At its special meeting Thursday afternoon in Rebekah Hall, the Town of Telluride Parks and Recreation Board voted 3-2 to deny Telluride Productions LLC, aka The Ride Festival, a request to add a third concert night to its two-day festival July 11-12. The request mirrored this year’s approved request to add a Friday night concert — not a full day — to the rock ’n’ roll music gathering.
For some in the packed room, the issue was noise. Despite festival director Todd Creel’s assurances that he would address volume issues — an oft-cited complaint by residents in the town’s east end, closest to Telluride Town Park — parks and rec board members Michael Ward, Eliot Brown and Teddy Errico approved a motion to deny the request. Board members Jesse Pekkala and JJ Ossola voted against denying The Ride its request. Alternate member David Doody did not have a vote.
This summer’s high rate of drug-related arrests during Ride, overall festival fatigue and blowback from a summer economy that has exploded were also cited in denying the request.
Randy Fitzpatrick, co-owner of O’Bannon’s bar with his wife Ann Marie, said that The Ride’s earlier curfew was a boon for his and other Main Street businesses.
“Unlike the other festivals that keep people in the park, The Ride lets out early,” he said. “That’s good for us.”
Another Main Street business owner, Wood Ear’s Matt Arnold, said his restaurant-bar and intimate live music venue does well during The Ride’s July weekend.
“This year, The Ride gave us our highest-grossing weekend of the summer,” he said.
Representatives of the lodging community were also in favor of extending The Ride by a night. Autumn Batten — an east end resident and employee of the Camel’s Garden — and Jenny Carlson, of Alpine Lodging, both mentioned increased bookings.
“Everything is more,” Batten said, referring to the amount of work for hotel employees. “It’s better.”
Carlson told the board that her company’s revenues saw a $135,000 spike as a result of this year’s additional night, the first of two in which Widespread Panic was the headlining act.
Another east end resident who bucked the trend of a number of his neighbors that expressed concern about The Ride’s level of volume was Matt Skinner, CEO of Colorado Flights Alliance.
“It’s a phenomenal thing to put our kids to bed to the best music in the world,” he said, adding, “Our summer economy is the envy of dark mountain economies.”
And he wondered out loud what Creel has suggested previously when he sought and gained approval from the parks and rec board; the Commission for Community Assistance, the Arts and Special Events; and Town Council earlier this year to add Friday night to this year’s weekend.
“How does this (two-day) model survive?” Skinner asked.
Proponents of the event dominated the public comment portion of Thursday’s special meeting. Many who expressed support were involved with KOTO, which is the festival’s primary nonprofit beneficiary via beer sales in the general admission portion of the park.
Cara Pallone, the station’s executive director, stressed the importance of having a third night to sell beer, as it related to the station’s bottom line.
“We see a 40 percent increase in our revenues with a third night,” Pallone said.
Pallone further outlined the station’s reliance on the event, noting that 2020 is the year the nonprofit is taking a mandated “off-year” from applying for its annual Telluride Foundation grant.
“KOTO does benefit significantly,” she said.
Rich Estes, the town’s public works streets supervisor, told the assembled group that he works for nearly every festival throughout the summer. He drew attention to the radio station’s boost from being a beneficiary of Ride.
“If KOTO benefits from it, great,” he said. “What are we going to do without KOTO?”
For a number of east end residents — and others — The Ride’s volume levels proved a primary concern. Jerry Greene, the former owner of Baked In Telluride and one of KOTO’s founders, called the festival’s decibel levels “painful” and said, “July is our busiest month with or without the Ride. I don’t see this as desirable.”
Lynn Ward, wife of commission chair Michael Ward, said that the volume and exceeding the curfew had been “a continual issue for years.”
Creel explained that due to a mix-up of curfew times with the festival’s stage manager, the music ran past curfew on Friday night.
“We paid the fine and do not intend to have to do that again,” he said.
Resident Amy Levek said that decibel readings she took during each of the festivals — Telluride Bluegrass, Jazz and Blues & Brews festivals — registered between 70-75, while The Ride came in at 90-100 decibels. Levek lives on East Colorado Avenue, close to the Town Park entrance.
Creel, in his opening presentation to the commission and the public, acknowledged the feedback the festival has received in regards to sound levels and said he would work to address those concerns.
“We can do things to mitigate that,” he said, listing solutions such as setting a consistent volume level from act to act, working with the directional scope of speakers and endeavoring to contain sound in the park.
Town Parks and Recreation Director Stephanie Jaquet said that, while there were challenges in setting and enforcing decibel levels, Creel’s offer to work to reduce the festival’s volume is appreciated.
“I always encourage voluntary mitigation efforts from promoters,” she said.
Resident Andrea Knorr, calling Town Park a “precious commodity,” said the month of July was already “too much” and lamented the time when Telluride summers were slower.
“I miss the quiet times in Telluride,” Knorr said.
The robustness of the festival economy and input from promoters and other stage users has led to the town putting approximately $4 million in improvements to the stage and backstage areas. The stage now features numerous upgrades, including artist dressing rooms, offices, bathrooms and showers, as well as a structural redesign that modernizes and improves onstage safety. There are also new additional bathrooms adjacent to the stage, as well as an enclosed catering facility. Plans to construct a pavilion over the large concrete pad already in place are scheduled next. Festival promoters have made monetary contributions to stage area infrastructure related to festivals. The park features 13 nights of live music in the summer months.
In addition to hearing from 27 people who made public comments, the commission also received 15 emails. Of those emails, a dozen were split evenly between supporting and not supporting a third night, while two weighed in about the volume levels, and another did not speak specifically to The Ride.
Creel was disappointed in the outcome and believes some members of the commission — given that they live in Telluride’s east end — should have removed themselves from the decision-making process.
“Michael Ward and Eliot Brown should have recused themselves for their obvious conflict of interest,” Creel said in a message to the Daily Planet. “When Mr. Ward's wife spoke against the proposal, the conflict was apparent to everyone in the room. The board is supposed to be unbiased. By my count, the public input they specifically requested was nearly 5 to 1 in favor.”
Creel also took issue with how Brown quantified the comments heard at the meeting.
“Eliot's tabulation in front of everyone discounted just about everyone’s voice except for east end residents,” Creel said. “The town needs to examine the ethical requirements for parks and rec members.”
Without a third night, which Creel said would be a more sustainable model for his or any other festival, the future of the Ride looks uncertain.
“We are still deciding how to proceed at this point,” he said.
The denial also leaves KOTO looking at financial challenges.
“The decision presents an element of financial uncertainty for KOTO in 2020 and beyond,” Pallone said. “We mark 45 years on the air next year, and while this introduces opportunities for creative funding ideas, it also means we face some important updates to aging equipment at the station, on top of other unexpected costs. I'm disappointed by the vote, but I respect the process, and I hope those who were in opposition will show their support for KOTO in other ways in 2020. We'll certainly need it.”
Board member Errico said the decision the board was tasked with making was the most difficult during his time with the commission.
“It was a decision that divided the community almost fifty-fifty,” he said after the meeting. “So I knew the decision was going to affect people and organizations that I like and appreciate, and maybe not in a positive manner. I could really see both sides of the argument, and therefore it was a really difficult vote.”
Errico was also aware of how busy the month of July has become in Telluride, a situation some in the audience spoke to.
“The biggest challenge I had was that the expanded event was in an already busy timeframe,” he said. “Our board has proven that we try to work with all events, as evidenced by last year's Ride festival three-day approval. But sometimes there are limited circumstances where adding more — and more is not limited to just our festivals — is not in the community’s overall best interest.”