The age of adapting: Summit County experiments with virtual, socially distanced events during pandemic
March 2020 was a month many won’t soon forget. Schools, offices, restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms, venues, parks and more closed as novel coronavirus cases rose. Concerts, conferences, conventions, sports games, tournaments and other entertainment events were canceled while the reach of COVID-19 was made more apparent. In Summit County, the gravity of the situation became clear when ski areas went beyond social distancing protocols and shut down all operations within a weekend.
Local event planners, who rely on the throngs of visitors on a weekend getaway for attendance, had their world grind to a halt.
“I remember we were all in the office and it was kind of a moment of panic and confusion and not knowing what our role would be in it,” said Sydney Schwab, Silverthorne’s arts and culture manager. “I actually was reassigned. I’m still working on the virtual events, but I was temporality reassigned as the business recovery liaison.”
The town’s First Friday event for March, a rail jam at the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, happened as planned with the addition of extra hand-sanitizing stations. It wasn’t until later that Silverthorne canceled April’s First Friday, a bonfire called Burning Snowman. The Christmas trees and wooden pallets are still stacked up waiting to be lit.
The Susan G. Komen Colorado Snowshoe for the Cure scheduled for March 7 at the Frisco Nordic Center became one of the first local events canceled. Shortly thereafter, the Frisco BrewSki and Keystone’s Rocky Mountain Country Fest were scratched along with other celebrations.
“We had one band that had actually gotten in their tour bus and headed into Colorado from Texas,” said Maja Russer, director of events and marketing the Keystone Neighbourhood Co., which hosts events in Keystone’s River Run Village and at Warren Station Center for the Arts. “They had to turn around.”
Russer noted that all parties involved have been understanding of the cancellations as they serve the public good and are out of people’s hands. Since that weekend, there were eight more events, both public and private at the Warren Station venue canceled or postponed. Though even the dates of the rescheduled events aren’t firm.
“This has been event Jenga or a giant event jigsaw puzzle,” Russer said. “It’s subject to Summit County Public Health if we can move forward with any events.”
This story previously published in the Summer 2020 edition of Explore Breckenridge & Summit County magazine.
The Keystone Neighbourhood Company ended up canceling all of their summer 2020 events “out of an abundance of caution.”
Many of these events benefit local nonprofits. Frisco’s Concerts Not In The Park (usually known as Concerts in the Park), for instance, has beverage sales going to a different organization each week. Organizers hope attendees will continue their generous contributions even when the occasion turns virtual.
“Last year alone, we partnered with at least 20 nonprofits and raised at least over $80,000 for those nonprofits through our events,” Frisco Events Manager Nora Gilbertson said. “We owe it to our residents, our local businesses and nonprofits to not outright cancel and to re-envision these events so they can hold a special meaning in a different way.”
Ashley Hughes with Breck Film Fest has relished the need for quick decision-making. The nonprofit’s April fundraiser has been postponed, hopefully to August, but Hughes and staff were quick to pivot the Summit Film Society’s monthly screenings to digital streaming rentals. Though she said streaming has lessened with better weather, April’s screening made them more money than if it would have been in person.
September’s annual film festival is planned to be a hybrid event with physically distant feature films shown at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge for one weekend in conjunction with monthlong streaming opportunities and Zoom panels.
“It’s cool because we’re able to do events across the county, not just in Breck, which is one of our goals,” Hughes said. “We can present things in ways that people could still feel comfortable about and even have a whole bunch of people who never even heard of us, learn about us.”
In planning for the uncertain future, the organizers have started biweekly phone calls where they collaborate. Russer, who has been in this line of work for about 18 years, said it reminds her of how is used to be in Summit County when events were held at specific times to not poach from the limited number of guests. But as the county grew in popularity, so did the number of simultaneous festivals. Schwab and the others have appreciated the calls and how they promote communication.
“That’s been a great resource and way to build relationships with other event coordinators in the county,” she said. “I think we’ll continue to meet after all of this is over, and that’s really a positive.”
Many details are still up in the air for this summer’s events. For Keystone’s festivals, Russer is planning to serve alcoholic beverages from cans rather than taps and for reservations to be required so small parties can gather at designated outdoor tables.
The Colorado BBQ Challenge in Frisco will occupy the same footprint on Main Street but have fewer vendors, with an emphasis on local vendors. High-touch activities such as face painting and bounce houses have been postponed for next year. Races, such as the Bacon Burner 6K or LAPS K94K aim to happen in waves so that participants are spread out.
“This is the year us events folks really get to exercise our strength,” Gilbertson said. “We’re scrappy and nimble folk. We are all optimistic, but still realistic.”
As of June 1, the following are confirmed virtual and in-person events happening through October. Many details are still to be determined and, as with most things related to the coronavirus pandemic, subject to change. Please double check with venues and organizers before making plans.
July 2-30: Free Concerts Not In The Park, 5:30 p.m. Thursdays livestreamed from 10 Mile Music Hall
July 3: Silverthorne First Friday, drive-in movie with Breck Film Fest
July 11: Frisco Triathlon, 9 a.m. at Frisco Bay Marina
July 14 and 28: Mountain Goat Kids Trail Running Series, 5:45 p.m. at Frisco Day Lodge
Summit Film Society screening
Aug 1: LAPS K94K, 9:15 a.m. in Frisco to benefit the League for Animals & People of the Summit
Aug. 6-20: Free Concerts Not In The Park, 5:30 p.m. Thursdays livestreamed from 10 Mile Music Hall
Aug. 7: Silverthorne First Friday, art show held in conjunction with the Summit County Arts Council
Aug. 8: Run the Rockies Trail Races, 10K and half-marathon at 8 a.m. at the Frisco Day Lodge
Aug 15: 10th Annual Frisco Bay Marina Kids’ Sandcastle Competition at 10 a.m.
Summit Film Society screening
Breck Film Fest fundraiser
Sept. 4: Silverthorne First Friday, concert at Rainbow Park
Sept. 17-20: Breckenridge Film Festival, programming to be announced July 1
Sept. 20: Fall Local’s Party, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Frisco Bay Marina
Sept. 24-26: Colorado BBQ Challenge on Frisco’s Main Street
Sept. 26: Bacon Burner 6K, 9:30 a.m. at Frisco Bay Marina
Oct. 2: Silverthorne First Friday, Locals’ Appreciation Party
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