There are few things in life that match the vibe you find at a live concert -- the energy, enthusiasm and spirit of the rock and roll experience. And while many of us urbanites have to trudge off to a sweaty nightclub and spend big dollars on tickets to see our favorite act in an impersonal mega-arena, in ski country, the deal is a little different...and easier on the pocketbook.
Over the past few years, music events like Vail Snow Daze and Breckenridge's Spring Massive have transitioned into completely free admission affairs, with the kinds of bands you'd be shelling out big bucks for when (or if) they roll into your hometown.
Consider the fantastic (if not slightly bipolar) experience of seeing both noted alternative country star Robert Earl Keen and Haitian-American performer and ex-Fugees member Wyclef Jean, in a one-night, Spring Back to Vail extravaganza at Ford Park. Both free, both totally family friendly and packed to the gills.
A night later, noted alternative rockers Guster played a free show in Vail Village after the World Pondskimming Championships. That band was so enthralled about the chance to play Vail again (singer and guitarist Adam Gardner had been to town just before
Christmas for yet another free show at Vail Snow Daze, where he played alongside members of Barenaked Ladies, the Dave Matthews Band and even heavy metal legend Dee Snider in the supergroup Yukon Kornelius), that Guster even performedfor Vail Mountain employees for their closing day employee party.
Over in Breckenridge, a younger but no less enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Riverwalk Center for a free opportunity to see alternative band The Bravery, the highlight of last season's mid-April Spring Massive concert. In years' past, the Dew Tour has featured other alternative rock sensations such as All-American Rejects and One Republic, plus Boulder pop/hip-hop stars 3OH!3.
What's the deal, exactly? According to Adam Sutner, Vail's director of sales and marketing, providing a schedule of completely free performances by national-level entertainers is just one more way of offering visitors more options and value to their vacation, as well as more reasons to plan their vacation in Vail,.
"In the old days, you'd see one-off, ticketed shows by big acts like Snoop Dogg or Kid Rock, but we really wanted to concentrate on a larger array of events that are all about Vail, our lifestyle and our vibe," he says. "With free shows, you get to aim at fans of a highly charged, cosmopolitan ski town. Vail events have also become an extension of the Vail brand. "
Aspen may have Vampire Weekend, Sutner notes, but Vail had a free show by the authentic Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars, real masters of African music.
And what do fans think? Remember the chilly, snowy night during CarniVail when the deeply funky Karl Denson's Tiny Universe rocked the Checkpoint Charlie stage? Seasonal worker Joe Scroggins was there, soaking up the tunes with his crew.
"It's a great chance to catch up with all your friends, have a few beers, plus see a band that would probably cost a lot of money to see at a bar," he says.
In most cases, Vail's free shows are open to anyone who wants to attend, although for the Yukon Kornelius performance at the Dobson Ice Arena, fans had to find a really-not-so-hard-to-land free ticket to get into the gig.
Vail Resorts also partners with the local Vail Valley Foundation to present the ongoing midweek Street Beat concerts, another free series which not only brings top talent (think the Young Dubliners, Cowboy Mouth, Taj Mahal and more) but also gives showgoers the chance to win a free Volvo at the end of the season.
In Breckenridge, the ski area has opted to partner with the Town of Breckenridge to bring more and more free entertainment to events, ranging from the mid-December Dew Tour to Ullr Fest in January and Spring Massive held in April.
And it's not just music; the High Country Comedy group brought Craig Robison (from "The Office" and "Hot Tub Time Machine") for a free performance as part of its monthly comedy series. Breckenridge's Kristen Petitt, the resort's senior communications manager, says the shows are a great way to catch up-and-coming talent and to spread some of the love on the mountain back into town.
Keystone hosts River Run Rocks throughout the summer and winter season with a family twist. This free concert series features artists such as Seven Mary Three and Colorado favorite Funkiphino. There's a kids' game zone to keep the young ones busy while you enjoy the live music; beverages, alcohol and food are sold á la carte.
Colorado's ski resorts aren't the only ones in the entertainment game. In Lake Tahoe, events range from late March's Snowed in at Heavenly to the Salomon Back Yard Bang (a halfpipe jam and concert in the MontBleu Casino parking lot, with alt-rockers Thrice and snowboarding legend Jamie Lynn's band, Kandi Coded), or the annual Ski Patrol Party, which brings bands to the Heavenly Village parking garage.
-- Andy Stonehouse
(Reprinted from PEAKS Winter 2010-11, the magazine of Vail Resorts.)