JAS Labor Day setup

Materials for crowd control were waiting to be set up outside the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival grounds in Snowmass Village earlier this week. The three-day festival, which requires some 350 workers and 150 volunteers to put together, kicks off Friday.

Looking at the softball field in Snowmass Village’s Town Park in, say, July, it’s hard to believe that it can accommodate the crowds and structures that will be there this weekend for the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival. It just doesn’t seem possible that a crowd of more than 10,000 people can fit in the space, along with a massive stage, large VIP pavilions, food and beverage tents and lots of portable toilets.

But that’s what happens each year thanks to an army of some 350 workers and 150 volunteers who transform the quiet park into a full-blown concert venue every August. Over the course of a 10- to 12-day build, professionals of all stripes — from carpenters to electricians to sound engineers — lend their talents to the effort to bring world-class music to the masses.

“There’s a fantastic time-lapse video we produced one year of the site being built, and it’s quite spectacular,” said Jim Horowitz, JAS founder, president and CEO. “The set-up for the event has got to take many thousands of man-hours.”

In addition to the labor that goes into creating the venue, there are all sorts of moving parts that need to work together — from busses and shuttles, to coordinating the performers’ schedules, to keeping the food tents cooking — and numerous partners who have to be working in unison. One of those partners, the Snowmass Club, which abuts the softball field, is under new ownership and even newer management this summer, which could have led to some logistical headaches, but the club and JAS both say things have run smoothly.

“I’ve been dealing with JAS and the head people, and we’ve got everything coordinated with them as usual,” said Rick Sussman, who took over as general manager at the Snowmass Club about two weeks ago. “Everything is agreed on, settled, coordinated with them for this season. No issues. No problems. And from what I understand from the past, we make it work very well for our members.”

“The one new thing we needed from the club we got, which was to be able to expand a little onto Clubhouse Drive,” said Horowitz. “We’re fine.”

Aside from the expansion onto Clubhouse Drive, there are no notable changes to the layout of the venue for this year. The new entrance on the opposite side of Brush Creek Road that debuted last year will be the same, and none of the other structures have changed much. So from that standpoint, things are pretty dialed in at this point. 

But no amount of preparation can guard against every eventuality, as JAS learned last year when a sudden thunderstorm abruptly ended Lionel Richie’s Friday-night concert. That weather incident led to a somewhat disconcerted effort to clear everyone from the venue and get them onto busses to dryer locations, with long waits befuddling those looking for a ride. With no change in the venue’s entrance, it’s fair to wonder if another storm could cause similar problems this time around.

Horowitz claims JAS and Snowmass have made the right adjustments and don’t anticipate any problems arising.

“The first thing is that we’ve just overall added more busses,” he said. “The second thing is that we have a very active JAS app now that is downloadable and free, and we’re using it for many different things, including distributing tickets, but it’s also a great communication source, so in the event that there’s any kind of emergency, that app is going to be immediately dispensing up-to-date information to anyone that has it.”

That’s all well and good, but the cell service in the area of Town Park is notoriously unreliable during the concerts, which could decrease the effectiveness of the app. But JAS apparently has that covered, too, in a couple of ways.

“If anything happens emergency related, the big screens on the sides of the stage are going to be looped into the information that we will be dispensing on the spot,” said Horowitz, “and AT&T is bringing in a temporary cell tower to help boost service, which will help communication. Communication is obviously the key thing.”

There will also be improved signage around the venue and one final change that will kick in should people need to clear the area in a hurry.

“In the event of an evacuation, the busses that go up to Snowmass Village will only do two stops: one at the mall and one at Base Village,” said Horowitz. “Last year there was no plan for that, and they just did all of their local stops. That made the loop much, much slower. So in the event of an evacuation, we’ll be able to move a lot more people to the village much faster. Between that and the additional busses and additional transportation, we’re ready.”

On the subject of transportation, concert-goers are reminded that parking near the venue will be close to impossible. Please plan on taking busses from Aspen, the Brush Creek intercept lot or downvalley, and keep in mind that the stretch of Brush Creek Road from the roundabout to Horse Ranch Road will be closed from today through Sunday. During the closure, all traffic except busses and those heading from the village downhill to Horse Ranch, Meadow Road and Sinclair Road will be detoured onto Owl Creek Road and Highline Road.

Todd Hartley writes for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at todd@aspendailynews.com.