But is KOTO more special than some of our other local institutions? Is it more special, for example, than the Telluride Chamber Music Festival, which this summer completed its 31st season, or the Telluride Mushroom Festival, which just celebrated its 21st anniversary?
Is KOTO so special that it was OK for KOTO to hold concerts in Town Park this summer on the same weekend that had already been allocated to those two venerable festivals? Like every festival, chamber music and mushroom sought and won approval from the Telluride Commission on Arts and Special Events to hold their events on particular weekends. But not KOTO, which for the last several years has circumvented the CASE process aimed at producing a fair and reasonable schedule of the events that use town facilities. Instead, KOTO has sought permission to hold its Yankee Doodle Doo Dah summer concerts directly from the Telluride Town Council, long after the CASE calendar had been finalized.
Is KOTO more special than the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, in its 31st year, or the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, now 11-years-old? Like KOTO, they use Town Park and the Town Park stage for their events, displacing all other park users, drawing huge crowds that trample the playing fields, and blasting music into the night sky, whether neighbors like it or not. But unlike KOTO, the promoters of those two events somehow manage to follow CASE procedures, applying well ahead of time for the weekend they wish to occupy in the busy summer calendar. Also unlike KOTO, the promoters of those two events are held to very high mitigation standards for parking, security, trash cleanup and the like.
But what if KOTO isn't really all that special after all? As Gabe Lifton-Zoline reported in The Watch last week, KOTO has partnered with not just any commercial music promoter, but with the Goliath of promoters, Clear Channel Communications, in producing its recent summer concerts in the park. Whether this relationship in any way diminishes the purity of community radio at its purest is a matter for the KOTO community and particularly for the KOTO board of directors to decide. But whether KOTO should continue to receive favored treatment in its use of Town Park is a matter for the Town of Telluride.
On Tuesday at 11:50 a.m., the Telluride Town Council will take up this very question. Historically, KOTO fills Rebekah Hall with KOTO partisans when matters of concern to the station are before council, which is a big part of the reason that KOTO has never been denied. Telluride residents whose interests may be somewhat broader would be well advised to be on hand, too, if they'd like to see a change in how KOTO is treated.
The fundamental question is really very simple: Should KOTO live by the same rules as every other entity that wants to use town facilities?
Even before KOTO's association with Clear Channel became known, there was legitimate concern that KOTO's summer concerts have morphed over the last few years into yet another major music festival. Telluride may or may not want another major music festival in the summer, but because KOTO has always sought permission as though each concert was a special, one-time event, that discussion has never been held. Just imagine how different the town's reaction would be if it were Clear Channel itself, instead of KOTO acting as a front for Clear Channel, that came before council to seek permission to produce concerts on the Town Park stage. Does anyone doubt that council would ask tough questions, and even if it approved the concert would insist at a minimum that the promoter go through all the same hoops we demand of others? Why should the world's largest music promoter profit from the use of our Town Park under terms more favorable than other for-profit promoters like Planet Bluegrass and Blues and Brews?
Telluride must always consider and reconsider the costs and benefits of our summer festivals. In the case of Bluegrass and of Blues and Brews, enormous impacts are offset by enormous benefits, largely because both festivals attract a diverse crowd that stays for several days during shoulder seasons. Though it is not the town's role to approve or disapprove a promoter's choice of performers, it is really not so clear how the town as a whole has benefited from the appearance of the bands KOTO has booked the last two summers. Jam bands like the String Cheese Incident surely excite their fans, but nobody would argue that the legions of groupies who follow them from gig to gig are big spenders. If bands like Widespread Panic and String Cheese bring a youthful traveling carnival to town, isn't it fair to ask whether the town benefits from hosting it, and particularly if more of the profit goes to Clear Channel than to KOTO? Though the town may not be in a position to assure that a promoter books bands whose draw will benefit the town as a whole, shouldn't KOTO, as a community radio station, concern itself with that question?
If, on the other hand, the real issue for KOTO is financial, and if the town wants to provide more financial support for the station, the town should conduct an economic analysis. What does it cost the town, directly and indirectly, to permit these concerts? It might well cost the taxpayer less to simply write KOTO a check.
We can hold these somewhat contradictory ideas in our mind at the same time: Yes, KOTO is a special case and yes, it should play by the rules. If the rules are fair, and it seems that they are, then they are fair for everyone.