Music to their ears

Strings in the Mountains nears land purchase

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— Organizers of the Strings in the Mountains Music Festival believe they have turned the page on a new stanza one that will secure the future of Steamboat's pre-eminent cultural event.

The board of directors of the music festival authorized signing a letter of intent last week to purchase six acres of land in the Golden Triangle from Trendwest Resorts, Inc. The new site will serve as the home for Strings' performing arts tent as soon as 2003.

Perhaps more significantly, it allows the nonprofit music festival to begin planning for a permanent concert facility.

"It has taken us 15 years to get to this point, from hoping we could get 100 people to attend a concert to reaching 30,000 people a year," Strings CEO and President Kay Clagett said. "We do have dreams and want to continue to dream. We also want to do it right, and do it successfully."

Chamber music remains at the core of the festival, but it has broadened its scope to include jazz, pop, folk and world music. Clagett said she's particularly proud of the outreach the festival makes to introduce local school children to internationally acclaimed musicians.

Strings has no immediate plans to break ground on a new permanent facility. However, festival organizers have already approached the city of Steamboat Springs to begin the planning process necessary to relocate the festival's performing arts tent from its present site in Torian Plum Plaza to the new site in time for the 2003 concert season.

Strings Board President Mary Ann Duffey said this week her organization has ample funds in the form of pledges to make the move.

"We've always taken a fairly conservative approach," Duffey said. "We feel pretty confident we're not overreaching."

The parcel of land is on the southwest corner of the intersection of Mount Werner and Pine Grove roads, across Pine Grove from the ski area's Meadows Parking Lot.

The contract has not been finalized and the parties have not disclosed the terms of the purchase.

Strings currently takes its tent down every fall to make way for ski season activities at Torian. That would not be necessary at the new site, Clagett said. The primary cost of relocation, aside from the land purchase, would be site preparation and pouring a new concrete base that forms the tiered seating arrangement in the tent.

The festival would realize a significant savings from not having to take down and put the tent back up each autumn and spring, Clagett said. The move will also save wear and tear on the tent fabric.

Duffey said the Strings board will move at a deliberate pace to explore what kind of permanent facility it might build on the new site. A new permanent facility could mean anything from a bricks and mortar concert hall to an open air pavilion, Duffey said.

"We have to feel our way along here," Duffey said. "There are many community needs."

Although there are no specific plans to build a permanent facility nor is there a timeframe, Strings has retained the services of a Cleveland architectural firm that specializes in designing concert venues. Clagett said that step was necessary to ensure that siting of the tent is done in a way that will maximize use of the site, with the potential for a permanent structure in mind.

Documents on file at the city planning department include a site plan that shows building footprints for both the tent and the permanent concert facility, as well as adjacent parking.

However, Clagett said the building footprint should not be interpreted as a final plan. Clagett also said that Strings has had preliminary discussions with the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. about utilizing its parking lot for concert parking.

No matter what, Clagett said she is determined to preserve the intimacy of concerts in the tent in any future permanent facility. For that reason, she envisions that a permanent facility would hold no more than 500 people the same capacity the tent now offers.

"We've got something that works here," Clagett explained. "What you don't want to interfere with is the relationship between the artist who is performing and the audience. That's what makes Strings performances magical and exciting. It's the same way for the audience members and for the artist."

If Clagett had any doubt about limiting the size of the Strings concert venue, they were dispelled by the renowned conductor Leonard Slatkin.

"This is wonderful," Slatkin told Clagett after making a guest appearance at Strings 10 years ago. "Do not get swayed by the idea that bigger is better."

Clagett also wants to retain the tent's ability to bring the Rocky Mountains indoors.

"No matter what we build, it's not going to be a black box," Clagett said. "We want to continue bringing the outdoors the views and the mountain breezes indoors."

Clagett and Duffey agree they have had tremendous support from Torian homeowners and merchants associations. But the increasing activity in the area during summer has generated noise that sometimes detracts from concerts and cannot be controlled by the festival organizers. Clagett said the increasing use of Headwall for pop and rock concerts, just yards away from the Strings tent, makes it difficult for Strings to schedule and book its artists.

"Literally the day of our first concert this summer, we will begin booking for the following summer," Clagett said. "We're at the hub of a wheel, right here at the base of the mountain."

Duffey said the money for purchasing the new site for Strings has been raised from the pledges of "very close friends" of the festival and those same people are offering specific encouragement to begin exploring a permanent facility.

Clagett said the festival will begin pushing its season beyond its traditional July/August calendar this concert season. A permanent facility would allow Strings to take that expansion further and create opportunities for other community organizations.

It may not happen anytime soon, said Duffey and Clagett. But for the first time, a permanent concert facility is more than just a dream.

"We've had our eye on this site for a long time," Clagett said. "It's a magnificent location. It really is."

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