8/31/06 Attendees not happy @ Jazz Aspen

Jazz Aspen takes risk with Labor Day lineup

Rick Carroll - Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

A few weeks ago Snowmass resident Monte McConnell wrote a letter to the local newspapers, declaring that he planned to skip the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival because he was unimpressed with its lineup. McConnell offered a bold prediction: the festival would set a record for low attendance.

Jim Horowitz, the festival's executive director, said he read the letter, and he's heard some bickering about the musical acts that will take the stage Friday through Monday.

"I think this poses a very interesting question," he said. "People around here will let you know what's wrong with everything. And one of the biggest complaints we have over the years is 'we're tired of you bringing in the same acts.'

"So we've made a concerted effort to try to keep our lineups fresh, and it's challenging. We don't have the flexibility that Red Rocks has. We can't sit back and wait. But we're trying to cover all the bases and we're trying to do things that no other festival does."

Armed with Georgia-jam band Widespread Panic and its fanatic following for two shows in 2005, last year's Labor Day weekend festival in Snowmass attracted 31,900 over the five-day event, falling shy of the previous year's record attendance of nearly 34,000. A combined 17,400 people went to see Widespread Panic, with 10,200 of those attending the second show, held on Friday. Other headliners included Willie Nelson and John Fogerty.

The 2004 Labor Day Festival featured performances by Jack Johnson, Sheryl Crow and Steve Miller. The Johnson show attracted 11,000 concert-goers, a single-day record.

Unlike McConnell, Horowitz made no predictions for the attendance figures at this year's shows.

"Whether it's up will depend on whether there's buzz and good weather," Horowitz said. "But weather will trump everything."

Horowitz will get no argument that the musical talent at the upcoming festival is as diverse as ever, from hip hopper Kanye West to classic rocker Don Henley, along with country diva Leeann Rimes and the Orthodox Jewish rapper known as Matisyahu.

Booking that kind of lineup, Horowitz admitted, is a risk.

"Sure," he said.

Part of the reason for booking the eclectic collection of talent, Horowitz said, is because the feedback he had received in the past was that the festival was getting too staid -- with acts such as Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and others making return visits to the stage.

Horowitz said he's a bit miffed by the negative reaction, like that of Aspen's Mark McKown.

"I think it's the worst Jazz Aspen festival ever," said McKown. "And I've been to every one. This year I'm going to see Gov't Mule at Red Rocks instead."

Said Horowitz: "I think everyone is entitled to their feelings. I heard people say that John Mellencamp was not as big an act as other classic rock acts. I don't know what that is based on."

Mellencamp backed out from his scheduled Sunday performance earlier this month, and Henley was booked as his replacement. Horowitz said cancellations are simply part of the business of booking entertainment.

"You have to understand that some of the bands that we intended to have just didn't work out," Horowitz said. "The rumor of the spring was that the Black Eyed Peas were coming and the reason for the rumor was we had a handshake deal with the Black Eyed Peas. It looked like we had a deal with Paul Simon. It looked like we had a deal with Steely Dan. But it didn't work out."

But Horowitz said the negative sentiment he has received this year has been matched with an equal rush of praise.

"I just think it depends on who's talking," Horowitz said. "Music is very subjective. While some people may not consider that Kanye West compares well to Jack Johnson, it's completely arbitrary.

"He's sold way more records than Jack Johnson, but people ask why don't we get Johnson and Bob Dylan and Widespread Panic every year. And have these people seen Kanye West? Do they know he headlined Lollapalooza in Chicago earlier this month and drew 65,000 people?"

MY COMMENT: Of course Kayne West would draw 65,000 in Chicago. First of all, he's from Chicago and secondly, Chicagoans love hip hop! The question should be do they know Kayne West is an entirely different genre of music than Widespread Panic, Bob Dylan and Jack Johnson and comparing West to Johnson is laughable in my opinion! It will be interesting to see what the attendance numbers add up to be after all is said and done. Especially with Govt. Mule performing at Red Rocks on Saturday 9/2 with guests Yonder Mountain String Band pulling many thousands away from Jazz-Apsen. I have a feeling they're going to wish they had brought back Panic! - sp-