Crested Butte Music Festival: The Show Must Go On
By Kara Martinez Bachman
For decades now, the Crested Butte Music Festival has brought diverse genres to Gunnison County, Colorado. There, in the town of Crested Butte, this yearly event brings bluegrass, classical, indie rock, and gypsy jazz performers to appear in a variety of local venues and private homes. Each year there’s world-class music, workshops, masterclasses, lectures, interactive experiences, and camaraderie that draws people from around the world and takes place amongst the Quaking Aspens and rugged splendor of the Rocky Mountains.
This year, things looked a little different, however. With a change of timing from July to August/September and modifications made to satisfy local health regulations wrought by Covid-19, the festival rolled with the punches and found a way to still produce its beloved 2020 event.
“We really had a passion to persevere,” explained Jeff Moffett, Crested Butte Music Festival Marketing Director. “You know, the old adage…the show must go on.”
Hotels are costly or difficult to find in early and mid-summer due to The Rockies being so popular at that time of year. Because of this, moving the fest to a bit later was an effort both to help make the hotel situation easier as well as enable visitors to take in a cool local feature. According to Moffett, in September, “the leaves are gorgeous.”
“We made the strategic decision to switch to August and September,” he explained.
In a sense, this later date may have worked to the festival’s advantage as it provided for an
extra month wherein the Covid-19 situation had begun to improve. To hold in-person events, organizers had to work with the local health department and some modifications were made, including limiting ticket sales at some performances. Unlike many large outdoor fests, such as Telluride, most Crested Butte events are held at indoor venues. This usually meant dealing with Covid-19 modifications on a venue-by-venue basis.
There were also some changes to the originally planned lineup.
“Some artists understandably were not going to take a risk, particularly vocalists,” Moffett said. “We had performers that canceled…mostly opera-type vocalists.”
Some were coming from other countries, for instance, Brazil. The difficulty with flying and expense due to altered flight schedules caused a few cancellations based on logistics alone. He said the open performance slots were filled with talented local or regional performers.
Moffett said when the decision was made to go ahead with the festival, the board of directors thought there would be a huge demand for tickets and that there would be a long waiting list. It was felt after so many months of being in Covid-19 lockdowns, listeners would be chomping at the bit to take in something live. For understandable reasons, the festival was successful, but that long waiting list didn’t happen in 2020.
“I think we did well in attendance and ticket sales, but we weren’t overwhelmed the way we thought we would be,” Moffett said. “By September people were feeling the risk of infection had died down. We have not had an infection in Gunnison County since September 1.”
Despite this improvement in infection rates, he noted that some were still wary of venturing out into public spaces. We all have different health concerns, and different levels of risk, and Moffett said even some of his personal friends who were excited for him that the fest would go on still declined to attend due to their health situations or tolerance levels.
“They supported our passion, it didn’t mean they were gonna take on risk,” he said.
With a successful festival completed under extraordinary conditions, what advice did Moffett have for other event organizers?
“In hindsight, if I were to do one thing differently, it would be to really take the pulse of our fans and our people and ask, ‘what is your comfort level?’”
He said it’s also important to be flexible. Not just in dealing with new local regulations, but also in tempering expectations.
“Don’t have your heart set on any outcome,” Moffett advised. “If anything was constant, it
was change and uncertainty.” Moffett said the entire team went beyond for 2020. “I’m really fortunate to be a part of this team, and work with people with such positive attitudes.”
In the end, it’s devoted organizers such as these that allow musicians — both from bluegrass and other genres — to keep finding performance opportunities whenever they can. It’s been a hard year for many creatives, and whenever the “new normal” can feel a bit like “the old normal,” that can only be a good thing.
“It feels like we’re the little engine that could,” Moffett said.