Tear down the fence at the Labor Day Festival | AspenTimes.com
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Tear down the fence at the Labor Day Festival

Aspen Times writer

Even now, 40 years after the genre carved out a permanent place in the American psyche, rock ‘n’ roll remains true to the egalitarian ethos that made it so popular in the first place: We’re all in it together, let’s share our joys, our disappointments, our anger and our victories.Two events at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival last weekend once again emphasized just how marvelously egalitarian rock ‘n’ roll really is.The first event occurred Friday, opening night, when headliner Jack Johnson insisted that the VIP seating in front of the stage be removed. By doing so, Johnson and his opening acts had an audience in front of the entire stage to play to and play with throughout the night. Good thing, too, in light of the fact that a record crowd showed up.The other three nights, the setup returned to the JAS Labor Day norm, where about two-fifths of prime stage-front real estate was occupied by a fenced-off area reserved for those who pay for VIP tickets. This year, as with every other year, the VIP seating remained mostly empty through the afternoon and early evening, until shortly before the headlining artist took the stage.All was quiet until Monday afternoon, when the alternative pop band Cake took issue with the fact that about half the area in front of the stage was cordoned off and empty. Once he got rolling, lead singer John McCrea took every opportunity available to make hay over the fact that there were two classes of concertgoers: general admission ticket-holders who were having a fine time and VIP ticket holders who were nowhere to be seen.Every summer at least one band, usually one of the opening acts, points out this glaring discrepancy. That the problems with this two-tiered seating system were more pronounced this year, with one artist insisting on its removal and another shouting out loud about it, brings home the fact that it is time for some changes at the Labor Day Festival.Event organizers should look into ways that would minimize the VIP section’s encroachment on prime, stage-front grass. Perhaps fanning the VIP section away from stage’s far right or far left corner would work. Maybe the VIP seating needs to be eliminated altogether. But it might not be that easy.It’s important for the community to recognize that Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ ability to bring top acts, especially those that draw younger, more energetic crowds such as Jack Johnson and Cake, depends greatly on the revenues generated by VIP ticket sales. But it is equally important that event organizers avoid becoming beholden to their VIP patrons, who bring far less energy to the show. Both the artists and their fans deserve to have a venue undivided by a fence and the price of one’s ticket. The current setup runs against the most basic principles that rock ‘n’ roll was built on. It’s time to tear down the fence and let everybody celebrate together.


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