JAS Labor Day Experience features strong Snowmass ties
Snowmass Town Park was bustling Aug. 26 with people preparing for the annual Jazz Aspen Snowmass, or JAS Labor Day Experience music festival.
Tents popped up on the softball fields and a handful of workers rested in hammocks beneath the nearly finished main stage, set to host bands including Weezer, Portugal. The Man, John Mayer and Sting over the holiday weekend.
For 24 years, Snowmass Town Park has hosted the three-day Labor Day weekend music festival, bringing in people from all over the state and the country.
And for 24 years, local Phil McKeague, better known as “Phil-Bob,” has been working every one.
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“It started small but has grown incrementally,” McKeague said of JAS Labor Day Experience. “But I’m still the same old guy, just with bigger numbers.”
McKeague rattled off some of these numbers without hesitation. Over the past two decades heading the festival’s food and beverage operations, McKeague said he’s gone from 15 bartenders to 74; 175 bags of ice to over 2,000; and ordered 1,200 cases of beer for this year’s festival.
But outside of its incremental growth, the festival set-up and location has remained virtually unchanged.
Over Labor Day Weekend, there will be some heightened crowd control efforts, including opening the festival village area an hour early each day for live music and food and drink specials, and hosting another silent disco Saturday night to help alleviate outgoing traffic after the headlining shows.
As for safety, Pitkin County Dispatch Center will notify people of any festival specific public safety concerns or hazards through its text notification system again, but hopes to get more subscribers.
The center used the system last year during JAS Labor Day and X Games, according to Pitkin County Dispatch Center Director Brett Loeb, who urged locals and visitors to text JASAspen to 888777 to sign up.
Over the past 24 years, JAS Labor Day Experience has become a Snowmass staple and end of the summer celebration for the whole Roaring Fork Valley.
When asked why Snowmass has been the best fit for the JAS Labor Day Experience over the years, Jazz Aspen Snowmass founder and president Jim Horowitz said it comes down to the relationships and traditions that have been created.
“There are people who have never missed a festival … the Snowmass locals have a different relationship with it than people from Aspen because it’s right in their front yard,” Horowitz said. “It’s more personal.”
Horowitz said McKeague is one of the Snowmass locals who have a strong personal relationship with JAS Labor Day Experience.
On a recent morning just a few days before the JAS Labor Day festival, McKeague sat beneath one of the newly erected white tents with a stack of papers in front of him as he explained the logistics of making sure over 10,000 people are adequately watered and fed for three days.
But outside of ensuring he provides great customer service, McKeague said he works hard every year to take care of his employees, too. Many of the bartenders have worked the Labor Day festival nearly as long as McKeague has, helping create a unique community of their own.
“Some of these people I’ve grown up with, played softball with and worked with since my conference center days,” McKeague said, referring to when he managed the old Silvertree Hotel conference center. “I don’t have any kids, but by Friday I’ll have 70.”
McKeague went on to say he couldn’t “win,” or help put on a successful festival each year without the help of his team.
“I get my roster and every day I set the best team out I can and always win,” McKeague said.
Moving forward, McKeague hopes to transition into having more of a consulting role with the festival. But looking back, he said there’s one festival weekend that sticks out above the rest: 1999.
That’s the year McKeague worked the festival Friday, married his wife, Amber, at the top of Elk Camp on Saturday and celebrated back at the festival beneath a fully catered tent with over 200 local guests. He laughed as he recalled going back to work Sunday.
“Ziggy Marley and Joe Walsh played my wedding reception,” McKeague said. “To be married at the top of Elk Camp and then celebrate at the festival, I can’t imagine doing anything better. … It was the best day of my life.”
Since his wedding day, McKeague said he and his wife celebrate their Sept. 4 anniversary when it falls during the festival weekend with a champagne toast after the night’s concerts are over.
This year his wedding anniversary doesn’t happen during the festival, but McKeague is still excited to be a part of it, planning to pump his team up for the challenge and mark another win in his book, as he said he’s always done.
“My base and my strength all comes from my staff,” McKeague said. “The sense of accomplishment you feel on Sunday night is warming, if you will. … I look out and say ‘God, we made it happen again somehow.’”
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