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Jazz Aspen: Panic masses no problem

Chad Abraham

Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis learned a few things the last time Widespread Panic came to the upper valley.Playing golf on the weekend of the concert in 1999, he recalled that he kept seeing “420” written on every sand trap at the Aspen golf course.”And I was in the sand a lot that day,” Braudis said.Finally, he asked the rest of the foursome what the numerology meant. They told him that it marks the time of the day when pot smokers “fire up a blunt,” Braudis said.That wasn’t the only lesson he and the sheriff’s office learned from the concert; they also discovered what happens when concert organizers don’t plan for 8,000 music fans a day, and, perhaps more important, their cars.”Cops don’t want this thing,” Braudis said at the time. “Although I think the concert itself was well organized, the other things, especially the parking and the camping, were a disaster.”Vehicles were strewn up and down Highway 82 when the jam band played two nights in August 1999. And an ill-fated camping scheme near the concert venue at Buttermilk left passers-by with a good idea of Panic fans’ toilet habits.”Water supplies and portable toilets were in short supply,” said a Times article from 2000. “Locals and visitors not attending the show were treated to long slowdowns on Highway 82 as they approached Buttermilk and the sight of campers urinating and defecating in public view.”So will organizers of the upcoming Labor Day Festival in Snowmass Village, and the police department, be able to handle the Panic masses?A huge advantage the Labor Day Festival has over the previous Panic concerts is experience. The 1999 shows were part of the Harmony Festival, which was organized by a local nightclub manager.Jazz Aspen Snowmass and the town of Snowmass Village have years of experience working together on shows, Police Chief Art Smythe said. Jazz Aspen executive producer Jim Horowitz said it was even a bit insulting to compare the organizers of the previous Panic shows with his organization.”That’s a totally different world,” he said. “[Those were] people who were not in the music business like we are.”Smythe said he is working with Jazz Aspen officials in planning for the concerts at Snowmass Town Park, across from the rodeo lot. The festival, which runs Sept. 1-5, has been expanded by a day to allow for two Widespread Panic shows.”This will be held in a different venue and under a different plan,” Smythe said. “We’ll certainly try to learn from whatever happened at the [show] they had previously.”As it stands now, more people are getting to the shows by bus, which also alleviates potential problems. And it doesn’t hurt that Snowmass Village regularly sees thousands of people attend concerts every year. With those things in mind, Smythe said he didn’t anticipate cars lining Brush Creek Road. Horowitz said any cars parked on the road will be towed immediately.”It would be a concern, but that’s one of the things we’ll have to try to manage and try to see that it doesn’t happen,” Smythe said. “We had 11,000 people on the grounds for a Jack Johnson concert last year. The capacity for the site is 12,000.”Horowitz also used the Johnson concert as a benchmark. He said he expects the Widespread Panic shows to draw capacity crowds.”All that we’re really doing that’s different is just increasing what we already do,” he said. “All of the systems that we have that make for a smooth operation are in place, and that includes a lot of things. Transportation and parking is a big one.”Smythe agreed that the top concerns are parking and transporting the Panic plebeians. Cozy Point Ranch will be the main parking hub, Horowitz said. The RFTA intercept lot at Brush Creek Road and Highway 82 may be considered for parking, and there are also parking lots in Snowmass Village and Two Creeks.”We know, from working with the X Games, that there’s capacity to park a lot of people down [at Cozy Point],” Smythe said.So with plenty of parking and buses, and the experience of organizers and police, it appears there is no reason to Panic.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com


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