the committee. After it was clear that approval of the permit was unlikely, The Little Nell Hotel & Residences, an Aspen Skiing Co. property that was producing the barbecue fest, was offered the use of Rio Grande Park. General manager John Speers declined that offer, seeing it as a subpar location and a tough place for the set-up and staging.”At Monarch Street, we had the Limelight Lodge as our home base,” Speers said. As for the Rio Grande Park site, “It’s too far off the beaten path.”Aside from the scheduling problem, another concern is that the city failed to notify the media – and therefore, the community at large – that the Big Aspen Barbecue’s application for a special-events permit had been withdrawn in the face of denial. The city is usually good about providing a heads-up on most matters of local importance, large and small. Maybe it was a simple oversight; but in the case of the barbecue event, we’d consider the cancellation a significant matter. There was no discussion of the issue at recent City Council meetings.Here’s some detail we would have reported months ago had we been alerted about the event’s cancellation:Last year, the event drew an estimated 7,000 locals and visitors to its Hunter Street-Gondola Plaza location near The Little Nell and featured a strong lineup of live music, not to mention some of the best barbecue pitmasters in the country. By most accounts, the barbecue party earned rave reviews. It did not, however, receive the support of many owners and managers of businesses near the original site, who claimed in a March council meeting that they suffered huge revenue losses as a result of the event’s operating hours, smoke and noise, and street closures. Those complaints led to The Little Nell’s willingness to compromise on operating hours and the event’s tentative move to Monarch Street. But even that location was unsuitable compared with the needs of the Wheeler and its annual film festival.”We felt we had addressed all of the concerns about last year’s block party,” Speers said. “This was a little frustrating to us, for sure.”To be fair, The Little Nell didn’t disclose the block party’s cancellation either. But that’s because hotel officials recently spent some time trying to come up with another date and alternate location. Those plans didn’t jell, and so there will be no barbecue this year.Who’s to blame for the cancellation of the party? There are many ways to argue that answer. What we do know is that the community will suffer from what appears to be a comedy of errors and a lack of unity among the various parties involved.