Steamboat Free Summer Concert Series Guide: A look back through 25 years
June 22, 2017
As the sun starts to disappear behind Howelsen Hill, a spectacle unfolds.
An ever-growing crowd fills the lawn in front of Howelsen Hill. They gather before a stage that holds a certain nostalgia for locals and visitors, alike.
It's a stage that some of music history's greatest legends or up-and-coming superstars have graced.
In 1993, the Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concert Series was born, attracting a crowd of only several hundred for a concert on the Routt County Courthouse lawn.
Now, 25 years later, the series features five concerts per summer with crowds of 3,500 to 7,000 or more per concert and an annual attendance average of 25,000.
From stories of epic guitar solos or saxophone breakdowns to double encores that left spectators in awe, locals share their Free Concert Series memories in celebration of this year's 25th anniversary.
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A concert? On the Courthouse lawn?
"My favorite years were those when there were still shows on the lawn," said Brian Smith, longtime local who joined the Summer Concert Series Board in 2013. “Everyone loved those, because the entire town would come together. Everyone you knew would be there. At the time, and even now, it's a large part of what makes this town special."
Longtime local Joe Kboudi and John Waldman were the two music enthusiasts who founded the nonprofit series with only a few shows in the early years.
"As the series grew larger and larger, it literally was spilling onto Lincoln Avenue," said Waldman, with Great Knight Productions. "At one point, they shut down a lane so we could have more space around the courthouse lawn to put the vendors area in."
The concerts then moved to Steamboat Ski Area until Waldman said the city of Steamboat Springs and its Parks and Recreation Department suggested using the end run of the ski jumps at Howelsen Hill for the concert venue.
Wanting to keep the series downtown, Kboudi said Howelsen provided the natural amphitheater they had been looking for, and it was space that could hold upwards between 5,000 and 7,000 people.
"Everybody loves music," Kboudi said. "We wanted to give something like this to the community, because not everybody can afford to see shows in Denver or even places here in town."
Legendary acts through the years
John Waldman and Joe Kboudi remember …
• The String Cheese Incident
• Maceo Parker
• Ziggy Marley, who attracted one of the biggest crowds of the summer series — "It's a show that had a mind of its own," Kboudi said. "We heard from so many people all over the state and outside of Colorado who were in town just for that show. It was a magical night and was such a great show."
• Grace Potter and the Nocturnals — "They were just on the cusp of breaking out," Kboudi said. "The year after they were in Steamboat, they were headlining Red Rocks."
• Michael Franti and Spearhead
• Big Head Todd and The Monsters
• The Avett Brothers
• Susan Tedeschi
• Trampled By Turtles
• Infamous Stringdusters
• Robert Randolph and the Family Band
Brian Smith remembers . . .
• Big Head Todd and the Monsters
• JJ Grey & Mofro
• Avett Brothers
Ted Carey remembers . . .
• Trombone Shorty — "It was one of the coolest acts we'll ever have," said Carey, a long-time supporter and free concerts attendee since 2005 and a board member since 2013.
• Michael Franti and Spearhead — "This show at the Ski Resort Base Area was one of my highlights from the series," Carey said. "It was a great crowd and an incredible show."
"Both of these guys were artists quickly on the rise when they played our stage," Carey said. "Now they sell out Red Rocks. That's our niche — getting awesome up-and-coming artists before they are superstars, and of course, some old favorites."