Salida on Monday will announce the musical acts anchoring a two-day festival that could lure 35,000 concertgoers to town — more than double the population of Chaffee County.
Planning for the still-unnamed festival started with a phone call last fall from Gov. John Hickenlooper, who asked Salida Mayor Jim Dickson if the city would consider a proposal by festival organizer Madison House Presents.
But some people in town are worried about the environmental damage and noise impact of the one-off event that could swell Salida’s population of 5,000 sevenfold and perhaps set the stage for a future annual music festival.
The city has offered most of its Vandaveer Ranch property, where plans are well underway to develop a residential community, as a venue for the Aug. 20-22 festival. Madison House has pledged $40,000 toward a new pedestrian bridge across the Arkansas River and will cover all logistics and costs of the festival.
Salida’s 66-year-old FIBArk festival draws about 20,000 to town over four days every June, with maybe 4,000 people gathering in the downtown park for Saturday night’s concert. Salida hosted several thousand people during the Pro Challenge bike race and Ride the Rockies bike tour.
“It’s just hard for us to imagine something of this size,” Salida city administrator Dara MacDonald said. “There is no comparison. This is hands down the biggest event to ever come to Chaffee County.”
The city has reached out to other small towns where Madison House Presents has organized festivals, such as Dixon, Ill.; Troy, Ohio; and Guthrie, Okla.
“They had nothing but good things to say about working with Madison House,” MacDonald said. “From beginning to cleanup, that eased everyone’s minds a lot.”
“Great boon to economy”
The 24-page facilities use agreement — finalized by the City Council in February — is the first step, with Madison House Presents in May presenting a logistical plan that addresses ticketing, camping, noise, residential impacts, food and drink plans, emergency services and car, bike and pedestrian flow in and out of the festival.
Madison House is paying the town about $10,000 to use the land, $1 for every ticket sold and about $63,000 to cover city services from police and fire to code enforcement. The organizer has promised to reseed and repair the property after the festival.
Madison House Presents organizers told the city it would charge between $110 and $150 a ticket for the two-day camping festival.
The city hopes the surge of visitors will lead to a sizable bump in spending and tax revenue.
And the exposure from opening Salida to so many visitors — many of whom likely will be visiting for the first time — “is more than we could ever afford through straight marketing,” MacDonald said.
Salida has about 1,000 hotel rooms, so most of the festival visitors will be camping. But Madison House is planning a variety of live music in Salida’s historic downtown — at the city’s riverside park, the SteamPlant Event Center and in a host of local bars and restaurants — to spread spending beyond the festival grounds.
Organizers plan to offer music all day Friday in downtown before the festival’s first-night concert and then more music after the festival on Friday and Saturday nights. Buses will transport attendees between the festival grounds and downtown.
“The intention on the part of Madison House is absolutely to get festivalgoers into the downtown to provide the community with more benefit,” MacDonald said. “We see this as a great boon to the local economy.”
Josh Albrecht was the head of Main Street Dixon when Madison House Presents hosted its August 2012 Gentleman of the Road festival in Illinois, headlined by Mumford & Sons. The festival drew 15,000 people to Dixon, roughly doubling the size of the city.
The event spurred “millions of dollars in spending” in Dixon, Albrecht said, noting how many local businesses count the weekend as their busiest ever.
Albrecht, who visited Salida with Madison House officials for a public meeting in November, called the festival a “transformative experience” for his town.
“It will be something that people will talk about forever,” he said. “Not a week goes by without someone bringing it up to me, saying, ‘Hey, you ever think that will happen again?’ It was such an adrenaline rush for the community.”
Not everyone in Salida is stoked.
An online petition by residents urges locals to help stop the festival, arguing that the crowds at the Vandaveer property will damage riparian habitat and the noise will impact residents.
Salida City Councilwoman Melodee Hallett voted against the festival, saying the city needed at least a year for planning.
“It takes a lot of city personnel to plan and implement this sort of event, and the more preparation time, the better for the event and all involved,” Hallett said. “I believe we have better areas to stage the event, where the soil conditions and infrastructure are more conducive to a successful experience for all.”
Buena Vista is watching
Madison House Presents officials are not planning this as an annual event. Salida is years into sculpting a residential development on the Vandaveer property. Still, MacDonald does hope the event could be “a potential springboard” for an annual regional music festival in the city.
A half hour north in Chaffee County, Buena Vista developer Jed Selby is mulling a plan to transform a 274-acre ranch he’s acquired into an annual festival venue.
While those plans still are very much in the concept phase, Buena Vista officials will be watching Salida’s planning process with Madison House Presents.
“I imagine that as things iron out in Salida, there will be a lot of lessons that could be applied to Buena Vista if there were ever a need,” Mayor Joel Benson said.
In a way, the festival planning process is practice for Salida, too.
If artist Christo’s plans to drape the Arkansas River between Salida and Cañon City ever reach fruition, visitor estimates during the brief display are in the hundreds of thousands.
“It’s been mentioned many times that this is a warm-up for Christo if the ‘Over The River’ project ever occurs,” MacDonald said.
Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.