TELLURIDE – Provided that several conditions are met first, the Telluride Town Council on Tuesday cleared the way for the popular jam band Phish to play to back-to-back concerts in Town Park in August.
By unanimously resolving to exempt the concert co-producers, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Inc. and AEG Live, from a deadline that would have required them to notify the town of the proposed concerts by May 2009, council completed the third step in a three-step approval process required in order for the concerts to potentially take place here.
The vote came after the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission determined two weeks ago in a 4-1 vote that Town Park would be available for the proposed Aug. 9 and 10 concert dates.
Following that first approval the Commission for Community Assistance, Arts and Special Events last week voted unanimously to place the dates on the town’s events calendar in the second step of the process.
“It’s a windfall for the entire region, I haven’t heard anyone up here say, ‘No I don’t want it,’” said Mayor Stu Fraser in response to a member of the public who, as a means to encourage approval, reminded council of the potential tax revenue that the events could generate for the municipal coffers.
“We’re trying to figure out how do you drop a 9,000-person concert into an already crowded summer, and how to do it in a way that doesn’t affect our hard costs,” Fraser continued.
In order for the promoters to obtain the all the necessary town approvals the Telluride Society for Jazz had to give its blessing to the concerts, generally speaking, because of concern that its longstanding Telluride Jazz Celebration (and its dedicated patrons) could be overwhelmed by a flashy two-night-stand.
Jazz already had Town Park booked on the proposed Phish dates, Mon. Aug. 9 and Tues. Aug. 10, for cleanup after its annual festival, taking place this year Fri. Aug. 6 through Sun. Aug. 8.
In a similar vein, council’s approval requires that the Jazz Celebration and the concert producers reach a legal agreement concerning the execution of the successive events so that Jazz, which draws approximately 3,000 people over three days, is not negatively impacted.
“While there are obvious ways for these two events to create some symbiosis, we must give our primary attention to protecting the integrity of our event and insure its well-being,” wrote TSJ Board President Terry Tice in a letter to council prepared for the meeting.
“The magnitude of potential impact, both positive and negative, on the Jazz Celebration is huge and deserves full deliberation before we will feel comfortable with final approval,” he continued.
“We would request that any approval by council for the concert should only occur if all issues and concerns have been addressed and resolved and there is a fully executed agreement [between Jazz and TBF/AEG] on event cooperation,” the letter ended.
Such an agreement appears forthcoming.
“I think we definitely have an agreement in substance with all the different things we’re going to do with each other,” Bluegrass Festival’s Craig Ferguson told council.
“We have an agreement in principal about how the transition and common use of the park and all of those things is going to work,” agreed Tice, adding that while still quite rough, “We have been able to come to terms with how we see this fitting together.”
A second condition has the band agreeing to pay up to $15,000 to cover additional law enforcement costs incurred by the town after it was determined that it would be difficult to raise the $2.50 admission fee charged per ticket per the town’s Municipal Code to $5 as council originally contemplated.
By ordinance that fee must be applied toward maintenance or improvements in Town Park and the actual law enforcement expenses generated by an event. However, according to an analysis done by Chief Marshal Jim Kolar the admission fees would raise just over $39,000 for law enforcement costs “likely to exceed $55,000.”
Don Strasburg, Vice Present for AEG Live, initially called the proposed admission fee increase “complicated” because of how it might affect a potential ticket price of $49.50.
“The band is very concerned about making their ticket price reasonable,” he said.
But after further discussion the two sides arrived at a compromise.
Phish, the heir-apparent to the Grateful Dead legacy, is known for its multitude of followers on the road when on tour, and numerous concerns have been raised that Telluride simply won’t be able to accommodate the masses that could inundate the town. The fears range from illegal car-camping to trespassing and, at worst, what to do if a mob of “phans” turn up in town without tickets for potentially sold-out shows with no place to park and nowhere else to go.
Strasburg assured council that the situation is the last thing anyone wants.
“If we felt that this band was too big and would bring too many people to your community – it’s just not worth our expense,” he said.
That said, Telluride is quite isolated and the shows are on school nights, so to speak, so once the uber-loyal Phishheads who are willing to travel to the ends of the Earth in pursuit of the band are accounted for, “You’re asking a lot of people coming on a work day to come a long way,” said Strasburg.
“My concerns are in selling enough tickets more than too many people [showing up].”
Still, discussions about limiting vehicular access to town by means of a barricade like those erected for other major events has been discussed as a possible contingency for that scenario, so another of council’s conditions requires that no barricade be erected before 5 p.m. on Sunday so as to not adversely impact Jazz attendance.
Additionally, the Jazz festival’s maximum ticket sales could be increased from 3,000 to 4,500 on Sunday in order to accommodate Phish fans who might arrive early.
In another effort to minimize the potential for too many people to descend upon the town, the promoters suggested they would sell only two-day passes for the concerts. However, after council and residents made clear that many locals would likely prefer to attend only one show, the producers agreed to make single-day tickets available for them.
Additionally, a minimum of 1,500 tickets would be made available for purchase only at local retailers to ensure that locals have access to tickets. The remainder will be sold online.
Assuming the conditions are met, whether or not the band comes here is now pretty much up to the band itself and whether – for example – it’s willing to agree to pay $15,000 for the town’s law enforcement costs.
“Normally we don’t have to go through such a process,” said Strasburg, explaining that the private venues normally played by the band don’t carry with them stringent approvals requirements they’ve encountered in Telluride.
“Obviously they’re tremendously interested or we wouldn’t still be here,” Strasburg continued.
He said that the Telluride dates, if they happen, will likely be confirmed when the band announces the rest of its tour dates.
As for the TSJ, the group remains optimistic that all can work out in the end.
“We had a good meeting before,” said Executive Director Paul Machado. “We’re ready to rock and roll – and get jazzy,” he said.