The Telluride Town Council on Tuesday voted 6-1, with Chris Myers opposed, to not allow the use of the Telluride Town Park for what would have been a September 9 event.
The decision came despite a strong desire to see Neil Young and his band come to town on the part of the majority of those in attendance. Council’s decision was tipped by fear of causing possible financial damage to the longstanding Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, scheduled for just a week later, on September 16.
The timing of the request before council was also a problem because the offer by the band to squeeze Telluride into its tour schedule came suddenly and required an immediate response. Mayor Stu Fraser recounted a series of events that quickly led the town on Monday to explore the possibility of allowing the event and rush it onto the next day’s agenda with the minimum 24 hours notice so it could receive public input.
The proposed concert would have involved a crowd of close to 10,000, with the pre-tax cost of a ticket to be set at $75, according to Ferguson. Over the course of the several hours long discussion, both the mayor and Ferguson stressed that they were not advocating either for or against the event, but that they felt a responsibility to explore the chance to bring such an iconic band to Telluride.
Steve Gumble, promoter of the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, was afforded an early and lengthy opportunity to address council, during which he laid out numerous reasons illustrating why he feared the effects of the concert. He first made sure to state that he was not there to challenge the legality of the process, but to express his worries not only for his festival, but for the impact on the town as a whole, as well as the precedent it might set for future actions.
“I’m not opposed to the event. I’m opposed to the timing,” Gumble reiterated, time and again. That sentiment was echoed by many others who spoke, including five different festival coordinators, who agreed that staging such a large event close to their festival dates would be harmful.
Steve Kennedy and Todd Creel both spoke passionately in favor of the concert on behalf of the KOTO board, with Kennedy emphasizing that funding for public radio is “severely under attack,” citing declines from the national level all the way to the local level over the last three years. The financial benefit of the potential Buffalo Springfield concert made it “a critical event” for KOTO, he said.
Creel explained that the fixed dates allotted to KOTO for its Yankee Doodle Doo-Dah concert severely limited KOTO’s ability to attract acts of Buffalo Springfield’s quality and that this was the culmination of a year of trying to attract an act to create an event similar to that of the Phish concert last summer.
Many speakers drew comparisons between the two events, touting the benefits of last year’s Phish concerts to the economy, the lack of problems with the large crowd, and the ability of the promoters to work with the Telluride Jazz Festival to mitigate the Phish concert's encroachment on its scheduled dates.
“I supported Phish,” said Gumble, “I thought it was good for all parties involved. I knew it would affect my sales, but I knew it was good for the community.”
The Phish concerts, however, were 30 days out, “and now you’re asking me to compete with an event just seven days out.”
It’s hard enough to compete on the national level, he said, against the increasing number of festivals, that he shouldn’t also have to compete on the local level, “potentially delivering a fatal blow to Blues and Brews.”
Ted Wilson, a part-time employee of the Blues and Brews Festival and creator of Telluride’s new Horror Film Festival, also questioned how a one-night Buffalo Springfield concert would reap the same economic benefit outcome as the two-day Phish concerts did; “9,000 people,” Wilson said. “Now I can see why Steve’s sweating. To find all those people, that time of year, two weekends in a row. I don’t see it.”
The demographics of the two crowds were too similar, he concluded, supporting Gumble’s contention that many people would not be able to afford to attend both events.
Members of council tried to find some middle ground, possibly by adjusting ticket taxes or creating some guarantees to cushion Gumble in the event of a loss in revenue to Blues and Brews, but again, time was not on their side. Between the intangibles of the problem and the need for an immediate response, no specifics could be devised on the spot to equal the cooperation found in last summer’s negotiations that brought Phish to town.
Ray Farnsworth, the manager of the Sheridan Hotel and Restaurant and Bar, probably best expressed the mixed feelings shared by members of council and the public in attendance.
“I’d like to think we can do it all, but I’m not sure that we can,” he said. He was in the fortunate position, he said, that the Sheridan would benefit from both shows. “If Steve’s down ten percent, that’s not going to be the case for me, because of Steve and the work he’s done for 17 years.
“As a local, I’d like to see the band play,” he continued. “As a KOTO boardmember, I’d like to ensure that KOTO remains viable and continues to be able to provide the services we provide.”
Even with that being so, he concluded, “I agree that to have a one day event at the expense of a 17-year event would be folly.”
The mixed emotions of everyone present were obvious, in their desire to boost the economy, help KOTO with much-needed funding and see a world-class musical talent.
Throughout the discussion, Ferguson, who was on speaker phone, gave quick responses to all the questions put to him, even going so far as to echo some of the other festival promoters’ concerns with the event and apologizing to Gumble for the worry.
“Making sure Steve comes back next year, I will admit happily, is far more important than accepting the show,” he conceded.
Ferguson said that he had been told there was no possibility of an alternate date for Buffalo Springfield, and added that he had in fact tried to book the band for the Bluegrass Festival, but agreed to council’s request to pursue other dates with the band.
“I suppose there is some chance,” he said, “but I have a hunch they’ll move along.”