stigma (n.) A distinguishing mark or characteristic.
Unfortunately, it's usually only the negative stigmas that are noticed, and in this case, reported in the newspaper. Simply by reading the headlines last week, one would be inclined to think there was a law enforcement symposium with an arrest-athon competition held at the Tennis Meadows; when, in fact, it was music festival. Kudos to staff writer Doug Crowl, who, in his Thursday coverage of the event, actually reported on the music and bands on stage. He even mentioned song titles and band members' names! However, the remaining newspaper coverage of the event reminds me of the tabloid style of reporting commonly found in grocery store checkout lines. The coverage of the event completely missed the target by ignoring anything that happened on stage and focusing only on the police activity. The concert coverage looked less like a music review and more like a police blotter. I wondered if these journalists were even at the Tennis Meadows, or did they take notes on the concerts by sitting at the scanner at the police station?
Also, the reporting that seemed to speak to those who are infatuated with shows like "COPS" was riddled with contradictions that were blatant and pathetic. Citing an example from Friday's coverage, there was a quote from Steamboat Springs Police Detective Dave Kleiber as saying, "It's been totally uneventful." Yet, the headline of that same article read, "Music and police"; the subhead read, "Police make several drug arrests at event." Another excerpt from the article that used "police" and "arrests" three times in the headline read, "Overall, police and medical officials said the concert did not create a lot of problems." Unfortunately, too many people read the headlines.
As disappointed as I am with the tunnel-visioned, single-issued, contradictory reporting, what really upsets me is that this type of journalism does nothing but strengthen and reinforce a deep-rooted evil embedded in our society the negative stigma. Negative stigmas are at the core of every prejudiced opinion in our world. Regarding almost any topic, people are able to prejudge (i.e. cast prejudice) based on a few negative characteristics without ever looking further for the positive ones. Let's take the String Cheese Incident for example: On more than one occasion and from more than one close-minded individual did I hear things like, "That music is for those dirty hippies who do drugs, they don't spend any money here." A small percentage of the crowd might not pump a bunch of dollars into our local economy, but do you really believe that they are the only demographic coming to town for concerts? Besides, even the dirty hippies were spending money at the gas stations, liquor stores and grocery stores.
(Suffice it to say that the barefooted, long-haired, and, yes, oftentimes offensive-smelling people at these concerts are not hippies. Look out though, because real hippies, those responsible for promoting conscious thought, awareness, peace and love in the '60s are all around you. They've spread out to every demographic and hidden out by becoming contributors to society. There might be a hippie living right next door and you would never know it. They're 50-something now and many have disguises like short hair and well-fitting clothes. Some might even have a job! But be aware, one of these scary true hippies might suddenly approach and hug you!)
It disappoints me to hear such things from our residents; after all, wasn't our city, our state, settled on the pioneering principle of moving west for a fresh start; to celebrate freedom of being able to do whatever you want in the free and wild West? Why then, during the largest celebration of Independence, do we want to shut the door to a certain type of people entering our town? Simple stigmas.
"Yup, that Cheese band is coming back to town with all those dirty hippies that trash the place and don't spend money " I'm sure that if you've ever said those things, then you've never met a "hippie" and have never seen the String Cheese Incident perform. Then you might realize the majority of their audience is made up of mature, experienced music lovers who have jobs and take plenty of showers. You'd also realize that "hippie jamband" is not only an inaccurate description of the band, but one that underestimates the capabilities of these extraordinary musicians.
There are people in town who only see the problems of hosting rodeos, or beer festivals, or vintage car races. There are even people who hate Rainbow Weekend: " all those damn artist freaks clogging up the west end of town " There are people who think musical festivals are a great idea but don't like the crowd that String Cheese Incident draws because of all those barefooted dirty people at City Market. Problem is, most bands today will draw some freaky-looking fans in the audience. Remember, fan is short for fanatic. And I'm pretty sure Willie Nelson, Chris Isaak and B.B. King fans smoke dope, too. It's just not as newsworthy among "that type" of audience.
It's obvious that everyone cannot be pleased all the time, but throughout the year in Steamboat Springs there's an event for everyone. We could be celebrating your favorite interests next! So in the meantime, focus on the positives.
Yes, a large music festival will bring some problems with it, and so will a Triple Crown tournament, or an extreme skiercross and half-pipe event. But our town needs a large music festival, not only for the money it brings, and not only for the image of being a world-class destination resort, but to continue fostering a sense of cultural diversity that draws so many of us to this amazing valley.
To me, music is the ultimate expression, for the players and the listeners. It is a vital element to my everyday life. I take advantage of hearing every kind of live music at every opportunity. Even if it's only a harmonica around the campfire, there's nothing more purely creative than the making of music. It fills me with emotions, from happiness to sorrow, from head to toe. When it's especially good, it makes my body move all by itself! As an artist, I see paintings evolve from a blank canvas every day, but I'm sure for many other locals, two days filled with live music in our own beautiful backyard is not only a dream come true, but not enough!
Saturday's headline read "Music fest gets mixed reviews." Boy, ain't that the truth. Even the paper couldn't decide whether there were lots of arrests or that it was "totally uneventful" for law enforcement. I guess it depends on who you ask for the review. I'd love to tell you what really happened at the music fest, from the perspective of a well-bathed local business owner at front row center. Five world-class music acts came to town to set up their gear in the field, and for two entire days we danced like happy children under the mountain sun, wind, rain, lightning and stars. We stomped in the dust to good ol' fashioned country bluegrass played by yesterday's and tomorrow's legends. We got rootsy and bluesy with Colorado's own Corey Harris. Then we got superfunky with a living legend, the Godfather of Soul, who reminded us of our celebration of Independence with a tear-jerking "God Bless America" into a rousing "Living in America." And when he took us to "The Bridge," all hell broke loose as the funk was unstoppable, we were gettin' down! When the sun started to drop, the String Cheese Incident took charge of our ears, while Mother Nature took control of the light show. We grooved and twirled to the diverse sounds under and electrified purple sky. Every set ended too soon, just as the dancing climaxed to maximum intensity, leaving us grinning in anticipation of the band's return to the stage. The energy down front was undeniable, and everyone was dancing way too hard for space to become cramped. It didn't matter what type of music they played; the band rocked, and the people rocked back. To witness their musical prowess up close is a treat indeed, as they effortlessly transition from one to another, each member playing a quiver of instruments. Both nights ended all too soon, but when the dust settled, we all went to bed with smiles on our faces and good feelings in our bellies, hoping to do it again real soon. And by the way, I did not witness a single arrest, nor were any reported to me. It was a fantastic festival indeed!
I always thought my wife and I were fortunate to live here among amazing people with a zest for life and adventure, with an eagerness to travel and explore cultural differences, and with the ability to embrace people from other walks of life. It is very disappointing to witness the undue attention given to the negatives from such a positive-thinking community. Why didn't the newspaper lend a helping hand by mentioning the food drive that String Cheese Incident promotes at every show? And why didn't we read about Footprints, the interactive program that String Cheese Incident has initiated to communicate with and leave positive impressions on the communities they travel to?
Hopefully, our community can see through the tabloid headlines that sensationalize the problems that occur when large groups gather. Hopefully, our community won't stereotype the audience that comes to town for concerts like these based on a few individuals. Hopefully, our community will welcome another music festival to town. Music is good music in the mountains is great lots of music in our own mountains is magic.
Thomas J. Brown