This year’s 20,000-person Labor Day festival will be the largest event in Saguache County history

By Jason Blevins |  Colorado Sun

THE world’s top concert promoter, Live Nation, last summer canceled its 20,000-person Labor Day weekend country music concert in Buena Vista after Chaffee County commissioners refused to raise coronavirus-related capacity limits. Saguache County commissioners last week approved a special use permit for Live Nation to host as many as 20,000 concert-goers in the San Luis Valley, just outside the tiny hamlet of Villa Grove. 

“Villa Grove and the business owners here are thrilled,” said Jamie Williams, the owner of Villa Grove Trade, a restaurant and general store that first opened in 1882. “I’ve got a few neighbors who are not so excited, mostly people who are concerned that this might not fit with our slow town, but hey, it’s only one weekend.”

I​​t will be the largest event in the history of Saguache County, a rural valley with a population of about 6,600 people and four municipalities, one of which, Bonanza, has three residents. 

“This has never happened before,” said Amber Wilson, the county’s land use administrator. “It is exciting.”

​​Live Nation, which is working with the unnamed owner of about 1,600 acres between Villa Grove and the Sangre de Cristo Range, filed a land-use application last month and presented its plan to county commissioners last week.

“This is all new to us but they presented a good case. We didn’t really have any issues,” Saguache County Commissioner Tim Lovato said. “As long as they meet certain guidelines, we are fine. They have their own concessionaires, their own security, their own clean-up crews. They crossed all their t’s and dotted all their i’s and have everything in order.”

The concert promoter and musician Dierks Bentley hosted the inaugural Seven Peaks festival in 2018 on a private, 277-acre farm just outside Buena Vista. The second, running over Labor Day weekend in 2019, drew more than 10,000 concert-goers. The 2020 event was canceled due to COVID.

Live Nation began planning the third Seven Peaks in late 2020, filing applications and meeting with Chaffee County commissioners in a long approval process for what would be its fourth permit for the event. The promoter began marketing the festival and selling tickets for the Labor Day weekend concert in June, before county commissioners had granted final approval to Live Nation’s permit. 

Neighbors around the Buena Vista venue complained about noise and traffic during the three-day event, and then in July, when the commissioners declined to raise a 5,000-person cap on events, Live Nation abruptly announced it was canceling Seven Peaks and looking for a new home.

A report commissioned by Live Nation in November 2019 showed the three-day 11,404-person festival that year created a $13.6 million economic impact and supported 144 jobs, delivering $1.25 million in state and local taxes. 

When Live Nation announced it was seeking a new venue for Seven Peaks, several communities across the state reached out to the concert promoter, hoping to lure the three-day event that delivered millions of dollars to local businesses. 

Kyle Grote, the owner of the all-organic Primo Cannabis shop and farm in Villa Grove, is excited. He’s hoping the turnout is huge after last year’s cancellation. 

“If I could tell everybody who is traveling from other places: Leave your weed at home and come see us. We’ll take care of you,” said Grote, who also operates a 2,400-acre yak farm in the valley. “We have lots of wide open spaces for events like this. I’m excited.”

Lovato said attracting as many as 20,000 visitors to his county “is going to fill our coffers for sure.”

“It’s something, you know. How many little rural counties get the big-name entertainers they are talking about?” he said. “Not very many. We have more ground to cover, but we want this to be a benefit for the residents of Saguache County and the entire San Luis Valley.”

Note: This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins. Link to The Colorado Sun article HERE.