The sun comes out for day one of the JAS Labor Day Experience

Music festival brings concerts back to Town Park in full force

Kings of Leon performs during Jazz Aspen Snowmass on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Snowmass Village.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

It almost could have been a wet, soggy, muddy start to the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience.

At least, that’s the way it looked like it might shake out around 4:45 p.m. Friday afternoon in Snowmass Town Park, when early-arriving concertgoers rolling into the three-day music festival faced a steady drizzle and a whole lot of damp. Some huddled in the pedestrian underpass connecting the vendor village to the main stage or tucked into the JAS Lounge tent for shelter; most donned free rain ponchos while they waited for the gates to open to snag a prime spot on the grass in front of the stage.

But then the skies cleared, and the ground dried up, and that brief threat of a soggy night left as quickly as it arrived. By the time Gary Clark Jr. took the mic for the first mainstage set of the night — and the first mainstage set at Snowmass Town Park since the last time the festival was held in 2019 — there was hardly a poncho to be found among the growing crowd.

A mellow beginning to the first night of the festival and a light-but-steady flow of attendees made it easy for eager beavers to snag a front-and-center spot for Clark’s set. Those were favorable conditions for fans like Joe Mahan, who posted up along the rail with his wife, also a fan, to see his “favorite artist of all time,” he said.

The couple traveled from Edwards for their first-ever JAS festival. His attitude toward the experience? “Stoked,” he said.

“It feels great to feel alive again,” Mahan said.

And there were plenty of people to feel alive together as the crowds grew. Though there was still room to move about the cabin just before the start of Clark’s set, most pockets of the venue filled up early in the show and stayed populated through the last note.

By the time Kings of Leon took the stage just after 8 p.m., it was a bonafide, shoulder-to-shoulder big-name concert the likes of which haven’t been in Snowmass for nearly two years.

Kings of Leon — along with most of this year’s lineup — were rebooked to 2021 after last year’s JAS Labor Day Experience got nixed due to pandemic restrictions. There are also a couple of additions that were announced earlier this summer, like Clark (who also played The Belly Up this week) and Sheryl Crow (slated for Saturday at 5 p.m.).

People wait in line during a brief downpour to get inside the concert venue for Jazz Aspen Snowmass on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Snowmass Village.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Jimmy Buffett closes out the festival Sunday night, replacing Stevie Nicks, who canceled her appearance along with several other concerts she had scheduled due to concerns about COVID-19.

But from the looks of the mostly unmasked crowds, the pandemic’s influence on the overall concert experience was just a blip on the radar and a quick stop to verify their vaccination or negative COVID-19 status for most of this year’s attendees.

This year’s festival “felt the same as the year before COVID,” said Melissa Peterson, who was in Snowmass for the festival on a girls trip with friends Amy Norris and Karyn O’Connell.

It wasn’t their first time and it won’t be the last for the crew hailing from Fort Collins and Loveland; Norris and O’Connell agreed that it felt just as it did before, and that feeling was a good one.

“We always like it, always,” O’Connell said on the shuttle back to Snowmass Village toward the end of the night.

For Joe Sterba and Kevin Hart, longtime friends from Omaha who were at their first-ever JAS festival, it was likewise a positive experience. The two road-tripped 11 hours to get to the festival grounds as part of a cohort of four couples attending the festival together from Nebraska and from Arizona — a journey that was “absolutely” worth it, Sterba said.

“(A) holiday weekend doesn’t get much better,” Hart said.

And hey, Sterba joked, it sure beats working.