Festival moves to Labor Day

Free concerts will be family-oriented

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— Business leaders here have decided to forgo a major outdoor music festival over the Fourth of July in favor of two days of free concerts intended to attract families over the Labor Day weekend.

It was already a foregone conclusion that the String Cheese Incident would not make a third straight appearance this summer as headliner of the "Independence Incident" -- the Steamboat Springs City Council made that decision last August. The two-day shows drew approximately 11,000 festival goers last summer. But members of the business community questioned the wisdom of attracting a youthful crowd of jam band fans to the community during what is already one of the biggest tourism weekends of the summer season. Managers of local lodging properties saw little business from the concert.

The fact that the Fourth of July falls on the weekend this year sealed the deal.

Plans for Labor Day weekend are a return to a variation of the Rockin' Roundup theme that Steamboat tried in the early '90s, with an emphasis on Western, country, folk, bluegrass and possibly classic rock. The major concerts would be held at Headwall at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area.

There are plans for vendor booths of Western folk art near the concert venue. New this year will be a Western-themed film fest including the possibility of a "walk-in" outdoor movie screening at Howelsen Hill. Rodeo promoter Brent Romick has plans to increase his traditional Labor Day Pro Bull riding event to two days.

Sandy Evans-Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said the intent is to gradually build into a bigger event.

"We really have a five-year vision to get to 10,000 people." Evans-Hall said. "By going with the free music piece this year, we're not at risk if we don't have huge crowds."

Committee member John Centner said a large number of people in both tourism related industries and nontourism companies were consulted.

"It was a collaborative effort among the entire business community to bring a family-oriented music venue here for Labor Day weekend," Centner said.

A pair of promoters came together to stage the String Cheese shows (legendary soul man James Brown and bluegrass musician Earl Scruggs also performed last year). Steamboat promoter John Waldman formed a new entity, Mountain Events, to partner with industry giant Clear Channel on the shows.

"That's not happening this year," Waldman said.

That leaves Steamboat with a smaller budget to host the music festival than was used to put on the Fourth of July shows the last two years.

"We looked at various scenarios and what it would cost," Evans-Hall said. The ad hoc committee of business leaders in Steamboat learned that Aspen's marketing board put up $167,000 in seed money to host Jazz Aspen over Labor Day. Among the noteworthy artists performing there last summer was Bob Dylan.

Steamboat's fledgling festival will start out with a portion of the budget allotted each summer for the series of free summer concerts plus about $18,000 in summer event funding from the Chamber.

Waldman has begun working on the talent lineup for Labor Day, but no acts have been booked. Corporate sponsorship dollars are also being sought.

"We're hoping to bring in very strong names," Waldman said. "We've already begun dealing with agents. I've spent the last two weeks exploring who is out there."

Waldman said he is focusing on an "Americana/Western theme," which in some cases could include classic rock acts.

"We want to give ourselves as much depth as we can" to put the lineup together, Waldman said.

On a limited budget, Waldman agreed, it's cost effective to look at acts already touring the region. But he's optimistic there is also the potential to sign a "one-off" performance by an appealing musical act.

Evans-Hall said the intent is to offer the Labor Day lodging packages that include admission to the cultural events giving visitors a one price Labor Day weekend in Steamboat.

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