TELLURIDE – Telluride has been buzzing since the community got wind last week of the fact that promoters for the rock group Phish were in discussions with the town about bringing the popular jam band here for two nights of back-to-back shows in early August.
On Wednesday, the possibility moved one step closer to reality when the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission voted 4-1 to make Town Park available for the event and extended its traditional curfew from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Commission member Eliot Brown cast the dissenting vote after noting that an “unscientific poll” he took of East End residents who are most affected by Town Park events indicated that the majority of 20 respondents preferred the earlier curfew.
“I’m in favor of the concert, I think it’s a good event and will help the town,” he said, clarifying that his support for the event included its compliance with the earlier curfew.
In order for the P&R Commission to agree that the concerts may take place on the two dates, the Telluride Society for Jazz had to first give its blessing to the event because of concern that the longstanding jazz festival (and its dedicated patrons) could be overwhelmed by a flashy newcomer offering a one-time get.
Jazz already had Town Park booked on the proposed Phish dates, Mon. Aug. 9 and Tues. Aug. 10, for cleanup after its annual Jazz Celebration, taking place this year Fri. Aug. 6 through Sun. Aug. 8. But after some fast-paced negotiations between Phish concert co-producers Telluride Bluegrass, Inc. and AEG Live, the Jazz board of directors offered up its conditional approval.
“Issues that directly affect site logistics and fall under the purview of [Parks and Recreation] appear close to resolution,” stated a letter from the TSJ directors submitted to the P&R Commission. “We must add that broader concerns with greater importance exist and will need to be addressed at the next round of discussion with [the Commission for Community Assistance, Arts and Special Events] and Town Council. That said, we feel comfortable that we see potential for the Phish shows to happen.”
And the broader concerns referenced in the letter are many.
Phish, the heir-apparent to the Grateful Dead legacy, is known for its multitude of followers on the road when on tour, including members of the Phellowship, a group of Phish Heads opting to remain substance-free during Phish concerts.
But some concerns have been raised that teeny, tiny Telluride simply won’t be able to accommodate the masses that could inundate the town. They fear illegal car-camping, trespassing and, at worst, angry fans who might turn up in town without tickets for the 9,000 capacity (as of now) event.
“I think it’s absolutely doable,” said KOTO Special Events Coordinator Janice Zink, who organizes a few large concerts of her own.
“I think that the town has the wherewithal to make it happen,” she continued, noting that the Phish concerts, if they happen, have the potential to be “a huge economic stimulus for the town.”
When reached by telephone, Telluride Chief Marshal Jim Kolar gave no obvious indication that he feared Phish concerts could overtax the town’s security infrastructure, despite Phish phans’ reputation for devotion.
“We’re going to have to gear up for another major festival,” Kolar said, indicating that his department would hire a number of reserve officers like it always does for Telluride’s largest events.
“It’s still a little too early [to tell exactly how the Marshal’s Department will prepare],” he said. “I would like to see exactly what’s going to be approved.”
Though the concert promoters successfully ran the P&R Commission gauntlet, there are still two more steps in the approval process forthcoming, Town Parks and Recreation Director Rick Herrington explained.
Next Wed. March 3, the CCAASE will consider whether or not to place the Phish concerts on the town’s special event calendar. Addressing a wider scope than the P&R Commission, whose sole task in this instance was to determine the availability of Town Park, CCAASE will consider the concerts and their potential impacts to the town in its decision.
Considering the effort involved in securing a last-minute addition to the town’s special event calendar, Telluride Bluegrass Inc.’s Craig Ferguson, promoter of the mid-June, three-decades-plus Telluride Bluegrass Festival, was taking it all in stride.
“It’s not an easy feat and it shouldn’t be,” he said. “Telluride is a fragile beauty and small community… It shouldn’t be easy, but it should be possible.”
If CCAASE if approves it, the application will then move on to Telluride Town Council for review it when it next meets on Tues. March 9.
Then, and only then, will the Phish promoters know if they even have something to work with.
Until then, it’s anyone’s guess.