An Aspen Skiing Co. representative apologized to Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday in an acknowledgement that the company moved far ahead with plans for a three-day April music festival on closing weekend at Buttermilk Ski Area without first applying to the county for a special-events permit.
“I just really want to apologize for myself and on behalf of our special events department for coming so late,” SkiCo director of event development Deric Gunshor said at the beginning of a special meeting of commissioners to discuss the details of the new event, which is being called The Après.
“It wasn’t our intention to put anyone in a bad situation or force this on anyone,” Gunshor said. “We realize we made a mistake in doing this. There’s a lot of reasons and explanations and I don’t sense that I need to go through all of those. We wrongly assumed that we would be able to fast track this through, and recognize that error.”
He explained that the plans for the April 5-7 event were forged quickly in December after SkiCo foresaw an end-of-ski-season dip in advance hotel reservations for April. Buttermilk Mountain’s season ends April 7. Gunshor showed commissioners a graph from a December reservations report that suggests Aspen-Snowmass Village occupancy “falls off a cliff” in the first weekend of April compared with April 2017. April 2018 was not part of the comparison because the Easter holiday fell much earlier last year.
Concrete plans, and bookings of bands, were being formulated in early January even though details had not been shared with county officials. An application for a special-events permit wasn’t filed until late January, according to the county’s community development department. The capacity for the concert venue at Buttermilk has been listed as no more than 10,000 people per day. SkiCo issued news releases to promote the event and solicit ticket purchases on Jan. 28.
Some commissioners expressed frustration during the meeting that county staff didn’t get the opportunity to vet SkiCo’s plans for the event until February, a little more than two months before the festival was set to be held. After about 90 minutes of discussion about preparations for handling the crowds and dealing with noise from the bands, commissioners said they would go along with the plans. No official vote was required.
Twenty minutes into the meeting, Commissioner George Newman asked about the expectations of crowd sizes. Gunshore said the event would be successful with a sales range of 5,000 to 6,000 tickets per day.
Newman pressed for more details. “How many tickets have you sold?”
Gunshor did not provide a specific answer. “We think we’ll get to that 5,000 to 6,000 range,” he said.
“What happens if you don’t get the permit?” Newman asked.
Gunshor said there are contingency plans in case a permit is denied, and continued his apologies.
“We realize that we made a mistake in our confidence of being able to pull this off,” he said.
Newman said while The Après is not on par with the ESPN Winter X Games — which handles more than 100,000 snow-sports fans and revelers over a four-day period at Buttermilk — it still is a large-scale event requiring a great deal of security and transportation planning. During the X Games, area law enforcement steps up its presence not only at the site but elsewhere in the area, such as the Brush Creek Intercept Lot where patrons park and board buses to Buttermilk, or change buses that originate in Aspen or Downvalley.
During X Games, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office forms an incident management team consisting of law enforcement and emergency medical officials from across the Roaring Fork Valley. Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said while he would prefer that event details be ironed out much sooner, his personnel can accommodate the event and that a “mini incident management team” will be at the helm.
Gunshor said a private security force will be present at the venue on each day of the concert. Bag checks will be conducted at the entrance to Buttermilk to ensure that people are not bringing in alcohol, drugs, weapons or other undesirable items. After discussion with sheriff’s office officials, it was determined that the bag checks won’t be necessary at the intercept lot, he said.
“There are some critical differences between the audience, the crowd, the time of day, the time span that people are going to be at this event,” Gunshor said. “These bands are not [drawing] the young crowds that we see during X Games. It’s a much older audience. We are anticipating a much different type of need.”
With assistance from Belly Up Aspen, SkiCo has booked the jam bands Umphrey’s McGee and String Cheese Incident for The Après. Those same bands also will be performing that week at Belly Up in downtown Aspen. When queried about whether the festival will trigger noise complaints, Gunshor and Belly Up owner Michael Goldberg explained to commissioners that the jam bands present a sound that neighbors might consider less offensive than the electronic and rap artists that generally dominate the X Games musical lineup.
Gunshore said the festival is expected to start at 4 p.m. each day. Umphrey’s McGee is scheduled to close the festival on April 5 by 10 p.m., while String Cheese Incident will take on the headliner role on April 6 and 7, ending their shows by 9:30 p.m. Newman offered a suggestion that all music end by 10 p.m. on the first day and 9 p.m. on the following days, but the other commissioners agreed to give SkiCo until 10 p.m. each night to wrap up the musical offerings.
Newman pointed out that it will be difficult to move the crowds out of Buttermilk by SkiCo’s stated goal of 11 p.m. Gunshor said the company will provide the necessary resources and will work with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to ensure that patrons are transported from the venue in a safe and efficient manner.
“I appreciate your acknowledging that you guys screwed up in the process,” Newman said. “I just get a little tired, whether it’s bike races, bike tours, music venues, that go out and make an assumption that they’re going to be able to do an event up in Pitkin County. They start advertising, start selling tickets without a permit in hand. At some point we need to start sending a strong message back to some of these applicants that you know what? It’s not going to work.”
Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury asked whether the event will require public subsidies. Gunshor said SkiCo would be footing the bill with a “massive contribution of resources.” Kury also wondered whether Buttermilk’s neighbors would be apprised of the event and the possible effects from light and noise. Gunshor said there already has been some outreach, and that one particular detractor was won over when told the event would be ending by 10 p.m. each night.
Commissioner Steve Child noted that “the noise of concerts bothers me” and floated an idea about using technology to automatically lower the sound if it reaches a certain level. He also suggested setting a special maximum decibel reading and using county staff to monitor the sound from the bands.
The idea was rejected not only because the festival is fast-approaching, but because the county typically suspends the maximum noise ordinance for large-scale music events through a variance. Regardless, enforcement would be close to impossible, a county environmental health staffer said.
One of Commissioner Greg Poschman’s primary concerns appeared to be the ground conditions at the festival site. He said he envisions a sloppy field. But Gunshore said SkiCo is confident that there will be plenty of snow to cover Buttermilk’s base and the concert area during the event.
Poschman, who chairs the Board of County of Commissioners, added that he recognized the concerts and the crowd demographics will be different from the musical offerings during X Games.
“I thank you for your contriteness,” Poschman said. “It did remind me of the parents who discover that their kids are having a rave at the house and neglected to mention it to the parents. So there was that shock effect from it.”