Was 2017 the best year for live music in the Vail Valley?
I have been part of the music scene in the Vail Valley for nearly two decades. During that time, I have marveled at the vast array of world-class performers who have performed throughout the valley — many times for free.
The artists include Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and some who will likely make the cut someday, as well as artists on the rise and those on the tail end of stellar careers. We have seen many acts, but it has tended to be too few and far between. That all changed in 2017.
As far as I’m concerned, from a live music standpoint, 2017 was the best year the Vail Valley has ever seen. From a splendid week in February at the Vilar Performing Arts Center to a double decker weekend that featured Elvis Costello and Ben Harper, we should salute to the promoters who brought such world-class acts and, of course, to the fans who paid for tickets to help support them.
Plethora of Live Music
It all started with a flurry in February. The Vilar Performing Arts Center had such a special week that it should have given us a clue that 2017 was going to be different than previous years.
Gregory Alan Isaakov and Martin Sexton were sandwiched around New Orleans-based band The Revivalists for three days of superb musicianship. Then March saw a world-class tribute to the Grateful Dead as Dark Star Orchestra sold out the Vilar for a special intimate affair. The Vilar wasn’t finished there, as new Executive Director Duncan Horner made his presence felt with a sold out performance by Lord Huron. This show was a massive success for the Vail Valley, as attendees from international destinations attended to see this major festival act in the small, classy venue.
Then the outdoor scene began in earnest as the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater started celebrating its remarkable 30-year run early with three stellar nights as part of the GoPro Mountain Games. With national touring acts like Moon Taxi and White Denim holding the stage with terrific support from three of the best local bands (Bonfire Dub, Brothers Keeper and Town Cavalry), the famed stage rocked thousands of people for free. The aerial slackline entertainment between acts only added to the likes of Nahko, Trevor Hall and the amped up blues of Markus King Band throwing in Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass all making for nine great acts over three days. The amphitheater was just getting warmed up as its three-decades-long presence was celebrated with a weekend to remember featuring Third Eye Blind and Rodrigo y Gabriela.
The outdoor festival season reached full stride as well in 2017, as Bonfire Brewery’s Block Party was joined by Septemberfest, and Cover Rock returned during a weekend at Avon’s Nottingham Park.
The town of Eagle’s festivals entertained jam-packed streets in its downtown with international acts such as Sam Bush, Robert Randolph, Fruition and Anders Osborne. While the aforementioned Cover Rock returned for year two featuring the best tribute bands in the world performing under the British Invasion theme. A laser light spectacular featuring The Machine performing Pink Floyd and an amazingly accurate rendition of Beatles Vs. Stones enhanced the idyllic setting along the shores of Nottingham Lake.
The stage in Avon’s Nottingham Park was just getting into full stride with two major acts performing in one-off concerts as the town went full steam ahead into presenting the grand stage as a new venue to be reckoned with. Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals overcame challenging weather while Lyle Lovett brought his Big Band to the glorious setting. The Ben Harper show was held on the eve of a new adventure in concert-going as Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Elvis Costello was joined by Elephant Revival for what we hope is just the first of many Hike to The Mic musical explorations at Spruce Saddle in Beaver Creek.
I haven’t even mentioned them all and that just shows the strength of scheduling that we can only hope continues. The top musical story of the year in Eagle County was definitely the pure plethora of live music that graced the valley.
Tom Genes is a musicologist and is on air Mondays through Fridays from 6 to 10 p.m. on KZYR. Genes hails from Flossmoor, Illinois, and Edwards. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.