Change of venue explored for JAS Labor Day shows
Jazz Aspen Snowmass officials are considering moving the organization’s main event, the Labor Day Experience music festival in Snowmass Village, to Buttermilk.
The move would be to eliminate myriad operational issues, which include choke points at the entrance and exits, long bus lines, limited parking and capacity issues at the current site in Snowmass Town Park.
Jim Horowitz, JAS president and CEO, confirmed in a statement that he and others have initiated discussions about whether it is feasible to move the concerts to Buttermilk.
For the past three years, JAS has sold out its biggest headline artist by early July, reaching the Town Park’s capacity of 10,000 people months before the event.
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“Everything has grown in the last three years, except for the site,” Horowitz said in the statement. “JAS and the town of Snowmass Village have struggled to keep up with the demands, whether public safety and regulatory compliance, transportation, limited site parking and overall acreage.
“We have real challenges that must be addressed going forward, to safely and efficiently operate the event and continue to meet the high expectations of attendees,” he continued. “All of these challenges are the inevitable result of an event that has experienced more success in recent years.”
The evacuation during the 2018 Lionel Richie concert due to lightning and thunderstorms showed the vulnerability of the venue.
Town officials attempted to improve the egress and layout of the site since then, but issues still remain.
Snowmass Village Mayor Markey Butler, who serves as an ex-officio on the JAS board of directors, said Sept. 23 she thinks the fire and police departments did a good job this year but recognized there are constraints on the site.
She also noted that as JAS brings more big-name acts to the venue, with Sting and John Mayer performing this year, the event is attracting more people and the organization would like to sell more tickets.
“As they improve the talent, it costs a lot of money,” she said. “The 10,000 capacity number has been challenged for the past few years.”
Butler and Snowmass Village Town Manager Clint Kinney said the town is working to increase capacity and rework the layout of the park and adjacent Rodeo Lot.
Both said the event is important to the resort community.
“The town really values our relationship with JAS,” Butler said, adding that Town Park is a great place for a three-day concert. “You can’t beat the beauty of the site.”
Kinney said town officials have not been part of any formal discussions about a possible move to Buttermilk.
JAS and the town are two years into a three-year sponsorship agreement to have the festival at Town Park, according to Kinney.
“We value the JAS event here in the village … it’s a cornerstone event and we really, really like it here,” he said. “It’s something we hold dearly but at the same time, we don’t want to be obstructionists, either.”
Town Council is currently considering five options to reconfigure the park and incorporate the Rodeo Lot to accommodate JAS.
The top Town Park redesign draft town officials are considering moving forward with, dubbed the “Frankenstein” option as it combines the best features of the four other designs, would increase the JAS Labor Day Experience venue space by 158,000 square feet.
“We are continuing to work on things and improvements have been made,” Kinney said.
JAS moved the Labor Day show to Buttermilk for one year in 2002 when the Snowmass Club golf course was realigned and expanded and the area was under construction. That expansion took about 25% of the previous JAS venue space.
That year, Bob Dylan performed and attracted a crowd of roughly 12,000 people at Buttermilk.
Having the Labor Day concerts at Buttermilk would require the approval of Pitkin County commissioners under a special-use permit, according to Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock.
Aspen Skiing Co. owns the land at the base of the ski area and would have to agree to JAS using it.
Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said no discussions have occurred yet, but the company has no interest in seeing the festival move.
“It’s our hope they find a way to keep the event in Snowmass,” he said. “It’s an event that is important to Snowmass.”
JAS’s assessment of Buttermilk as the site for the Labor Day festival is part of a new five- to 10-year strategic plan for the organization, which will celebrate its 30th season in 2020, according to Horowitz.
“At this point, it is the start of a discussion only, and it will take time,” he said in the statement. “At the same time we are researching options at Buttermilk, we are working with (the town of Snowmass Village) on both the existing site issues, as well as potential improvements to the Town Park site.
“We owe it to the greater Aspen-Snowmass community to get this right to ensure the event survives and thrives.”
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