Strings -- in the park

Music festival prepares for grand opening


The tent remains almost the same, and the familiar eclectic mix of chamber music and thoughtful pop are once again in place. However, audiences immediately will notice changes when they arrive for the first concert of the summer at the new Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park at the corner of Pine Grove and Mount Werner roads.

Strings is due to unveil its new home in a 7-acre, parklike setting June 24 through 26 with a free "open tent" concert featuring a giant 360-degree harp known as Music Architecture Sonic Sculpture (MASS) Ensemble. It will be followed by a gala benefit concert featuring Grammy and Academy award-winning composer and performer Randy Newman.

As of Wednesday, a large crew was installing carpet in the seating areas of the tent, but the landscaping and paved walkways for the gardens that wrap around the music tent are complete, and the expanded stage is waiting for the musicians to arrive.

Strings Guild President Barbara Stofan said she anticipates more community members will want to become involved in the festival as volunteers.

"Finally, the setting matches the music," Stofan said. "It's going to be a wonderful place for volunteers to work."

Strings' move from Torian Plum Plaza to its new site a mile away is expected to change the musical experience for audiences and artists alike, but it also signals a change in the business life of the 16-year-old festival.

Including land acquisition, Strings and its benefactors have invested more than $3 million in the new site. It was designed to allow space to build a permanent concert facility that would replace the tent. With more control of its site and its future, Strings also has the potential to expand the present seven-week festival to a season that would span half the year. However, Strings President and CEO Kay

Clagett said festival staff would wait to see how the community and visitors respond before reaching too many conclusions about the future.

"We want to see what the community is looking for," Clagett said. "This is going to be such a beautiful asset, and we hope it will be a park for the entire community."

Improvements at Festival Park range from the mundane to the sublime; there are more stalls in the restroom. And parking that was difficult at best at the old venue is abundant and immediate, thanks to the availability of the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s Meadows parking lot immediately across Pine Grove Road.

In the sublime category, the first thing concert-goers will encounter upon walking onto the grounds is a 1-acre park built around an artificial waterfall conceived by Mountain West Environments and built by Majestic Gardens landscaping. The park has a convenient link to an extension of the Yampa River Core Trail, which makes possible bicycling to noon concerts.

A circular drive allows vehicle drop-offs right outside the tent until 20 minutes before concert time.

The new park and surrounding features are meant to encourage people to arrive early for performances and enjoy a meal.

Blue Bonnet Catering has the liquor and food concession and will serve a limited menu, or Strings fans can pre-order custom picnic baskets. Tables and lawn chairs will be available, but the large boulders in the park were strategically selected for their potential to double as informal seating arrangements for pre-concert socializing.

Mike Campbell of Mountain West Environments designed the park to be shielded from adjacent roads by large landscaping berms. It has the feel of a sunken garden while retaining 360 degree views. If anything, the views from the tent have been enhanced by moving back from the shadow of Mount Werner.

Clagett said Chuck Dunagin of Majestic Gardens far exceeded what was called for in his landscaping contract with in-kind donations. His crews planted more than 150 trees, 130 shrubs and 1,400 perennials. Clagett placed the value of the plantings, including Dunagin's contribution, at $150,000.

Strings has an annual operating budget of about $1 million, of which no more than 30 percent is covered by ticket sales. Strings attracts more than $300,000 annually in contributions from outside the community, Grassby said, and a portion of that money is returned to the local economy.

The cost of bringing performing artists to Steamboat goes beyond their appearance fees to include air transportation, lodging and meals, Strings Executive Director Betse Grassby said.

Although the resort community's appetite for complimentary condos is growing, local property management companies continue to be generous, and individual condo owners supply room nights for artists through the management companies. The festival depends upon $80,000 in donated lodging.

Strings wants to expand awareness of its music programming through Internet sites such as that of the Steamboat Pilot & Today, and through increasing involvement with Comcast cable television in markets outside Northwest Colorado.

"We're placing a great deal of emphasis on the Internet," Strings Marketing Director Jody Patten said. "We feel that's how travelers are searching for information and we're trying to be everywhere people might be online looking for Steamboat."

Not far from the tent, at the corner of Pine Grove and Mount Werner Road, Clagett has won city approval for a new electronic sign that will allow passing motorists to see updated information about that evening's concert and quickly see what type of music it offers, and what time it begins. The new sign will be visible to motorists traveling from the base of the ski area to U.S. Highway 40, and to southbound motorists on Pine Grove Road, Clagett said. There also will be new signage directing concert-goers to the tent from the highway interchange.

"At the old site, people had a hard time finding us," Clagett said.

That shouldn't be a problem at the new Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park.


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