The 2021 Telluride Bluegrass Festival is one step closer to becoming a reality this summer (pause for applause), as the town’s Commission for Community Assistance, Arts & Special Events (CCAASE) unanimously approved the organizer’s request to host a minor event June 11-13 at its virtual meeting Wednesday.
The additional weekend, paired with the originally scheduled and approved dates of June 17-20, makes for seven days of music. The capacity limit for smaller town events is 3,000, but taking social distancing into consideration due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the idea of “pods” with no more than 10 people from the same household, the daily Bluegrass capacity is mostly likely to be around 2,500, festival promoter Craig Ferguson explained.
“I think most people know this plan of ours by now. To us it seems obvious that no event will go over any minor limit threshold under any circumstance, even if we were all vaccinated. I don’t think that’s going to change the state or county rules, so we’re appreciative to be able to have seven days of music in Town Park,” he explained. “We’re just scrambling about how to ticket and so forth right now. I don’t think we’re in conflict with anybody. I know if we were to go three weekends, we’d have conversations with yoga and wine festivals, but now those aren’t necessary. I don’t think we have any of those conflicts that I’ve enjoyed over the years with our Phish shows and Pretty Lights.”
CCAASE Vice Chair Pepper Raper Contillo inquired further about the ticketing process this year, specifically what the options for locals will be.
“We have two priorities. One is to existing ticket holders. Two, we also know that this is a local event this year. We don’t really know how to measure how many locals actually want to buy,” Ferguson said, adding that planning this year has been “such a changing target.” “The local ticketing programs, even when we weren’t required, is something that we very much want to do, and in this situation more than ever. … For one thing, there are nearly 500 locals with (2020) tickets now. Those people will be fully recognized to be able to go to the festival of their choice. We also feel like we need to hold some tickets back for an anticipated crunch the day of (shows). We have no idea what to expect. We really want to have as many local customers as want to come.”
Planet Bluegrass, which produces the annual Bluegrass festival, has hosted five shows recently in Lyons, with a capacity limit of 175 under Boulder County restrictions. When asked what they’ve learned from those events by CCAASE member Kathrine Warren, Ferguson said the impact of providing live music for people after such a difficult year cannot be understated, and festivarians are willing to follow the rules in order to see it.
“As much you hear people talk about how important or how much they’re looking forward to (live music), to watch someone experience music for the first time this year is really heartwarming. We’ve done five shows, and five times we’ve had people walk up to us with tears on their cheeks because they’re so thankful for it,” he said. “One thing we’ve learned is people are very compliant. People want their corral, or pod. I would say since the first show people have gotten more confident with it. It was the five most heartwarming shows I’ve done in my life.”
He added that Planet Bluegrass will produce 25 more shows by the end of May in similar fashion.
With CCAASE’s approval of the mid-June dates, Bluegrass will now move forward in planning for two weekends, though there will be more discussions with local officials. The approval also included two significant stipulations — the event must comply with all state, county and local public health restrictions at the time of the event, and that the town reserves the right to cancel the event at any time.
Town parks & recreation director Stephanie Jaquet explained those stipulations aren’t unique to Bluegrass, or new, as the town has included them in event contracts since last summer, given the ever-changing nature of pandemic-appropriate public health orders.
The Telluride Parks & Recreation Commission approved the plan to either go with two smaller festival weekends or the traditional dates with a reduced capacity March 17. Planet Bluegrass had until April 15 to decide which option they’d pursue, though CCAASE’s thumbs up Wednesday made it all much clearer.
“There was so much uncertainty with state public health regulations and the future dial it was hard for them to determine which option made the most sense for the event,” Jaquet said, adding that it’s not typical for event organizers to present multiple options for approval to local officials.
CCAASE also unanimously approved the Planet Bluegrass banner request for June 10-14.
In other CCAASE news, a spring clean-up day was changed from May 14-15 to May 21-22, the Second Chance Humane Society (virtual) Bow Wow Film Festival switched its dates to July 23 through Aug. 6, and dates for Taming Wild Thoughts by SPARKy Productions will now be Oct. 7-9 at the Palm Theatre instead of July 5-8. Each agenda item, along with an accompanying banner request, was passed without a dissenting vote.