The Jazz Aspen Labor Day Experience got off to a rough start Friday night, but the following two days did the job to make up for foul weather.
Unpredictable conditions were a common theme for this year’s event, and Friday’s attendees saw the brunt of it. Lighting and thunder began to roar as Lionel Richie played. Although Snowmass sees plenty of storms this time of year, this particular one had more electricity surging throughout the valley.
Coloradans could have endured the rain just fine, but lightning forced Richie offstage in a rush, and the crowd had to be evacuated for safety reasons. A big metal stage and big metal poles across the venue made for a tense crowd as the approximately 9,000 audience members were ushered out.
The exodus of visitors in a town of 2,000 with too few buses led to a small case of disarray. While no one could have planned for the situation on Friday, it took about two and a half hours to clear Town Park.
Part of the congestion on Friday was caused by Richie’s late arrival. His last-minute flight was diverted to Rifle, and although he was rushed to the venue, he still took the stage late. Michael Franti happily played an extended set, keeping the crowd entertained until Richie arrived. Franti had no obligation to play longer yet, in his happy-go-lucky ways, had no qualms about keeping the festival moving.
Despite looming clouds on Saturday and Sunday, Snowmass stayed dry. The upbeat lineup of indie, pop and surfy acoustic sounds revived spirits from the wet night before. Bahamas kicked off the main stage with the talented guitar and vocal skill of “musical gun-for-hire” Afie Jurvanen. The Toronto-based artist was a well-timed act for Saturday leading into Fitz and the Tantrums. The second headliner of the day played their classic pop hits and had the dance floor jumping until the end. Each member took the spotlight throughout the show, showcasing their collective talent and huge variety from song to song.
Over the course of the weekend, the Outside Music Lounge hosted many talented artists that captured the attention of anyone who managed to explore the venue. For those looking to dance and swing their way around without the main crowd, this was the place. D’Angelico Stage also hosted a handful of up-and-coming groups, including the Basalt Street Horns, a recurring crowd favorite year after year.
As the evening began and the rain miraculously remained in the distance, Jack Johnson took the stage. Jamming with his classic hits played on a single acoustic guitar throughout the set, the crowd joined in with vocals. If Jack Johnson tunes weren’t tropical enough, Sublime covers turned Town Park into a proper beach party, if just for a few hours. Bahamas joined Johnson for a few songs, including Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How it Feels.” Jokes were told, collaborations were successful and fitting covers were played.
The final day of the Labor Day Experience got a little bit more country and a little bit more rock and roll. Gary Clark Jr. filled the venue with blues and rock enthusiasts traveling across the state – and even the country – just to see one or both of his shows last weekend. Clark played the Belly Up the night before, and the energy from this first show visibly spilled into the next. He managed to pull in as big a crowd, if not bigger, than the three main acts, and what seemed like a more passionate one. The modern man of blues has a dedicated fan base that is hard to compete with at the moment.
The final act of the festival, Zac Brown Band, kept the fire burning with their version of country and rock. The long drives full of Labor Day traffic in the near future for many didn’t stop the crowd from celebrating in full force. The Metallica cover didn’t hurt either.