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Seven Peaks Festival pulls out of Buena Vista after county declines to raise its 5,000-person capacity cap

Live Nation sold more than 6,000 tickets for the event before Chaffee County commissioners had reviewed or approved the concert promoter’s permit

The Seven Peaks festival was held on private property -- the big meadows seen left of the lake in this photo -- in 2018 and 2019. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)
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Live Nation on Friday canceled its Seven Peaks music and camping festival in Buena Vista and announced it was seeking a new location after the county declined to raise its coronavirus capacity limits for events.

The world’s top concert promoter was seeking a permit to host as many as 20,000 spectators at the festival on 277 acres of private land in a residential zoned area just outside Buena Vista. Live Nation began selling tickets for the Labor Day weekend festival last month, before the permit was approved.

“What the hell, Jim,” Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt said to Live Nation executive Jim Reid at a June 22 commission meeting where Reid admitted his team had already sold 6,000 tickets. “You know we have a 5,000 cap. You come in here and you already sold more tickets than our rules allow now?”

The county’s commissioners — who also serve as the county’s board of health — this week declined to raise that 5,000-person cap, effectively killing the festival. 

“I personally feel our society opened up too drastically,” Chaffee County Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom told commissioners at the county board of health meeting earlier this week. 

Carlstrom said she could not recommend raising capacity limits because fewer than 70% of county residents have been vaccinated against COVID-19. The most recent state data shows that 62.8% of eligible Chaffee County residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. As of Friday, just 13 of Colorado’s 64 counties had vaccination rates at 70% or higher.

Two of the three commissioners refused to raise event limits, declining to second a motion by Commissioner Rusty Granzella to raise capacity for events to about 10,500.

Commissioner Keith Baker on Friday said he was surprised to see Live Nation announce they were looking for a new location for 2022. The county had approved a Seven Peaks permit for the location in 2018, 2019 and 2020, although the 2020 event was canceled during the pandemic shutdown.

Baker lives next to the Meadows property, which is owned by Buena Vista’s Jed Selby. He said neighbors around the open hayfields were troubled by the traffic and noise from the concert. Many more supporters — including a petition with 270 signatures — praised the festivals in the Meadows for establishing Buena Vista as a vibrant musical hub, supporting local businesses and helping the owner, Selby, preserve the agricultural legacy of the property without developing a community of homes.

Complaints from neighbors and Buena Vista residents in 2016 forced concert promoters AEG Live and Madison House Presents to cancel a second running of its Vertex festival, which drew 8,000 concertgoers to the Meadows in May 2016.  

“Let’s be honest, this has not been without controversy for the people who live in that neighborhood,” said Baker, a second-term commissioner who attended all the concerts at the Meadows and describes himself as “a real fan of live music.” 

Baker said angry neighbors and fear of resurgence in COVID-19 prompted his vote to keep capacity capped at 5,000. 

“The pandemic is not over and every day it seems to get worse,” said Baker, speaking from the National Association of Counties annual conference in Maryland. “I’m very conservative when it comes to taking necessary precautions. I hated to do it, but what do we do?”

Seven Peaks music and camping festival’s announcement that the event is canceled. (Screenshot)

At the June 22 county commission hearing, Live Nation’s Reid said the concert promoter’s marketing strategies required the company to begin selling tickets in June, even without a permit. He described Seven Peaks as “a community event,” with 10% of tickets for the 2019 festival sold to Chaffee County locals. 

“We need to give ourselves enough runway to sell tickets and plan for fans to travel here in September, so our current timeline is to announce the talent lineup next week and go on sale with tickets on June 18,” Seven Peaks founder and headliner Dierks Bentley wrote in a June 3 letter to county commissioners. “We are complying with all previous permit application requirements, and I’m proud to say that we are even ahead of schedule. My team is on standby to address any concerns you all have and I think by working together, we will once again be able to put on one of the best country music festivals of the year.”

In Denver, state leaders are throwing $800 million to a state  economic recovery plan that  includes a focus on reviving the state’s tourism and meetings and events business.

New legislation signed into law last month directs $10 million toward incentives for organizers of conferences and festivals. Jill McGranahan, with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said the manager of the new incentive program fielded 20 calls from event organizers on the day the program went live. 

On Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis lifted 16 months of emergency health orders declaring that Colorado had “reached an important milestone.” 

Tens of thousands are expected to attend the All Star Game this weekend at a full-capacity Coors Field. Red Rocks concerts returned to full capacity last month. The Town of Vail hosted almost 60,000 spectators and athletes at the June 10-13 GoPro Mountain Games, which included three nights of sold out concerts at Ford Amphitheater. (Eagle County did not report any new COVID cases from the 100% capacity Mountain Games.) 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment did declare an outbreak following the three-day Country Jam festival in Mesa County, with at least four concert staff and 13 attendees testing positive for COVID-19.

Baker said safety precautions like masks and requiring vaccinations “are tough measures to take in a location like the Meadows.”

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