Between the Vail Farmers’ Market and Gourmet on Gore, Labor Day weekend is sure to exhaust your senses of taste and smell.
Add 10,000 bright yellow ducks into your line of vision while some Grammy Award-winning jazz artists wail away, and you just may be approaching sensory overload.
In the Vail Valley, Labor Day doesn’t necessarily mean summer has come to a close, but we sure put on one heck of a grand finale regardless.
Vail Village sees the confluence of Gourmet on Gore, the Rotary Duck Race and the weekly farmers market.
In Lionshead, it’s the Vail Jazz Festival’s Labor Day weekend Jazz Party.
In Beaver Creek, Oktoberfest transforms the village into a Bavarian vunderland.
And the action starts today and runs all the way through Monday.
Close your eyes
When the Vail Jazz Party begins today, the opening act — 12 students who have been hand-selected from around the country — will have already been sweating it out for five days of intense training with renowned musicians the Clayton Brothers.
“These students will study under the Clayton Brothers in a two-on-one learning environment, where there’s no hiding behind the other kids in the camp and no written music,” said Robin Litt, the Vail Jazz Foundation executive director. “And that’s very unusual for today because Jazz has become more mainstream the way it’s taught; there’s a lot of written music now. These kids are going to learn everything by ear and improv for 10 days.”
The kids performed at Jazz at Vail Square on Thursday to kick off the Labor Day weekend, but if you missed it, don’t stress. The students will also perform at noon on Saturday and Sunday, where they will play for free for one hour before the event becomes ticketed starting at 1 p.m.
Late-night jam sessions
The tickets are sold based on sessions, ranging from $55 to $82.50. Patron’s passes will get you into everything for $410.
But the sessions include four sets of music, so purchasing a $55 afternoon session, for example, would start at noon and not end until 4:30 p.m. A $75 evening session could start at 6 p.m. and go until 2 a.m.
“You get a lot of bang for your buck,” Litt said. “Two years ago, we started doing the late-night jam sessions; there’s a half-dozen artists who are asked to perform and then there’s another half dozen who just bring their chops with them and join in throughout the night. They’re for the late-night crowd and are included in with an evening session ticket. Some of them don’t start until 11:30 p.m., and last year, they didn’t wrap up until about 2 a.m. And what makes it really cool is usually by Saturday night our 12 students have enough guns to join in, and we encourage them to do that at the late-night jams, so you’ll have a 16-year-old student playing alongside at three-time Grammy winner.”
‘Awesome street food from the best restaurants’
Last year’s Friday night Jazz Party show sold out, and this year, it’s the same headliners — Cyrille Aimee and Diego Figueiredo. Tickets were going fast at the time this story was written, so if you’re too late, don’t worry. There’s still plenty of other great stuff happening.
Just ask chef Paul Ferzacca, of LaTour restaurant, who feels something special in the air starting today.
Or maybe he’s actually smelling something fresh in the air.
“Gourmet on Gore is a great opportunity,” he said. “You can taste awesome street food from the best restaurants and caterers here in the Vail Valley.”
Last year, during Gourmet on Gore, Mountain Cupcakes owner Lauren Smith passed on that opportunity and was forced to watch the festivities from her shop window right there on Gore Creek Drive.
“After seeing all the culinary talent that was showcased, I really wanted to be a part of it,” she said.
Motivated by the impressive work of the vendors Smith saw last year, she plans on bringing her best specimens.
“I have a chocolate blueberry that goes wonderfully with a nice red wine,” she said. “It will be perfect for Gourmet on Gore; I think people are going to love it.”
Of course, here in the Vail Valley, the bar has been set high (and the frosting has been stacked tall) for the trendy treat.
Liz Rackoff, of Batter Cupcakes, has mastered the craft since opening in 2007.
No stranger to the Gourmet on Gore festival, she went with green tea and strawberry french toast cupcakes, among many creative others, at last year’s event.
“Gourmet on Gore is my favorite event of the year,” she said. “It celebrates high-end ingredients and quality and celebrates the end of summer.”
August Oktoberfest authentic as ever
Despite the fact it will still be August, Oktoberfest will be under way in Beaver Creek on Saturday, and it will be as authentic as ever.
Every year, you need look no further than Deutschland native Helmut Fricker’s direction to know it’s a genuine Oktoberfest, but look a little further and you’ll see many other examples of authenticity that would make Munich proud.
Beaver Creek enlists in the help of its sister city, Lech, Austria, which flies out a dozen performers to relieve and assist Fricker on the accordion and alpenhorn.
“And this year, Crazy Mountain Brewery is brewing specific beers just for Oktoberfest,” said Lauren Ciarallo, Beaver Creek special events manager. “We’ve always had great beers, but this year we’re really excited about using a local microbrewery, it’s great to really partner at this level and only use their beer the whole weekend.”
This year’s Oktoberfest headliner will be Who’s Bad?, a Michael Jackson tribute band.
Beaver Creek Oktoberfest will continue into Sunday with the annual Oktoberfest Shuffle, a non-competitive walk, hike or run on your choice of a 5k- or 10k-course across the scenic trails of Beaver Creek Mountain. You can register by contacting the Beaver Creek Hiking Center at 970-754-5373.
Labor Day Charity
The Vail Valley Charitable Fund will benefit from the proceeds raised at the Oktoberfest Shuffle, which begins at 8:30 a.m. Sunday. It will be the first of several opportunities you’ll have on Sunday to do something good for others.
Make your way over to Vail Village and get in on the annual Vail Rotary Duck Race for just $5 per duck.
Your duck goes in the water near the covered bridge, and if it’s first to cross the finish line near the International Bridge, then you win $5,000.
“It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year,” said Diana Meehan, of the Vail Rotary Club. “People plan vacations around it.”
Meehan said the money they raise helps locals here in the valley, as well as people around the world.
“The Rotary has a long tradition of contributing money where it’s needed in the valley,” she said.
And Meehan knows. She’s a second-generation Rotarian and has been a member for as long as the organization has allowed women.
And she’s been around long enough to see the Rotary’s local funds go to places that are such a staple today that you’d never think they were once in need of a little help.
“In 1972, we raised $100,000 to help Vail Valley Medical Center,” she said. “You’d never believe they were once struggling, but they were. We established the first Vail Valley scholarship program in 1977. We built the first thrift shop in the valley in 1995. We built the first bus shelters; we built the first handicap-accessible viewpoint on Shrine Pass and put the first emergency telephone on Vail Pass.”
These days, the contributions garnered from events such as Sunday’s Duck Race will help scholarship programs, provide medical attention to those who can’t afford it and help youth exchange programs which allow kids from other countries to experience the beauty of the Vail Valley.
“I just met a girl who’s here from Poland in one of our programs. She’s so appreciative,” Meehan said. “It really makes a difference in these kids’ lives.”
Worldwide, the Rotary works to eradicate polio, provide dental assistance to poor countries and get clean water to areas of the world that don’t have it.
“Participating in the Duck Race is not only fun, it’s a way to put money toward something that you can be certain will create a lot of good here and around the world,” Meehan said.