Ushering in the summer season

Music, sporting events draw tourists to Steamboat

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— Veteran concert promoter John Waldman hopes a popular band with the unlikely name of "The String Cheese Incident" will prove to be a significant part of the summer tourism picture in Steamboat Springs.

The concert is just one piece in the mosaic of sports and musical events that Steamboat relies upon to attract tourist dollars during the here in the summer.

String Cheese plays the Headwall amphitheater July 3 and again July 4. Waldman's company, Mountain Events Inc., is promoting the show with SSX/Chuck Morris Presents/Bill Graham Presents. Another national act, Blues Traveler, and a band called Israel Vibration have been added to the July 3 bill. On July 4, Ben Harper performs solo and the Charlie Hunter Band opens for String Cheese.

"We expect a real strong local presence," Waldman said. "But for something this large, it's a lot of kids from all over the Rocky Mountain region who will come here."

Waldman said String Cheese, which plays pumped up jam music on instruments traditionally played by bluegrass musicians, has a following that doesn't hesitate to hit the road to catch shows throughout the summer. He expects many of the audience members from a pair of String Cheese shows at Red Rocks outside Denver, to follow the band to Steamboat.

On July 1, just before the two-day concert, one of eight Triple Crown softball/baseball events here this summer will be winding down. The traditional Cowboy Roundup Rodeo will be under way at Howelsen Hill, and Strings in the Mountains, with its mix of chamber music and pop concerts, will be in full swing. Strings runs through Aug. 11 with an emphasis on chamber music but a willingness to experiment with all genres of music.

Music lovers can catch the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner on July 24, and pop bluegrass newcomers Nickel Creek on Aug. 3. There are free concerts at 12:15 p.m. most Thursdays in Yampa River Botanic Park.

Sandy Evans-Hall said summer bookings through Steamboat Springs Central Reservations are up 32 percent over last year at this date. Evans-Hall is executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.

Evans-Hall is cautiously optimistic that escalating gas prices late this spring will help Steamboat's summer tourism outlook.

The AAA reported last week that per-gallon gas prices averaged $1.699 nationally and $1.753 in Denver. Evans-Hall said Colorado's Front Range is Steamboat's primary market, and higher gas prices could keep vacationers from that area closer to home.

"If people in Denver were planning an extended trip to California, they may decide, 'Let's stay closer to home and just go up into the mountains,'" Evans-Hall said.

Throughout much of the 1980s, the summer tourism season did not begin in earnest in Steamboat until the Fourth of July. But for 20 years now, the Steamboat Marathon has been building a following that has made the race an event with national stature that gives Steamboat a strong start to the summer tourism season.

This year's race will bring more than 2,000 runners and their entourages here next weekend. The marathon is Saturday.

The running weekend actually consists of three races, a full marathon, half-marathon and 10K run.

The Yampa River Festival will bring a modest influx of visitors June 9 and 10 and the Mustang Roundup brings a solid group of classic car fans here June 15-17.

Steamboat gets a brief, but intense, shot of tourism June 19 when the Denver Post Ride the Rockies bicycle tour cranks through downtown with 2,000 cyclists and a variety of camp followers.

Many riders will camp in tents, but a significant number have already booked downtown motels. Steamboat's resort bed base makes it one of the best chances to grab a hot shower and a soft bed along the route that stretches from Crested Butte to Boulder. Ride the Rockies' visit to Steamboat will be spiced up by a free blues concert featuring Duke Robillard on the Routt County Courthouse lawn.

Carla Cox of the Rabbit Ears Motel said her property was booked solid for June 19 by mid-February.

The bicycle tour brings riders from all 50 states and up to 18 other countries. Chamber officials said they hope many of those cyclists, once exposed to Steamboat, will return with their families for extended stays.

Triple Crown events have been controversial in Steamboat because of their sheer impact on local residents and damage done to some lodging properties, but Evans-Hall said there's no disputing the positive economic impact the softball and baseball tournaments and camps have on local businesses.

The Chamber calculates that Triple Crown brings 32,250 visitors to the community. They stay on average 4.5 nights, and based on spending estimates of $70 per person, per day, the economic impact to the community is $10.1 million. Dave Daggett, owner of the Tap House restaurant and bar in downtown Steamboat, understands the benefits.

"Two words," Daggett said. "It's huge.

"They pack the place. Last summer I took (tables of) 30, 30 and 40 all in the same hour. It's big parties. It's a lot of work. It's good revenue. It's fun."

Triple Crown contracts with the city of Steamboat Springs to host its events in city parks. Currently, the city and Triple Crown are in the midst of the latest four-year contract, which calls for the local community to write checks totaling $100,000 to help bring the events here. The city pays $75,000 and the chamber contributes $25,000.

The majority of Triple Crown events this summer, as they were last summer, are boys baseball and girls softball tournaments. A major adult softball tournament will bring 125 teams from around the country here June 29 through July 1.

After a hiatus during the first three weeks of July, Triple Crown returns July 25-29 with the first round of the Triple Crown World Series.

The tournament is expected to attract 125 youth baseball teams. Another 125 teams roll in Aug. 1-5.

Waldman believes Steamboat is building a reputation for its summer-long series of free concerts at Headwall and at Howelsen Hill. Evans-Hall said those concerts serve primarily as "satisfiers" for tourists who are already here.

But Strings in the Mountains has grown from a music series that used to be primarily a "satisfier" to one that actually drives destination tourism, she said.

The free concert lineup hasn't been finalized, but includes Carl Denson's tiny Universe on July 14, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan's band, Double Trouble on Aug. 22 and cosmic mandolin player Sam Bush on Sept. 1.

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