Autumn music fest fails to excite Aspen council
October 23, 2012
ASPEN – City Council members on Tuesday were less than thrilled at the prospect of bankrolling a fall music festival in Rio Grande Park to the tune of $70,000.
The request for money to kick-start the annual Aspen Autumn Fest came from Josh Behrman, of Mountain Groove Productions, founder of Carbondale’s PAC3 music venue, the Snowmass Chili Pepper and Brew Fest and the Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Festival.
He told City Council members he has years of experience in starting events for municipalities and growing them to profitability.
The City Council kicked the idea back to its special events committee, which includes Councilmen Torre and Derek Johnson. But if the tone of the discussion during Tuesday’s work session is any indication, the idea won’t get off the ground unless it is drastically scaled down or Mountain Groove comes up with the funding without city assistance.
Meanwhile, council members agreed to put a “placemark” in the 2013 budget – as Torre put it – of $30,000 toward the Aspen Historical Society’s 50th anniversary celebration in July but nixed a $76,000 request from organizers of American Renewable Energy Day to enhance its annual event and to provide a community concert.
Behrman said he wanted to partner with the city annually for the Autumn Fest. He said that while it would serve primarily as a music festival, it also would showcase “everything Aspen had to offer” in the fall. Additionally, by taking place in late September or early October, the event would extend the summer tourism season during a time when the pace of the city’s economy slows down.
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He said he would work to encourage participation from vendors from the Saturday downtown farmers market as well as local art galleries. According to a city memorandum, the daylong event also would include cider- and pie-making competitions, organized hikes so that visitors can experience what it’s like to “fall in love with Aspen” (a wordplay on the season), a grand beer-tasting, fruit-canning instruction and other activities.
Neither Mayor Mick Ireland nor other council members were sold.
Torre said that because of unpredictable weather in the fall, the project seemed like a gamble. He noted that on the last day of this year’s farmers market on Oct. 6, Aspen was cold and rainy.
“I have a concern that in this shoulder time, to do an outdoor festival of this nature, we have the potential to come up completely empty,” he said.
Behrman replied that weather can be a risk at any time of year. R. Barry Crook, assistant city manager, later added that he studied the past 10 years of weather patterns and that the first week of October has been typically pleasant.
“If I took the events that I’ve done over a 15- or 20-year period, I’d say a percentage of them have had weather issues. It’s a small percentage, but there is a percentage,” Behrman said.
Torre said he appreciated the work Behrman has done in the past but wondered whether the event could be smaller.
“You could scale back anything and obviously start from nothing and grow it,” Behrman said. “In the scheme of events, $70,000 is not a lot of money.”
Ireland appeared to take issue with that comment.
“Let’s not go there,” the mayor said. “When you’re talking about all the money I earn here in three years, it’s not a small amount of money.”
Behrman clarified that for many of the events he’s started in the past, the vicinity of $70,000 was a starting point.
The company wanted the city to provide half of the money for the production costs up front and the balance two weeks prior to the event date. After the festival reached the break-even point of $70,000 in revenue, which would be reimbursed to the city, the city and Mountain Groove would divvy up profits in a split of 75 percent to 25 percent.
Behrman also said he wanted a four-year commitment toward the project. The festival might not be profitable in the first year, he suggested, but by the third and fourth years it could break even or run in the black.
“This is an investment long-term, not short-term,” he said. “I don’t want to come to you and say that this is what I want to do one time and one time only. I’m hoping we can do this and grow it and, over a period of time, have this as an Aspen institution.”
Johnson said one of his main concerns was the community’s already crowded calendar of events. He wondered if there were already too many activities going on in late September and early October that would conflict with a fall music festival.
“I like the concept; we’ve chatted about it before,” Johnson said. “I think we can mitigate some of the downside. I just want to look at a calendar. … The community may just need a weekend off or two or three.”
Ireland said that while he was open to the concept, he wasn’t convinced of the need for such an event.
While Councilman Adam Frisch balked over the size of the request, Councilman Steve Skadron expressed displeasure over the sheer number of funding requests for special events the city receives each year.