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Britta Gustafson: ‘Let’s get together and feel all right’

Love of live music brings the Snowmass Village community together

Britta Gustafson
Then Again
Britta Gustafson for the Snowmass Sun

Are you humming it already? “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

Bob Marley’s sentiment is universal. A musical experience can transcend the hassles and hustles, tragedies and trials of life. When those first few chords of a favorite song fill a room, that’s the moment; collective effervescence, a place where we become one.

Here, music is our common denominator. And sitting on a grassy hillside, surrounded by friends and neighbors, with the backdrop of a mountain sunset amplifying the glowing stage, our pulse beats to the rhythm as one. That’s summer in Snowmass.



If the resort founded our economy in Snowmass Village, then perhaps music helped found our culture.

And our soundtrack, including that “Rocky Mountain High,” has become part of the musical vernacular enhancing this visionary way of life. We live for our live music.




Since the early years, when big names graced our small stages at the Refectory and the Leather Jug, Snowmass has made a name for itself on the musical map. It has been a destination for concertgoers ever since.

Perhaps the precursor to our free concert series, the wildly popular Woodstock-esque 1970s Deaf Camp picnic concerts, further enhanced this mountain setting as an idyllic venue. Over the years, performers like the Eagles and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band joined that fundraising event’s lineup. Crowds as large as 5,000 people made their way to town, filling the grassy hillside near the Campground chairlift for the annual event.

Our primarily winter-focused resort began to pivot to a summer scene when live music became a focal point and the Snowmass Resort Association decided to build a 1,200-seat pavilion at the end of the Snowmass mall in 1972. That venue grew in popularity, and by the late ’70s a weekly music series pulled in names like Jimmy Buffet, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris.

Another tent was erected at the bottom of Fanny Hill and soon hosted concerts featuring the likes of Ray Charles and The Temptations. Later, performers like Tom Petty and Widespread Panic were among many of the top headliners that graced its stage. And we couldn’t get enough.

The Snowmass Conference Center began hosting world-famous artists like B.B. King and Herbie Hancock throughout the ’80s. Soon after, the Jazz Aspen Snowmass festival came to town, bringing with it three decades of major headliners like Bob Dylan, the Black-Eyed Peas, Neil Young, Al Green, John Legend, No Doubt, The Black Crowes, LeAnn Rimes, Ziggy Marley, Santana, David Byrne, Weezer, Maroon 5 and Sting (to name just a handful) to our small mountain town.

The free concerts Snowmass Villagers frequent on Thursday nights now took shape in the early ‘90s, when Mountain Dragon bar manager Terry Long collaborated with Bill Getz, who provided the initial financial backing for a summer series. And Mountain Dragon owner and future Mayor Doug “Merc” Mercatoris, who did subsequent fundraising, brought us the immensely popular Thursday night free summer concert series.

Our community has been bonding around shared musical passion ever since.

And now, celebrating 30 years, those free concerts are a community staple. They are a significant part of our core. It just feels so cathartic for a community in need of a reboot, to have this opportunity to celebrate three decades of shared mountain music in an era of global division and tension. If we have done anything right, it’s continuing to come together, right now, around music.

Hot Buttered Rum (performing next Thursday to kick off our summer) sums it up oh so sweetly, singing, “I just want something beautiful in this life, don’t wanna wait ‘til the other side,” in “Something Beautiful.”

Our love for live music and our town’s efforts to continue to provide this incredible amenity have become a rich part of our community culture, and that really is what makes this a great place to live.

Concerts allow us a space in which our sense of self can slip away, and where even if for just a moment we can become one with the crowd for all the right reasons. That energy, shared with those we know as well as complete strangers, is contagious. That euphoric connectedness impacts the way we choose to live our lives together, hopefully with a connection that can alleviate the tensions of everyday life in a society that depends on a sense of community.

We all need more beautiful reminders that there are great things to unify us in this life. That shared moment when the crowd, the music and the energy are in harmony, that’s Snowmass. See you on the hill!

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.