Thousands pack Buttermilk for JAS Labor Day Festival |

Thousands pack Buttermilk for JAS Labor Day Festival

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Buttermilk Mountain proved to be a sweet venue for the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival.

About 4,500 people attended the Friday and Saturday night shows, and about 8,000 people heard Bob Dylan and his band deliver a solid performance Sunday night.

“These are the best opening two days we’ve ever had, so we’re very happy with that,” said JAS producer Joe Lang on Sunday afternoon.

The base of Buttermilk was rocking during the Dylan show, and the appreciative crowd was spread out across the lower slopes of the ski area. As the sunset colored faint overhead clouds red and orange, the music legend stomped through “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” and a cool, steady breeze swept smoke across the stage. Dylan performed a long encore, which included a rollicking version of “All Along the Watchtower,” and the crowd seemed satisfied when the man in the black cowboy hat left the stage.

And the venue had shining moments on Saturday evening as well, as golden light bathed Red Butte and Red Mountain, a double rainbow arced across the hillside and a United Express jet flew in low over the stage during headliner Macy Gray’s first song. On Friday night, Phil Lesh and Friends and guitarist Warren Haynes played powerful shows to enthusiastic reviews.

Concert goers seemed to like the Buttermilk venue, with its sloping seating areas, expansive vendor village and free rides on the Panda Peak chairlift to the top of the concert area.

Brad Barker of Snowmass Village has been at most of the JAS shows over the years. “It’s awesome the way it is all stretched out,” he said of the Buttermilk layout.

But he had mixed feelings about whether JAS should keep using Buttermilk over the Snowmass Village site. The latter will be unavailable again next spring and Labor Day because of the reconstruction of the Snowmass Club golf course and the town’s neighboring softball field.

“That’s a tough one,” Barker said. “I love it in Snowmass, because that’s where I live. But they have a lot of room to grow here.”

The biggest difference between the Snowmass and Buttermilk venues is the amount of space, which some people liked and some people didn’t.

“I like the layout, but I think the music tent is a bit far away,” said Pat Ryan of Aspen, who still walked up the uneven ski slope to hear the live bands under the large white tent in between the main acts. “I don’t mind exercise, but it kind of pulls people too far away.”

The vendor village was also a short hike from the main stage area, but the 15 food and 15 crafts vendors didn’t seem to mind much.

“We actually like this so much better because we have elbow room,” said Dennis Tuma of Aspen Massage Associates. “It gets claustrophobic out in Snowmass, and it is too tight with 8,000 people there. There is a constant flow of people here, and we hope they come here next year.”

Outside of the festival grounds, there were only a handful of parking problems along Highway 82, and any cars parked in a no-parking zone were quickly towed.

It seemed that most of the concert goers took buses, walked or rode bikes from Aspen. Many others used the parking lots at Brush Creek Road or took buses from downvalley.

“We’ve been very pleasantly surprised about the parking situation,” said Mario Strobl, a deputy with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, which had 12 officers on site throughout the weekend. “Traffic has been surprisingly good. We put a lot of signs out on the road. People, for the most, have been really good about it. We’ve hardly had any tows.”

Parking along the highway was a major concern as a Widespread Panic concert a few years ago prompted many fans to creatively park along the highway.

But for this weekend’s shows, about the only things alongside the highway were the slew of red and white “absolutely no parking” signs.

After the shows, it took about an hour to get all the music fans loaded onto buses, with most of the people waiting for the buses back into Aspen. Only about 300 cars used the $5 parking lot at Cozy Point on Friday night.

David Meeker of Specialized Protective Services has run security for about the past five years for JAS. He thinks the Buttermilk venue worked better than the Snowmass Village venue from a transportation standpoint.

“People all know where to go,” Meeker said, pointing to the different lanes to load different buses. And pedestrians didn’t have to cross a road to get to a bus. “This venue is the best venue. I think we should keep it here.”

The crowds on Friday and Saturday night were mostly well-behaved, with only one person on Saturday night being arrested. On Sunday night, local law enforcement officers were busy handling numerous calls around town, dealing with people out partying, but no serious incidents had been reported at Buttermilk by the end of the show on Sunday.

“Some people were just getting a little too drunk and rambunctious, but nothing serious,” said Strobl. “But one person out of thousands, that’s pretty good.”

The Colorado State Patrol reported that troopers wrote six DUI tickets after the Friday and Saturday concerts.

The smooth operation of the Buttermilk venue was good news for JAS, but it may make resort officials in Snowmass Village leery of losing the festival.

Lang said no decision has been made yet on where to hold next year’s spring and fall events.

“We’ve had an unbelievable relationship with Snowmass for many years, and we want to continue that,” said Lang. “But it’s pretty obvious we could fit a lot of bodies on this site, many more than 10,000 with the right acts out here.”

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is]

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