How to cope with the Panic pilgrimage?
August 24, 2005
Many of Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ concerts draw die-hard fans, but possibly none as fanatical and willing to travel as the fans of Widespread Panic.Music devotees from all over the country will descend on the Roaring Fork Valley for the Thursday and Friday evenings of Labor Day Weekend – it means plenty of ticket sales for Jazz Aspen Snowmass but also poses logistical problems for the organizers.
Widespread Panic played at “Harmony Fest,” a music festival at the base of Buttermilk Mountain in 1999. Fans seem to remember the concert fondly, but the event was marred by organizational problems, from parking nightmares to the awkward, chaotic venue. Aspen resident Mandy Chandler, who, like the band, is also from Georgia, remembers cars illegally parked up and down Highway 82, many of them right next to No Parking signs.It was flagrantly illegal, she said, but there was little if any enforcement.”Now the town knows what a huge band they are. Back then, I think they didn’t know,” she said.Jim Horowitz, executive director of Jazz Aspen Snowmass, said the concert six years ago wasn’t well-organized. Fans camped illegally all over the county because some Widespread Panic venues (such as the Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tenn.) have a “Woodstock-like camping setup.”Beside developed campsites around Aspen and in the White River National Forest, there are no easy places for fans to pitch tents en masse, so Jazz Aspen Snowmass is trying to anticipate and avoid potential problems. All of the Labor Day Festival advertisements include a “no camping” notation.”We felt the simple thing was to let people know that there’s no camping in advance of the concert,” Horowitz said. “We’re sorry, but you’ll have to stay with a friend or rent a cheap hotel room.”Or course, since a cheap hotel room can be hard to come by in the Roaring Fork Valley, some fans are happily planning to flop with friends. Aspen resident (and Aspen Times’ employee) John Keck bought eight tickets for himself and out-of-town friends, and expects all of the visitors to sleep in his apartment.
Keck enjoys traveling to see the band: In 2005 he made the pilgrimage to two shows in Raleigh, N.C., three at Red Rocks and two in Minnesota. As with the Grateful Dead’s legions of “deadhead” fans, there’s an allegiance to Panic’s music and an aspect of escapism.”It’s people from all over the place trying to detach themselves from their work lives – to enjoy the music and whatever else comes along,” he said. Keck, 26, discovered the band in high school and immediately began searching out what else the band had to offer in the realm of live music throughout college.Keck said he and his friends constitute a younger portion of the crowd, but increasingly there are more “clean-cut kids” in the audience who grew up with Widespread’s music. Chandler, 36, said she’s a longtime Panic fan, but she’s no longer traveling long distances to see them play.”I used to follow them around in college, but I’m not like a [Grateful] Dead fan who knows how many times I’ve seen them play,” she said. “It’s a big audience – everything from dirty hippies to executives, service people, and people with kids.”
Chandler and her friends have purchased VIP passes for the JAS concerts; unlike past JAS concerts, she expects the VIP section to be packed with die-hard fans this year. For many Widespread fans, the shows are de facto reunions with other fans from other places. The JAS Widespread concert could turn into quite the social scene. In fact, both Keck and Chandler seem to agree that to true fans, it’s less about who is there and more about the music itself.”It’s about the guys in the band, and how they treat their fans,” she said. “If I really like someone and find out that they don’t like Panic, I might think twice about them.””Appreciating their music on a CD is one thing, but when you search out the live music and it’s created in front of you, on the spot, it always keeps me wanting more,” Keck said.
The last time Jazz Aspen Snowmass saw large crowds that created logistical problems was with Jack Johnson’s performance at the Labor Day Festival in September 2004. Many of the 11,000 people who purchased tickets for the evening’s shows waited in long lines to get into the venue, and when Johnson finished, there was an enormous queue to escape on local buses.”Every year we think we’ve learned all the lessons, and each year proves that we haven’t – it’s a live event, and that’s part of what makes it exciting,” Horowitz said. Although he declined to specify, he said JAS will have a “different system” for handling the masses entering the venue at once.As for leaving the site, the plan is to have more buses. Snowmass Chief of Police Art Smythe said No Parking signs will be posted in pullouts along Brush Creek Road, and the area will be heavily patrolled. Enforcement will come in the form of a tow truck, he said.”We’ve certainly talked to people with venues about their experiences with Widespread Panic, and so far we haven’t heard anything that’s particularly alarming,” he said. “It’s possible that people will show up earlier than normal to get in, and we’ll make sure we have a place for them to queue up and wait.”Smythe notes that the Widespread Panic audience may be a younger, livelier group by his estimations, but he also notes that as the band ages, so do their fans. The small Snowmass Police Department will be joined by officers from the Basalt and Aspen police departments and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.”We always have our fingers crossed a little bit, because you never know what’s going to develop,” Smythe said. “We try with Jazz to anticipate potential problems, and mitigate them upfront. The more things go smoothly for them, the less chance of police intervention, and that’s our goal.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org