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The hottest tickets in Aspen

Rick CarrollThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Technology was not on Roshni Slalis side. Trying speed-dial and the Internet, she was denied in her bid to buy tickets to see the Dalai Lama. But for others, the shoe-gum approach worked the morning of June 3 when tickets to see His Holiness went on sale at the Wheeler Opera House. Some fans and admirers had camped out in front of the Wheeler as early as 6:30 that morning. Tickets went on sale at 10 a.m.Within 70 minutes, 4,050 tickets 2,050 for the Benedict Music Tent, and 2,000 freebies for the nearby simulcast areas had been gobbled up. Desperate to see His Holiness, Slali, of Woody Creek, figured she could entice ticket-holders with two tickets to the Warren Haynes concert, scheduled Sept. 1 at the Belly Up. That event sold out too, and tickets have been in high demand, commanding as much as $250 apiece on eBay.Slali took her campaign to the classified pages of The Aspen Times, hoping to swap two of her six Warren Haynes tickets for two passes to the Dalai Lama, whose public appearance is slated for this Saturday. No one responded to her ad.To me theyre both inspirational figures that Id love to see, Slali said. Its such a small valley and its hard to be squeezed out of events like these.Slali, who runs the fruit stand off Highway 82 outside of the Old Snowmass canyon, said the face value of both appearances $80 for the Dalai Lama and $65 for Haynes gave her no sense of sticker shock. Its Warren Haynes and the Dalai Lama. For those two I wouldnt flinch at paying for tickets.Consumers like Slali are who local event organizers target people willing to spend their discretionary income to see those big names in person.The Aspen-Snowmass area certainly has no shortage of A-list events whether they feature celebrity chefs such as Bobby Flay at the Food & Wine Classic at Aspen, John McCain at the Aspen Institute, the Neville Brothers at the Snowmass Chili & Brew Festival, or Joshua Bell at the Aspen Music Festival.Many of them command high fees. Jazz Aspen Snowmass (JAS) spent nearly $800,000 on booking agencies in 2006, according to IRS records filed by the nonprofit organization that operates the concerts. And it spent another $246,483 on equipment rental. That same year, it recorded $1,274,228 in ticket sales, records show. Obviously those fees and expenses have to be passed down to someone, and thats the ticket buyer. Whether its $550 to catch ZZ Top at the Belly Up on New Years Eve, or $48 to see Widespread Panic at the JAS Labor Day Festival, theres a reason why organizers price tickets the way they do.Its a little bit of logic and sometimes the logical element of it is we always try be consistent with the market elsewhere, said Michael Goldberg, who has owned and operated the Belly Up Aspen nightclub for nearly three years.The Belly Ups capacity is 450, compared to JAS 10,000-person venue in Snowmass, so it doesnt take a CPA to figure out why tickets to a Belly Up concert would be higher than tickets to see the same performer at JAS Labor Day Festival.Theres a real balance between sensitivity of fans and pricing versus the desire to have an act, Goldberg said. Jim Horowitz, executive director of JAS, said the organization is trying to keep ticket prices between $48 and $55. Prices peaked at the 2003 Labor Day Festival, which commanded $68 for both the Neil Young and Tom Petty concerts. Despite the gloomy economy, Horowitz said the summer concert business at least in the U.S. is holding up.There hasnt been a situation where sales are down, but by the same token its still mid-summer and with the economy and the fragility of it, its tough to predict how the next few months will go, he said.The financial climate apparently hasnt taken a toll on ticket sales for the Labor Day Festival, which along with Widespread Panic and their fanatical following include folk icon Bob Dylan, John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival fame, country singer Dwight Yoakam and Ziggy Marley. Sales are up there with our strongest festivals in the past, Horowitz said. Its a Colorado-friendly lineup and theres a certain amount of buzz.Belly Up Aspen has piggy-backed on the lineup by booking Haynes, ranked among the Rolling Stones 100 greatest guitarists of all time, for Sept. 1. The night club recently booked Haynes for the next night as well. As of July 18, tickets remained available for the second performance. One festival that keeps growing in star power is the Snowmass Chili & Brew Festival. Josh Behrman, the owner of Mountain Groove Production, which puts on concerts at the Wheeler Opera House, also is the brains behind the Chili Fest.While its biggest-acts Dr. John and the Neville Brothers arent as big a draws as ZZ Top or Dylan, they are well-known names nonetheless. Ticket prices for the June show featuring both Big Easy acts was $15 just five bucks more than a ticket to a movie at the Isis in Aspen.Behrman said the relatively low cost of the tickets is because the Chili Fest is not a profit-driven event. The Chili Festival is completely different than shows at the Belly Up or Jazz Aspen or the Wheeler, he said. And its because were working with the Town of Snowmass Village and the philosophy is to bring in people and increase tax revenues. Get people in town and put heads in beds. Were not looking to make a tremendous profit. Were looking for people to come in, have an experience, and spend money.An estimated 8,000 people came to Chili Festival over two days, Behrman said. Of that, between 6,500 and 7,000 festival-goers paid admission. The rest were comps.Labor costs or in this case, the talent that hits the stage take an enormous financial toll, Behrman said.Ticket prices are out of control and thats a fact, he said. There are reasons why they are so high and it all starts with the artists demanding high fees.That certainly explains why the Belly Up charged $550 for its ZZ Top performance on New Years Eve. Tickets the day of the show fetched $600. The downtown nightclub also charged $3,000 for reserved seating, which included a full-course meal and beverages. The show sold out.And just how much did the Belly Up have to pay That Little Ol Band from Texas?More than a quarter of a million dollars, Goldberg said.ZZ Tops $550 ticket price would buy 55 tickets to presidential candidate John McCains speech. Hes appearing here Aug. 14, and tickets go on sale June 30. Ten bucks will get you through the door.The Aspen Writers Foundation also has been a top drawer for some of the worlds literary giants from best selling author James Patterson to Pulitzer Prize winner Frank McCourt. The authors charge a small fee, if any, said Lisa Consiglio, executive director of the Aspen Writers Foundation. The foundation pays their travel and lodging expenses, but thats usually about it, she said. And in Pattersons case, the foundation offered a scholarship in his name in exchange for his appearance.Tickets prices to the Foundations Summer and Winter Words events typically cost $15, while $30 was the fee to see Salman Rushdie last month. The costs are kept relatively low, Consiglio noted, because of the underwriting of Sam and Cheryl Wyly, who own Explorer Booksellers, and Louise and Clay Bennett, the owners of Town Center Booksellers in Basalt. Dave Crosby did not charge a fee to appear at the Foundations Lyrically Speaking earlier this year at the Belly Up, and instead used proceeds from ticket sales to benefit charity. Meanwhile, Slali still holds out hope that shell get a ticket to Dalai Lama. Since the Warren Haynes swap did not work, maybe fate will.If anybody has a ticket, I run this fruit stand every day by Aspen Village, she says. They can always find me there.rcarroll@aspentimes.com

This article is a feature of Inside Business, published Tuesdays in The Aspen Times.


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