Labor Day Experience returns with strong crowds, smooth operations

Jazz Aspen Snowmass’s three-day festival brought appreciative audiences to Town Park

Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band close out the JAS Labor Day Experience on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, in Snowmass Village. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

In his three decades at the helm of Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Jim Horowitz has never felt quite as much appreciation as he did this weekend at the Labor Day Experience in Snowmass Town Park.

“In 30 years, I have never been thanked so much or hugged so much by perfect strangers, that’s how happy people were,” the JAS president and CEO said in a phone interview Monday morning.

There was plenty of love to go around for live music — some attendees made the festival their first concert back after a year and a half without it — and for a sunny, warm, successful festival experience after a pandemic year without it in 2020.

“There was just a wonderful feeling,” Horowitz said. “It was everywhere: the artists, the attendees, the staff, there was a real kind of coming together, and of course we were blessed to get weather like that — it was such a gift.”

Just how many people came together? The venue was filled to about 80% of its 10,000-person capacity for each of the three days of the festival, according to attendance statistics emailed from Andrea Beard, senior vice president at Jazz Aspen Snowmass.

The organization sold around 9,700 tickets for Friday’s lineup of Gary Clark Jr. and Kings of Leon, of which around 8,000 turned up. Saturday’s ticket sales totaled about 9,800 for Larkin Poe, Sheryl Crow and Eric Church with attendance in the ballpark of 8,200 people.

Sunday, the busiest day of the festival, sold 9,840 tickets, with just shy of 8,230 attendees checking in throughout the day for The Sweet Lillies, Maren Morris and Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band.

Festival likely to remain in Snowmass next year

Jazz Aspen Snowmass committed to operating the Labor Day Experience in Town Park through 2020 — a commitment that extended to 2021 when last year’s festival was canceled.

While there were talks a couple of years back about looking at other possible venues for the festival, it’s not likely that Jazz Aspen will take action on those ideas next year, said JAS President and CEO Jim Horowitz.

“At this point, I’m pretty confident that 2022 will still be in Snowmass,” Horowitz said.

There were curveballs, to be sure: three weeks ago, Sunday’s closing headliner Stevie Nicks canceled all of her concert appearances for the rest of the year; Jazz Aspen announced the replacement, Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band, less than 24 hours later.

Then, just two days before Yola was scheduled to perform as the Sunday mainstage opener, a statement on the soul artist’s Twitter announced that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be able to perform. The Sweet Lillies, originally scheduled to play the JAS Music Lounge over in the vendor village, filled the 3 p.m. Sunday slot.

Still, Jazz Aspen made it work. The sheer quantity of Hawaiian shirts, straw hats and parrot paraphernalia inside the venue Sunday would suggest that Buffett was playing to a crowd who came to the festival exclusively with Margaritaville on the mind.

There also were shifts involved in adapting the festival to include more pandemic precautions. COVID-19 presented new operational challenges, Horowitz said, but attendees were amicable about the requirements to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test obtained within 72 hours of the festival.

“Overall, the way that we handled it, people were very cooperative and for the most part very appreciative (of the requirements),” Horowitz said. “I think it made it easier for the people that went to feel safe and relaxed.”

Buffett, during his closing headliner set, called vaccines “the gateway drug to fun.” Cheers from the audience showed they agreed in earnest.

As for signage recommending attendees keep a 6-foot distance between groups, the packed-to-the-gills crowds gathered in the standing area of the main stage for headlining acts indicated that many took that suggestion with a grain (or a shaker) of salt.

For all the challenges, Horowitz considers the return of the Labor Day Experience after a one-year hiatus to be a success — one that went smoothly, albeit with a slightly different atmosphere than years past as people emerged from their own pandemic lulls in concert-going.

“We were ecstatic. … I could go on for hours about how great it was,” he said.


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