Sounds of summer: Evolution of Snowmass concert series | AspenTimes.com

Sounds of summer: Evolution of Snowmass concert series

Snowmass' free concert series on Fanny Hill started as a grassroots concept more than 25 years ago.
Jeremy Swanson/Courtesy photo |

In the early ’90s, two Snowmass locals hatched an idea that, with time, evolved into one of the town’s longest standing, most highly anticipated summer traditions.

If you have spent more than a week in Snowmass Village during the summer, you’ve likely experienced a concert on Fanny Hill, where stunning mountain vistas and free, live music meet.

“I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to Snowmass,” said local Jeff Sivess, who’s called the village home since 1983.

“It’s the best way to feel and enjoy music, in my opinion. You get to feel the musicians and everything,” Sivess said of the venue’s intimate setting.

While the combination of free live music with the Rockies as a backdrop sounds like a foolproof plan, it was a grassroots concept that required a village to carry out.

The year was “probably 1991,” as longtime Snowmass resident and former mayor Doug Mercatoris remembers it. Mercatoris, who owned the popular Mountain Dragon restaurant at the time, credits the initial idea to his bar manager, Terry Long.

“(Terry) was a very big music fan, and he wanted to start a free music series on Fanny Hill,” Mercatoris said. “He talked to me about it and I thought it was a great idea, so I got involved, too.”

To finance such an endeavor, Mercatoris said, the two solicited funds from the Snowmass Village Resort Association, which now operates as Snowmass Tourism under the town’s umbrella.

They also formed the nonprofit, Snowmass Community Fund, which garnered contributions from local businesses, individuals, the town government and the resort association.

Mercatoris pointed to “local fellow” Bill Getz, in particular, as a notable benefactor in starting the series, both financially and in volunteering his time.

With the money raised from the community fund, the group was able to purchase the original tent under which musicians performed on Fanny Hill, Mercatoris said. And each week, volunteers would help build the stage for the artists.

“No one was paid,” Mercatoris explained. “Everybody was volunteering time and money to start the series, and it started off with not as big of acts as we have today, but it kept building.”

In the concert series’ earliest phase, a Colorado-based production company handled the bookings, Mercatoris said. But after a few years, Jazz Aspen Snowmass founder and CEO Jim Horowitz picked up the series’ programming.

More than two decades later, Jazz Aspen Snowmass still plays an integral role in attracting and managing the concert series talent.

“At this point, the free concert series is an institution, which is driven by the pure social interaction of people gathering on a beautiful Colorado summer night with their friends and food and booze and vibes,” Horowitz said. “It’s a very quintessential Colorado experience.”

“That’s like a generation,” he added. “When you’ve done something for 20 years.”

For Sivess and countless families around the valley, Snowmass’ free concert series is a family affair.

“(My wife and I) used to take the kids and put them on our shoulder,” Sivess said. “The kids kept coming to the concerts in the summer as much as they could with their friends. Now the kids are 31 and 29 years old, and their friends will come down and visit with us.”

Sivess and his wife have missed only a handful of Fanny Hill concerts since its inception. One of his favorite memories is attending with his wife, children and their grandma, otherwise known as “mosh-pit mom.”

“Grandma would dance, the kids would dance,” Sivess recalled. “Just three generations enjoying music.”

While the concerts used to take place only on Thursdays, in more recent years, the series has expanded to offer a few Friday and Saturday shows throughout the summer.

Virginia McNellis of Snowmass Tourism said the marketing team has learned over the years that “we’re able to get bigger and better acts by being more flexible with the days.”

When possible, Snowmass Tourism attempts to coincide the genre of music with the big events in town, McNellis said.

“Events are a key component of summer tourism and have helped grow occupancy significantly over the past several years,” McNellis said. “Having concerts align with events means that event producers can help secure bigger acts, and event attendees get to see Snowmass at its best.”

Looking back more than a quarter-century, Mercatoris said he is incredibly proud of the series’ evolution.

“It’s one of the nice achievements that we’ve been able to give back to the community,” Mercatoris said. “It’s pretty huge now when you see the kind of talent that’s coming in and the production equipment and the stage.

“It’s definitely grown into something that the community can be very proud of.”


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