JAS exploring more sustainable venue options for Labor Day festival
Jazz Aspen Snowmass officials detailed the of myriad challenges it faces at Town Park each summer during its Labor Day Experience festival, and what it would take to rectify them, at the Snowmass Town Council meeting Monday night.
The presentation was in response to the statement released by JAS in September confirming the nonprofit’s interest in exploring the feasibility of moving its staple summer music festival to Buttermilk.
The bottom line message to Town Council was simple: JAS Labor Day Experience has outgrown Snowmass Town Park, which doesn’t have enough acreage or accessibility to make it a sustainable venue in the long term.
“Whatever you may or may not have heard, for the past four years we have been in the trenches with the staff of Snowmass fighting our way through these various issues,” Jim Horowitz, JAS president and CEO, said to Town Council on Monday. “We’ve worked very hard and I know town staff has worked really hard, but we have completely outgrown the site.”
For nearly an hour during the administrative report portion of the Monday council meeting, JAS staff explained to council that capacity, mass transportation to and from the venue and parking limitations are the major obstacles that come with hosting the Labor Day Experience at Snowmass Town Park.
Some of these challenges stem from the success of the annual event — which has sold out one to two of the three festival days by early July every year over the past four years — but have reached the point where they need to be addressed either through a venue change or more financial support from Snowmass Village.
“We’re not the boy who cries wolf; what we’re trying to do is be here and say we don’t have a sustainable model for the future,” Horowitz said.
According to Horowitz and Andrea Beard, senior vice president of JAS, the Labor Day Experience accounts for roughly two-thirds of the nonprofit’s annual budget and supports its mission to provide year-round music education programming in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Since the Labor Day event’s inception in 1995, Horowitz said JAS has invested nearly $66 million into the music festival. Over that same time frame, the town of Snowmass Village has contributed roughly $3 million before chargebacks for municipal and public safety services.
That divides out to about a $150,000 annual contribution with roughly $40,000 in chargebacks from the town and fire district, and makes up roughly 1.7% of the festival’s operating budget.
“The only long-term solution is a bigger venue or a lot more money,” Horowitz said.
Horowitz went on to detail a host of other challenges of holding the festival at the current Snowmass venue with help from Beard, including the following:
The 10,000-person capacity set for Snowmass Town Park. This number was reportedly calculated for the venue by town safety officials and based off of fire code interpretations and logistics of getting people out of the venue if an emergency situation were to arise.
However, JAS said the max capacity does not account for attrition, or ticket holders not showing up, Horowitz said. JAS sees between 9,100 and 9,300 daily attendances, and this below-max average costs JAS revenue.
Increased difficulty securing on-site parking for donors and VIP ticket holders at the Rodeo Lot and Snowmass Recreation Center
Though it has improved, busing festivalgoers to and from the venue in a timely manner is an ongoing challenge, as there is only one two-lane road into and a limited staging area for buses at Town Park.
The demand from festivalgoers for bigger-name artists, whose fees continue to increase, and are often out of JAS’ current reach financially and due to venue capacity.
But after several meetings with Snowmass town staff over the past few months, Horowitz said JAS has identified two overarching solutions that could keep the Labor Day Experience sustainable for JAS and in Snowmass Village for years to come.
The first would be to look at moving the main Labor Day Experience venue to the meadow below Horse Ranch and adjacent to the Snowmass Recreation Center, which has the acreage to allow for future growth and retains the current site’s natural beauty.
This move would require a significant amount of research and tweaks to make the open space area feasible, including creating dirt roads for vehicular access and three flat areas for the stage, VIP viewing patio and artist compound.
If the town would be unwilling or unable to pursue the Horse Ranch area as a venue, Horowitz said the second option could be to keep the festival in Snowmass Town Park but would mean JAS would need an increase in financial support, an increase in the ticket sell-out threshold and the ability to seek sponsorship money from CBD products, which the town currently does not allow.
JAS also presented a third option, which is to move the festival to Buttermilk. JAS estimates the available acreage at Buttermilk is nearly triple the size of the festival space at Snowmass Town Park, and has the advantage of a larger existing transportation hub and pedestrian access.
JAS is in the very early stages of exploring all three options presented Monday, Horowitz said, but hopes to stay in Snowmass Village if the town is willing to collaborate to make the proposed solutions a reality.
“If all of the site challenges could be met, we would be very happy to stay in Snowmass,” Horowitz said. “We’re not trying to leave but we’re in a box right now and we need your help if you want us to be the stable organization to count on for years to come.”
After the JAS presentation, Snowmass Town Council voiced its appreciation of the in-depth presentation and openness of the conversation, and plans work with JAS to pursue a sustainable solution for both entities moving forward.
“We’re trying to manage our way out of a situation of success,” said Mayor Markey Butler, who also serves as the ex-officio on the JAS board of directors. “I think everyone sitting here would like to see that continued success. … We need to be solution-minded.”
Across the Roaring Fork School District, three schools achieved higher ratings from 2019 to 2022, two schools had lower ratings during that time period and most remained the same.