Bluegrass

The Telluride Bluegrass Festival offered to shift its dates from June 18-21 to Aug. 27-30 Tuesday, but Telluride Town Council declined to act on a proposed ordinance that would have allowed the date change, citing the uncertainty of living in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant restrictions. In this file photo, musicians and music fans crowd Elk Park in 2017 for the popular free shows and workshops held there. (Planet file photo)

As difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic has made planning for the future, government officials and the summer’s festival and event directors are tasked with looking toward the future.

While Mountainfilm staff has announced that festival will go forward under much different circumstances — a totally online platform — the next big assemblage, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, scheduled for June 18-21, is very much up in the air. Telluride Town Council declined to pass an ordinance Tuesday that would have shifted the festival to the last weekend in August, citing the uncertainty of the future.

“Is bluegrass canceled?” festival director Craig Ferguson asked council via Zoom after council stalled on any decision.

“There is no certainty,” replied Mayor DeLanie Young. “There is no answer.”

Ferguson’s offer to move his festival — Telluride’s largest at nearly 12,000 attendants — to Aug. 27-30 was lauded by those on council, but its proximity to Telluride Film Festival was a concern. Ferguson had originally proposed Aug. 20-23 as an option as well, but just prior to Tuesday’s council meeting, informed staff that those dates were no longer feasible.

“I didn’t see a large event happening in June,” Ferguson said of his date change proposal. “We’re seeking guidance. We’ll change if you want us to.”

The late August date proved problematic for Brandt Garber, representing Telluride Film Festival.

“It’s not realistic to think I can pull off our event with Bluegrass happening the weekend before,” Garber said. “I want us both to the thrive and succeed.”

Issues such as setup and breakdown schedules in shared places like Elks Park, and backstage catering drew concern, as did housing issues. Both festivals soak up much of town’s available housing, as artists, staff and festival attendees swell town ranks.

“Stacking us on top of each other,” is not a good idea, said Garber.

But confronted with the economic fallout of what may be a protracted prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 and shelter-at-home orders, council was charged with weighing an economic driver such as the season’s first major festival and the safety of its citizens.

“It’s absolutely necessary for the economy of Telluride,” said council member Tom Watkinson. “But right before the film festival is impossible.”

Watkinson further stressed that “we need to make it happen,” and suggested Ferguson consider an October date.

Though still guardedly optimistic that his original June dates might still be possible, Ferguson assured council, “We want to be part of the solution,” and that he was open to considering an October weekend.

Public comment was mostly submitted through the town’s website.

“Why is the Town of Telluride not directing Planet Bluegrass to cancel the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in light of the Covid-19 pandemic?” wrote Richard W. Adamson of Montrose. “The town and San Miguel County have, so far, been very proactive in response to this crisis but the failure of the town be proactive and cancel this very large, dangerous concentration of people is very concerning.”

Alpine Lodging’s Katie Stokes wrote in support of moving Bluegrass to the earlier of the two weekends proposed.

“I think pushing it to the last weekend in August would be a challenge for lodgers and restaurants to turn around two major festivals back to back,” Stokes wrote. “Lodging inventory is already limited that weekend (Aug 27-30) for TFF staff, volunteers and pass holders, so to move the Bluegrass guests to that weekend significantly limits the amount of availability for Bluegrass ticket holders. I also worry that turning over shared venues (Town Park and Elks Park) with a 2‐3 day turnaround is a big ask.”

Parks and Recreation Commission member Eliot Brown asked that if council approved the festival’s request to change its date, that the festival’s curfew nightly extensions be removed as a condition.

Parks and Recreation Director Stephanie Jaquet lined out some of the park conflicts Bluegrass faced if council agreed to shift the festival’s dates. Recreational, club and youth soccer season is in full swing by late August and would have to be canceled or moved to other venues, and the park’s informal recreational opportunities at the skate ramp, basketball court and core area would be subsumed by the festival.

In addition, according to a memo from Telluride Chief Marshal Josh Comte, the acquisition of a sufficient number of reserve officers is “an unknown.”

The aura of uncertainty made concrete answers impossible. There was even talk of a summer without Bluegrass, if shelter-in-place orders remained in place, or if other date options could not materialize.

“Council is not prepared to make a decision on this resolution,” Young said.

Council will be meeting weekly until further notice as it and other government bodies navigate the effects of the pandemic on the community. Young told those in attendance on Zoom or listening on KOTO that public health officials are starting to look at mid- and long-range planning in regards to ongoing emergency management, but there was nothing definitive yet.