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Steamboat saddles up for Westfest

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Q. What's the history behind WestFest and your role in the festival?

A. The history of Westfest and its mission is available at www.westfest.net. My role in the festival, because I am the founder, includes almost anything. However, these days I am more involved in looking for performers, new artists, vendors, and specialty acts.

And, of course, I am always working up new material and learning songs of other performers so that we can jam on stage and after hours. I am constantly looking for ways to improve the festival, expand it, and make it more complete.

Since we showcase the Old and New American West, that is a tall order but I enjoy it! In the long run, I hope to use the festival more and more as a way to raise funds for the perpetuation of American Western culture, tradition, history, lifestyle and conservation.

Q. There has been talk of bringing the Labor Day festival to Steamboat Springs for several years. What made that finally happen this year?

A. The Torian Plum area is one of the better sites I have seen in all of the 15 years of Westfest. It's ideal for what we are doing. Steamboat and the surrounding area has a cultural and historical tradition of being "Western," because ofit's ranching and agricultural base.

The openspace, historical buildings, and agricultural way of life, issomething that many move tothe Colorado Mountain Meadow corridor to experience even if they have no intention of getting involved in that way of life directly.

The cultural heritage of Colorado and theRocky Mountain West is precious, and worthy of perpetuation and preservation.

When we showcase these things, we are really highlighting the elements which will literally save the land.

Range managers tell us that the pressure on Colorado for overdevelopment is huge, and we must pay attention to the traditions and lifestyles that will not destroy the mountain West if properly managed ranching, farming and careful use of natural inspiration through sensible recreation.

Q. How do you think Steamboat Springs will work as a venue for the festival and what are the benefits of the festival to the community?

A. Westfest can benefit Steamboat by educating people about Western culture and arts in an entertaining way.

Another benefit is the economic impact on the community. Steamboat needs a Labor Day weekend event to extend its summer business season. Westfest has brought great economic benefits to every community in which we have operated, even for one season.

We bring in tourists from outside the community who are focused on the right values arts, culture, history, and local traditions.

They spend their money on the right things. A Westfest crowd is generally made up of successful average-income to affluent families who seek entertainment that has a deeper meaning to them.

They have fun, but the focus is not partying throughabuse of drugs and alcohol.

A lot of concerts that draw big crowds don't necessarily benefit their host communities in the longrun; in fact, there is sometimes short-term and long-term damage of a serious nature if a concert or festival draws the wrong crowd of people.

Q. Vail acquired the rights to WestFest last year, but decided to break its three-year contract. What happened in Vail and how do you make sure the same thing doesn't happen in Steamboat Springs?

A. The agenda of the Vail Valley Tourism and Convention Bureau and some of the politicians in the Town of Vail shifted away from festivals that showcase the American West and its culture because they see themselves as developers of a more "international" sort of generic resort client who is not interested in the cultural roots of Colorado, or its history.

Wildlife habitat, agricultural land, open space, cultural and historical preservation are way down on the list of priorities. While there is no guarantee that the town of Steamboat won't pull its funding of Westfest in future years, please remember that my contract is not with the resort, city or county, nor am I using public property for the site. Most of my funding is private, though I wish thatpublicentities would give us better support. We also need more sponsorship, which would increase the quality of the festival in future years.

I think that the quality of the eventis very good this year but with greater local support, Steamboat could be building an even better event which could span more days and have a greater impact.

Whether we stay or not, I do think that a "Western" event is what Steamboat should be looking for on Labor Day Weekend. That is assuming, of course, that Steamboat doesn't change its priorities to some other sort of value.

Q. Much has been made of the public money communities put up to attract festivals such as WestFest. Steamboat Springs' contribution was $45,000, down from the money committed in the past by other communities. Why should communities put up public funds for what is essentially a private entertainment venture?

A. Public entities are there to support the good of the community, and that includes the economic health of that community.

If the benefits that a public entity realizes from an event like this are analyzed carefully, it becomes essential to look at the amount of increase in the dollars circulating through (for the right reasons, of course) that bring more tax dollars.

We, as citizens, own the public entities in a democratic form of government. We can spend our tax dollars in any way we wish for the public good. Events like Westfest, the National Western Stock Show, Cheyenne Frontier Days, and other art and music festivals, are so good for the communities they benefit thatpublic entities shouldrush to support them.

Government of the people, by the people, andfor the people is there to enhance quality of life.

Public money is used allof the time to promote business, enhance culture, and quality of life.

Stadiums are built for the use of private entities who bring in professional teams, performing arts venues are developed so that private promoters can bring in cultural events, and so forth. We all know that it's worth it to spend tax dollars in this way, if it's done wisely.

The investment brings a huge return to the economy.

Of course, it would be wrong for a publicly-supported festival to destroy public property, and unethical to bring in arts and entertainment of the sort that would be counter to the values and goals of the public trust. This hurts the community because the promoter might not be someone who is acting in the best interest of the community or the resource.

I believe that quality American and "Western" events, if given an adequate amount of support and time to grow, are the sort of events that a community like Steamboat wants, in the long term.

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