By Owen Woods | email@example.com
THE Seven Peaks music fest could bring a new level of fame to the San Luis Valley. It will also bring more than 13,000 people, which has community members nervous.
After a two-year hiatus the music festival that was created by country musician Dierks Bentley and got its start in Buena Vista is looking to come back with a bang.
Saguache County is expecting a historic number of people coming and going during Labor Day weekend this year. After a change of venue from Chaffee County, a little slice of pristine land just outside Villa Grove was chosen as festival grounds, ripe for the taking. The 1,560 acres sits just southwest of town, hidden by a grove of Kerber Creek cottonwoods.
LiveNation originally expected around 20,000 festival goers. That number spread across the Valley floor and caused many locals to feel an unwelcome sense of unease. For the residents of Villa Grove, 20,000 people all at once sounded like a waking nightmare bordering on apocalyptic proportions.
Community concerns addressed too late
A community meeting was held Aug. 2 – which some argued was three months too late. It was organized by Saguache County officials, such as the sheriff’s department, the county commissioners, and the land use department. Jim Reid, a LiveNation rep, was present on a phone call during the meeting.
Overheard before the meeting were questions like: “What are the long-term benefits of this festival to our community?” “What about security for us homeowners?” “Where are 20,000 people going to go for gas and food?”
LiveNation’s Reid pinned the number of festival goers somewhere closer to 13,000 based on pre-sale ticket numbers. With less than a month before the big weekend, that number is unlikely to increase by another 7,000.
Saguache County has never had an event of this size since its 1866 incorporation.
This reduced number and historic precedence did little to quash locals’ concerns. Though many concerns were addressed, those are legitimate fears for a township that has six businesses, no public bathrooms, no public trash collection, no gas station, no grocery store, and only two lanes of highway traffic.
Seven Peaks planners sent scouts out to proposed locations.
When they saw the land near Villa Grove they said “this is the place.”
The private, 1560-acre parcel can accommodate stages for big country and folk music acts, and more than 13,000 concert-goers.
THE public officials endured a barrage of questions and concerns – some yelling, some expletives, and an overwhelming feeling of objection. Though the feeling in the room was of negativity, many locals were optimistic for Seven Peaks’ success and the potential gold mine for Saguache County and Villa Grove. One person said that it was “up to the community to capitalize on this.”
As long as the concerns were put at ease, residents were happy as long as county officials upheld their end of the deal: making it safe.
Seven Peaks will have a full-time medical staff on location with two ambulances, an undisclosed number of private security and event staff, reminders to stay hydrated and stay in the shade, zero tolerance for fires and fireworks, security checkpoints at the entrance, and emergency exits around the property.
Saguache County Sheriff Dan Warwick is in charge of incident command for the festival. He had answers to just about every question thrown his way. He also said that at any given time he will have anywhere between 25 to 30 law enforcement officers on site, with as many as 50 personnel during peak hours.
In addition to Saguache County deputies, Sheriff Warwick has secured the help of law enforcement agencies from around the Valley. He also will have regular full-time road deputies working the rest of the county.
Colorado State Patrol Captain Brett Williams, who oversees the entire San Luis Valley, is in charge of traffic safety during the fest. With a seasoned confidence, Captain Williams told the residents of Saguache County that his priority is safety and “having the least impact as possible on the local residents.”
CDOT and the State Patrol will create a special southbound turn lane to the festival’s entrance, which should keep traffic flowing. “We will not allow any backup on the state highway,” Captain Williams said.
There will be on-site towing, too, to keep any stalled or crashed vehicles off the highway.
And State Patrol will have two full-time troopers patrolling the highway – in addition to the five troopers on during peak hours– whose sole job will be to act as DUI countermeasures.
Residents weren’t entirely convinced of the promises of smooth sailing. One local who is originally from upstate New York mentioned a little music festival that happened where he grew up in Bethel, New York. “What happened at Woodstock will not happen here … but it could,” he said, standing and addressing the crowd. “You’re gonna miss something,” he said to Sheriff Warwick and the commissioners. “It’s gonna be a rough couple days.”
Saguache County Commissioner Tom McCracken said, “We’re gonna have to learn about this as we go along.” He said he wants to see Seven Peaks succeed, but conceded that “seeing where it goes” and planning to have Saguache host it again or not rests solely on the success of this year’s event.
Residents’ concerns included money, garbage, fireworks, parking, and camping on public lands. Property owners neighboring the festival site were concerned with the music and the lights, trespassers, and anyone parking their vehicle where they shouldn’t. Solutions were given to them by county land use and the sheriff’s office.
The meeting ended after a long period of back-and-forth of positive and negative, lambasting county commissioners approving the special event permit, and a brief conversation about the number of “porta-johns.”
As far as traffic goes, Williams said that Monday morning commutes will be the worst.
North Saguache County Fire Protection District Chief Wesley Moore said, “Should be a typical Labor Day Weekend … It’s not gonna be fun.”
What is the Seven Peaks Music Festival?
Created by country musician Dierks Bentley in 2018, the festival held its inaugural event outside Buena Vista. Buena Vista hosted two events, and then during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, the show was cancelled. As things began to open in 2021, Chaffee County refused to increase its 5,000-person venue capacity rule, even though by that time Seven Peaks had sold 6,000 tickets.
LiveNation, the company that produces Seven Peaks, backed out of Chaffee County and sent out a state-wide call for bids, essentially. Interested hosts could make a case for why their county should be
chosen. Saguache county was the winner. But why was it chosen? After the state-wide invitation, Seven Peaks sent scouts out to the different locations. Saguache County Sheriff’s Office Captain Ken Wilson told The Citizen that when location scouts saw the land near Villa Grove they said “this is the place.”
The pasture, the meadows, the fingers of trees, and Kerber Creek itself were beautiful enough and just secluded enough to seduce Seven Peaks into choosing the Valley as its temporary new home. The private,1560-acre parcel is large enough to accommodate big country and folk music names and more than 13,000 concert-goers.
“There’s a lot of room on the property,” Reid said. There will be 3,000 camping spots and the ability to expand if people need more space.
The event will have two stages: the Main Stage and the Whiskey Stage. Smaller bluegrass and folk bands like Colorado’s own Rapidgrass will play on the Whiskey Stage. Big names such as Dierks Bently, Ashley McBryde, and Old Crow Medicine show will play on the Main Stage.
For the late-night music lovers, there will be a series of small dive-type bars called Whiskey Row. Those will host smaller, folkier musicians until 1 a.m. every night.
LiveNation typically hosts large events weekly. These events are like setting up a self-sustaining city. The infrastructure and logistics of putting on outdoor events has been fine-tuned. Food vendors, water stations, and a general store will keep people fed and out of the grip of high-altitude sickness. Beer and liquor will keep the people happy and on location. The music will echo up the canyon and give the fans some nice escape.
The views aren’t too bad, either.
Seven Peaks has locals concerned, but for a county that could use the economic and tourism boost, three days could go by before anyone knows it. The retail sales, sales tax, lodging tax, marijuana sales, and just general influx of people in the county may perk up the economy a bit before the winter settles.
Speaking of winter, in 1882, as the Villa Grove Trade building sat during perhaps a long winter, an inventor named Edward H. Johnson had just invented the first string of Christmas lights.
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