Aspen singer-songwriter festival strikes a chord with council
ASPEN – The Aspen City Council gave the go-ahead Tuesday to Wheeler Executive Gram Slaton to continue organizing a singer-songwriter festival produced by legendary musician John Oates that would take place the same weekend as Ruggerfest.
However, council members said they would like the event scaled down from what’s being proposed.
The four-day festival would take place Sept. 16-19 and have 36 performers, ranging from headline acts to mid-range musicians to relative unknowns who would come to Aspen to showcase their talents.
Slaton proposed three different budget scenarios, with the worst case being that the event could lose $119,275 in its first year. The best case is a loss of $5,650 and the anticipated loss is $53,100. The average of all three is would be a $59,341 contribution from the Wheeler fund, which is fueled by the Real Estate Transfer Tax.
“I’m not sure I’m ready to support a festival that will lose $60,000 off the bat,” Councilman Steve Skadron said, adding he was reluctant to have an event held over the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur.
Talent is envisioned to cost $136,300 and other costs bring the total expenses to $233,900. Ticket sales, sponsorships and ancillary revenues are estimated to be between $114,625 and $228,250.
Councilman Torre said he thinks the event should be scaled back to three days and be more organic in nature. He said he envisions the event to be more grassroots and competition oriented, where up-and-coming musicians from around the country come to Aspen and play in bars and restaurants.
“It could be 25 performers per night, five at each location,” Torre said. “There would be live music all over town.”
The winners of those competitions would open for whatever headline act is booked at either the Wheeler Opera House or Belly Up Aspen, as well as participate in a “songwriters’ circle,” organized by Oates.
The fact that Oates is involved gives council members faith that the event will be successful.
“When I see his name and his excitement about the event, it’s a no-brainer,” said Councilman Derek Johnson.
Torre said based on conversations with him, Oates sees an opportunity for singer-songwriters to launch their careers, expose Aspen to more tourism and make it an annual event.
The original idea was proposed as part of the city’s “Mining for Ideas” search by Aspen resident Jack Johnson as a vehicle for increasing tourist, second-home owner and general activity in town during an off-season weekend.
Instead of applying for a portion of the council’s $200,000, which was set aside as an economic stimulus to fund special events, the Wheeler became involved since it is the cultural events arm of the city.
The genesis of special events proposed by citizens was to generate activity in town on certain weekends and build them up around already established ones.
That is why the festival is being proposed over Ruggerfest weekend, as well as the fact that there is no other weekend available when the weather is still warm enough for musicians to perform outside, Slaton said.
He said there is enough occupancies in local lodging properties over that weekend to accommodate a second event, and they may complement each other nicely since Ruggerfest is held during the day and the singer-songwriter festival would occur mostly at night.
As the executive producer, Oates would be the direct contact with the major talent. He already has begun conversations with representatives for Jackson Browne and Norah Jones, Slaton said.
Dozens of lesser-known artists would be involved and be part of a collaboration of music and songwriting.
“It’s a laboratory of those who think along common lines … it’s not just another day on the road,” Slaton said of the artists who would participate.
Torre said he would work out more details with Slaton and Oates, and a revised proposal will come back before the council.
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