Organizers confident Buttermilk is perfect site for Labor Day festival | AspenTimes.com

Organizers confident Buttermilk is perfect site for Labor Day festival

Amy Meyerson
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Jazz Aspen-Snowmass officials are now halfway through a challenging summer, having pulled off what most concertgoers said was a successful June festival at Two Creeks.

However, as work on the Snowmass Golf Course continues, they will face their biggest challenge in September, pulling off the Labor Day festival at a new venue at Buttermilk. Though past concerts at that location have received criticism for parking and other problems, Jazz Aspen officials are confident they can pull off a successful event that runs smoothly.

The Labor Day Festival, featuring artists such as Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, is expected to attract approximately 10,000 people. Because of the size of the expected crowd, some people are concerned that the area is not equipped to handle the increased traffic and parking.

In the past, Buttermilk has been the site of the Harmony Festival and the X games. Jazz-Aspen is planning a layout similar to the one used during those events.

The Harmony Festival, held at Buttermilk during the summer of 1999, serves as the best comparison for the Labor Day Festival. Around 8,000 people gathered daily for that event, and the organizers found themselves overwhelmed by cars and traffic on Highway 82.

The coordinators did not anticipate all of the complications that surfaced due to the size of the crowd. Because of the chaos surrounding the Harmony Festival, it is unclear as to whether the Labor Day event, a concert slightly larger than the Harmony Festival, will suffer from the same problems.

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However, officials say the success of the X games serves as a promising example that Buttermilk is equipped to handle the Labor Day Festival. The X games drew 40,000 people, a crowd much larger than what is expected at the upcoming concert.

The movement of the X game’s crowd was different, however, because people moved from event to event on the lower part of the mountain. Throughout the four-day event, people were continually coming and going from Buttermilk.

While the Harmony Festival might raise some doubt about Aspen’s ability to hold such a large concert, organizers of the Jazz Festival and the police are not concerned. They feel that they have learned much in the past three years since the Harmony Festival and are certain that their experiences have taught them and prepared them to handle the festival with ease.

“We had the X games here this winter, which was much larger than either festival, and it went well,” said Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis. “We had none of the parking and traffic problems that the Harmony Festival spawned.”

Police say they will limit the amount of parking at Buttermilk, forcing most people to park at either the intercept lot at Brush Creek or Cozy Point Ranch, and take a bus to the concert. The Roaring Fork Transit Agency will adjust its schedule to handle the increase in riders.

Everyone involved in the event feels confident that these alterations should alleviate the traffic problems generated during the Harmony Festival.

“Based on our parking and transportation plans we don’t think that it should be any problem at all,” said Jim Horowitz, director of Jazz Aspen-Snowmass. “In fact, we could probably handle more people.”

Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said, “At the X games we had 40,000 people, and if you talk to anyone it went as smoothly as it could have gone. If the people involved use that as a blueprint it shouldn’t be a problem.”

In addition to their confidence in the parking plan, those involved believe Jazz-Aspen’s long history in sponsoring successful festivals will contribute to pulling a concert free from problems.

“We expect everything to run smoothly because of the diligence shown by Jazz Aspen,” said Braudis. “I have full confidence that by working together with Jazz Aspen’s logistical staff, we will have uneventful traffic and parking.”

Officials involved in the planning for this year’s festival are also confident that the base of Buttermilk is large enough to handle a crowd as large as the one expected.

“Buttermilk could handle far more than 10,000 people,” said Horowitz. “The primary issue is getting people onto and off the site in an orderly manner.”

The only real constraints posed by the Buttermilk location, said Hanle, is not its ability to handle a crowd but its limited parking area. “We’ve done a couple concerts at Buttermilk,” said Hanle. “You don’t see any kind of damage to the slope or anything like that,” so the potential issue of destruction to the ski mountain is not a concern.

Horowitz said, “The venue is going to work fine. It has been used before and it’s a natural amphitheater. It’s a great place for outdoor concerts and we’re experienced at holding concerts, so we don’t expect any real problems.”