311 concert caps busy season for the Vail Valley Foundation | VailDaily.com

311 concert caps busy season for the Vail Valley Foundation

Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part series summarizing the Vail Valley Foundation's summer activities. Find the second part in the Friday, Sept. 14, Vail Daily.

It's hard to imagine life around Vail without the Vail Valley Foundation.

This summer if you attended Vail Dance Festival's 30th anniversary season; the GoPro Mountain Games' biggest year ever; the Colorado Classic's return; any of the new Whistle Pig Vail concerts; or any of the free shows at Hot Summer Nights or ShowDown Town, then you've attended an event put on by the Vail Valley Foundation.

The Foundation also runs the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek, as well as YouthPower365, which provides educational programs to children in the valley year-round.

In 1981, the Vail Valley Foundation was founded with a mission to raise the quality of life for those living in the valley and visiting through arts, activity and education, and today, the organization is being led by Mike Imhof, who joined the Foundation in 2007 and has been president for the past three years.

"He really is steering the ship in the right direction," said Dave Dressman, Vail Valley Foundation's project manager on Whistle Pig and event director of Mountain Games. "He's created a really great culture internally at the (Foundation)."

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In its nearly 40-year history, the Foundation celebrates the end of perhaps its busiest summer with the final Whistle Pig Vail concert on Thursday, Sept. 13, when 311 takes the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater stage in Vail.

"It's important that we stay on mission, and our mission is to raise quality of life through arts, athletics and education," said Ann Smead, chairman of the board of the Vail Valley Foundation. "What's important to us is that we have set a very high bar for all of our pursuits, and while we will never rest on our laurels, it's satisfying to look back on the summer of 2018 and acknowledge a job well done."

With an estimated $10 million economic impact this summer, here's a look back at the Vail Valley Foundation's summer events and where they are going in the future.

"As exciting and action packed as this summer was, I think next summer will be even more so," Imhof said.

GoPro Mountain Games

The Mountain Games used to be a two-man operation, and it was successful in getting off the ground. But when the organizers were looking to sell the annual event to help take it to the next level, Imhof hopped right in.

"Mike's the one who had the vision to buy the Teva Mountain Games. That was 100 percent Mike Imhof back in 2008," Dressman said. "He negotiated the deal and saw the potential of the project. That can't be understated. Yes, a lot of people helped get it to where it is today, but that was his vision."

Dressman, who was hired by Imhof at the foundation 11 years ago, is the one responsible for bringing in GoPro as the title sponsor after Teva stepped down.

"This year was awesome. We exceeded 80,000 spectators, which we're thrilled about," Dressman said. "That said, if there is a capacity, we're probably pretty close to it."

The Saturday of the Mountain Games was the busiest day all year in Vail, according to parking number. More than 3,000 athletes participated, and the Foundation estimates a $6.2 million economic impact for the community.

With action moving to Lionshead Village, mostly the dog events, the Mountain Games has taken over nearly every square inch possible in the heart of Vail, and the title sponsor has been a big part in taking it to the next level, as well.

"The fact that we've been able to keep GoPro invested in the Vail Valley, the Mountain Games and still a partner of Vail Resorts is amazing," Dressman said. "They've given up partnerships with the X Games, Tour de France, Iron Man and all these iconic events around the world, but they've kept us."

The Mountain Games are a family-friendly, spectator-heavy event with free live music, as well. Amateur athletes can line up next to some of the greats in outdoor sports, including trail runner Josephy Gray and the Jackson kayak family.

"It exemplified the mountain lifestyle that originally attracted a lot of us here," Imhof said.

Dressman said the Mountain Games will be fine tuned moving forward, with a solid foundation already built for the annual summer event.

"It's the sum of the parts. The Mountain Games is not the best bike race in the world. It's not the best whitewater event in the world. It's not the best climbing event in the world. But we put everything together, and we truly feel it's the best multi-sport, adventure-sport and music festival in the world," Dressman said.

Whistle Pig Vail

The Vail Valley Foundation team operates with the community in mind, and its leaders like to listen to the community.

"The Whistle Pig Vail music series was an unbelievable success," Imhof said. "We've known for many years that one of the things our community surveys has revealed is people want more high-level, headliner music in the valley. I think being able to provide that this summer was a highlight."

Through a partnership established with AEG, a booking powerhouse in Colorado that fills Red Rocks, the Vail Valley Foundation has cracked the barrier that was keeping high-profile acts from performing in Vail. The way it works, Dressman said, is booking agents such as AEG will not let performers playing at Red Rocks book other shows usually within 100 miles until the Red Rocks shows are sold out, which usually happens the week of the show.

Red Rocks is 97.3 miles from the Vilar Performing Arts Center.

Now, though, with AEG partnering with the Vail Valley Foundation, the booking company is helping bring acts to the valley that are performing at Red Rocks, which is in high demand in the music industry.

This year, Whistle Pig Vail opened with Dispatch (90 percent sold out); Robert Plant (sold out); The Jerry Garcia Birthday Band (two sell outs); and 311, performing Thursday, Sept. 13. The Whistle Pig Vail concerts at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater are ticketed, but the Foundation also manages the Vilar Performing Arts Center and uses its relationship with AEG to help both venues.

"I think the community had an appetite for it," Dressman said. "They were willing to pay for great artists that they don't get to see at Hot Summer Nights or the Mountain Games."

Since the Bravo! Vail Music Festival and the Vail Dance Festival are firmly established at the Ford Amphitheater, Whistle Pig Vail serves to fill in other dates on the calendar around those events.

While nothing is officially confirmed for next year yet, Dressman said the relationship is strong with AEG and the hope is to have six to eight Whistle Pig Vail concerts announced this year for next summer.

"The feedback from the four shows has been resoundingly positive," Dressman said. "Dispatch was a good way to start it. It was the first concert of the series, with great energy in the venue; Robert Plant was a really fast sell-out and the feedback was that it was a very special experience to see such an iconic artist in Vail; and then The Jerry Garcia Birthday Band shows really exceeded everyone's expectations."

For musicians such as Plant, it's a chance to perform in the 2,600-seat Ford Amphitheater instead of large arenas with more than 10,000 people.

In addition to the partnership with AEG, donors to the Vail Valley Foundation also helped bring Whistle Pig Vail to the valley.

Assistant editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.