Keystone festivals return to River Run Village this summer
Over the past year, Keystone’s River Run Village has been relatively quiet and dormant save for the ski season and a handful of comedy shows. Event organizers held regular meetings to collaborate on the future of festivals in Summit County amid the pandemic and shifting health regulations. Now, the conversations have paid off with a full slate of summer activation for the ski resort.
“I’ve been describing it as drinking from the fire hose,” said Maja Russer, director of events and marketing for Keystone Neighbourhood Co., which produces festivals for Keystone.
Russer was optimistic and began planning out the summer a little before the county entered level green. She was able to rehire her entire staff of four full-time event professionals to carefully dip their toes back into the water with the mantra of “community, simplicity and safety.”
“I’m definitely approaching things from a post-pandemic eye,” Russer said. “It’s just a completely different landscape out there. We’re trying to be responsible in what we put forward from events. We knew from the beginning that … we didn’t want to be blazing the trail for events in the county. We wanted to be in lockstep with other towns in what we were doing.”
A lot of the festivals look the same at first glance, but upon closer inspection one can notice key changes made to enhance the safety and overall experience. Russer said they want to make sure they don’t have to go backward if the public health outlook suddenly takes a turn for the worse.
One of the larger shifts is eliminating a la carte food tickets and day-of sales. This means all sampling tickets must be purchased in advance and that members of the public can’t simply walk up to buy individual plates of gourmet snacks. However, people are still welcome to listen to the music and grab a drink from the festival bar or go to a nearby restaurant.
• June 26-27: Bacon and Bourbon Festival
• July 3, 10, 31 and Aug. 14: Mountain Town Music Series
• July 17-18: Wine and Jazz Festival
• July 24-25: Keystone River Run Village Art Festival
• Aug. 7-8: Bluegrass and Beer Festival
• Sept. 4: Oktoberfest
Visit KeystoneFestivals.com for more details and to purchase tickets.
The online sales help keep track of attendance since the festivals are operating at a 25% capacity reduction, and they ease the operational burden. While Russer and her team are back to normal, the other businesses in the community are struggling with hiring. Usually there are upward of 75 people working for the festival each day, but there won’t be that amount of personnel available to handle ticket sales, cleaning, cooking, staffing booths and other duties.
“It’s been an interesting balance to try to put it all together,” Russer said.
Since there are no a la carte options, to get the most out of the Bacon and Bourbon Festival happening later this month, people can purchase a Hungry Hog Package for $80. It includes 10 food samples, 10 bourbon samples, a commemorative mug, and two beers or lemonades. There is also a $35 Piglet Package of five samples, two lemonades, a commemorative lunch bag and a craft for kids younger than 21.
Another major change is getting rid of national acts that have frequently performed for the festivals, such as AC/DC band Hell’s Belles, to turn the focus to smaller, local bands. The large stage has been replaced with four microstages, as well.
Some of the bands performing throughout Bacon and Bourbon include New Family Dog, Frisco Funk Collective, Beau Thomas Band, Zuma Road and The Big Onions.
“So many of our local musicians have been out of work, and the music scene was definitely highly affected by the pandemic, so we made a concerted effort (to support them),” Russer said. “… Instead of six bands throughout the weekend, we now have 16 bands throughout the weekend playing.”
Keystone’s Wine and Jazz Festival in July will have similar modifications. A grand tasting ticket for unlimited wine costs $75 until July 1 and increases to $85 afterward. For food, there is an all-access pass that costs $60 for one dish from each participating vendor. Individual glasses of wine or other alcohol can still be purchased from the festival bar.
Performing jazz on the four stages throughout the village are groups such as Dotsero, Ron Ivory, Buckner Funken Jazz and Jakarta.
Indoor seminars involving unique wine pairings with jellybeans or tequila cocktail demonstrations are not returning. Normally held at Warren Station Center for the Arts, the venue is acting as the check-in area for the festivals because it can provide more room to spread out than the day care center that was previously used. Russer said they might do outdoor seminars at the Quaking Aspen Amphitheater, but that is still to be determined.
Starting before Wine and Jazz, however, is a different version of the Mountain Town Music Festival. Gone is the weekend event celebrating the harvest in August. Now, it has transformed into a series of four concerts spread over the two months. Additionally, Keystone Neighbourhood Co. worked with the River Run Merchants Association to expand the series’ offerings and tie in a sidewalk sale bazaar.
Dedicated food vendors won’t be on-site, but Russer said some restaurants might embrace the peach theme later in the summer. Other Mountain Town activities include performances by Chris Daniels & the Kings, Rocky Mountain Grateful Dead Revue, Blane Howard and a variety of busker-style acts.
“We have the Salida Circus coming — a stilts act, ribbon dancers and acrobats — so there is nice visual art going on leading into the music,” Russer said. “… It’s really an eclectic lineup.”
Fans of the visual arts will be happy to know that Howard Alan’s annual River Run Village Art Festival is also returning. Paintings, sculptures, photography, ceramics, handmade jewelry and other mediums will be present at the juried art show this summer.
Itinerary specifics become less confirmed beyond July. The Bluegrass and Beer Festival routinely brings 6,000 to 8,000 people a day, which Russer said isn’t feasible this summer. Yet she hopes they can continue to slowly increase the capacity, and larger bands are also in the works.
It will, however, be the first festival of the summer to have draft beer. Russer said her organization went to canned beer and cocktails at other events for safety and efficiency.
Keystone’s Oktoberfest — which draws less of a crowd than Breckenridge’s version — will likely include dancing, kids activities and beer on tap.
“It’s always been a nice, family-friendly day over Labor Day,” Russer said. “Come up to Keystone, spend the weekend with your family, and come enjoy Oktoberfest with the whole crew. That, I hope, will look similar as we move into the September time frame.”
Only packages for Bacon and Bourbon and Wine and Jazz are currently on sale. Tickets for the other festivals and additional details will be announced in the coming weeks.
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