It has been quite a journey for Kay Clagett and the Strings Music Festival during the past 28 years, from violinists chasing flyaway sheet music up the mountainside at the old Storm Meadows Athletic Club site to the elegant sounds of Beethoven’s Third Symphony resonating in the rafters of the multi-million dollar Strings Pavilion. Involved with the Strings Music Festival since its inception in 1988 and executive director since 1991, Kay Clagett, has announced her retirement effective at the conclusion of the 2015 season.
“You want to leave the party before someone turns the lights out on you,” is what Kay said when asked about the timing of her departure, but she leaves Strings with an incredible foundation to build upon and plenty of energy to keep lighting up the Steamboat music scene. She has built a local organization from an initial $10,000 budget to where it is today, a nationally recognized venue and music festival with both classical and contemporary programming and an annual $2 million budget. From classical superstars such as Joshua Bell and Menahem Pressler to jazz virtuosos Chris Botti and Wynton Marsalis, to rock and country legends such as America and Vince Gill, Kay Clagett and Strings Music Festival have kept the gas pedal to the floor, delivering innovative and entertaining music to the Yampa Valley.
Ms. Clagett was instrumental in the successful capital campaign to build the current music pavilion, a move from the former 500-seat Torian Plum tent. This involved an initial $3 million land investment in the current 6.5 acre Strings Festival Park in 2004 and a $4.5 million construction project, finishing on time in nine months and under budget, despite one of the worst winters in Steamboat history. What started as a “pipe dream,” as Kay referred to it, is now a dramatic physical reality.
It would be easy to rest on the laurels of just getting from the tent to the Pavilion, but what Kay Clagett has perhaps taken the greatest pride in are the contributions that Strings Music Festival has made to the Yampa Valley community. The 2014 Festival season saw more than 25,000 people attend 60 concerts, with 35% of those offered free to the public. The debut season hosted only eight concerts. There were seven youth concerts, all for the admission price of $1, the same admission price charged during the initial 1995 season. There were eight free Music on the Green concerts at the Yampa River Botanic Park. In addition to these outreach programs, Strings School Days, the organization’s flagship education program, has seen nearly 25,000 participants in its eight years. The 2014 program alone comprised 2,755 participants.
The years ahead for Strings look promising, as the Festival welcomes Michael Sachs, an internationally renowned musician and principal trumpet player for The Cleveland Orchestra, as its new music director in 2015. Ms. Clagett will oversee the transition in her final season at the helm, comfortable with what she has created and passionate in the mission as Strings continues to enrich the arts and cultural scene of the Yampa Valley.
“I have had the most unforgettable and amazing experience with Strings and this community of music lovers. It is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life — and I will miss it. Music always brings people together, and I am certain I will enjoy attending Strings as a patron and continue my friendships with so many people who helped make Strings what it is today.” – Kay Clagett