Aspen Music Festival changes tune, will not charge for music tent lawn seating
Season on-sale date pushed to June 1
The Aspen Music Festival and School will allow free and unreserved lawn seating outside the Benedict Music Tent for concerts this summer, reversing summer COVID-19 procedures it unveiled a week ago.
The festival announced its new protocols Thursday morning.
Festival president and CEO Alan Fletcher said the latest changes were prompted by the CDC’s surprise May 13 announcement that masks and social distancing were unnecessary in most circumstances for fully vaccinated individuals, which came shortly before he and other local event producers met with the county board of public health about procedures for summer, as well as the county guidance on crowd capacity that came out of that meeting.
“We couldn’t and didn’t change everything all at once with 45 minutes notice, and it took several days of thinking about how to distance and seat safely on the lawn without a reservation system,” Fletcher wrote in an email Thursday. “But our operations team did come up with a good proposal that allows the lawn to be free without being unmanageable. Crucially, the greatly improved capacity for seating in the tent ratified [by the county board on May 13] takes pressure off the lawn.”
While implementing the new plan, the festival will delay ticket sales to Tuesday, June 1. The festival’s 72nd season will run July 1 through Aug. 22, comprising some 150 concerts and events. The 2020 festival was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
News that the festival would charge a reservation fee for the lawn prompted much public criticism on social media and in letters to The Aspen Times over the past week.
Fletcher said he called Geraldine Karetsky, whose gift to the festival in the early 1990s named the lawn for her late husband David Karetsky and endowed free lawn seating in perpetuity, for input on plans for lawn seating this spring. He said Karetsky had been supportive of the reservation fee to make lawn seating possible and is also now supporting the revised plan.
“She was gracious, and grateful that we were thinking about how to use the lawn rather than just cancel all lawn seating. … When we came up with the plan for a free lawn, again my first call was to Gerri, and she said she had ‘tears of gratitude,’” Fletcher wrote.
Festival organizers, based on guidance from Pitkin County, still expect to manage and socially distance concert-goers in the lawn audience. It will keep the system of 90 lawn “pods” in place that it previously announced, but their capacity will be higher than previously planned and no reservations or fees will be necessary to use the pods.
“People may simply show up and enjoy them for free,” reads the announcement. “Details on how this will work are forthcoming. If used efficiently, the pods should accommodate the typical capacity for most [Music Fest] events.”
While capacity outside the tent may near pre-pandemic numbers and inside the tent — split into vaccinated and non-vaccinated sections — may be about 1,000 people, the festival will also live-stream some popular concerts this season to accommodate at-home viewing. Thursday’s announcement stated that the opening Aspen Festival Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on July 3 and its closing performance with violinist Augustin Hadelich will be among the free streaming events.
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Tickets range from $60 to $88 and go on sale Friday at 10 a.m.