Avon reassesses 10-year vision for culture, arts and special events | VailDaily.com

Avon reassesses 10-year vision for culture, arts and special events

The crowd sings along with Pato Banton at Avon’s Heart and Soul Festival. He invited the kids onto the stage as the sun set for an enthusiastic set in the town's first year hosting the festival. Looking forward, the Heart and Soul Festival is one of many signature events that aims to trademark Avon culture.
Ben Roof/Vail Daily archive

A 10-year vision plan is in the works within the town of Avon that aims to elevate the town’s cultural elements, arts and special events to new heights. 

On May 28, 2019, the town adopted a resolution to create the Cultural, Arts and Special Events Committee. The committee was created to provide guidance on the town’s cultural plan based on research through surveys, reports and similar avenues. 

On April 17, the Cultural, Arts and Special Events committee presented a 10-year vision — in its fifth draft — as well as research from peer communities and neighboring venues to expand Avon’s special events portfolio. 

The summary of the 10-year vision details that it’s still a working document and hasn’t been formally adopted by the Cultural, Arts and Special Events Committee or Avon Town Council. 

Included in the vision is the launch of Best of the West — a music event set to showcase Colorado music. The vision also calls for continuing the Heart & Soul Festival — an event that launched last year inspired by the town’s tagline, “The Heart of the Valley.” Both would become signature events in the town’s annual calendar.

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“If council supports the concepts outlined in the 10-year vision (version five), then staff will put together the budgets to support the staffing, branding and execution of Best of the West in 2024 and Heart & Soul Festival in 2024 or 2025 and develop strategies and tactics to further culture and arts programming and activations for council consideration in the fall of this year,” reads the summary prepared by Danita Dempsey, the town’s culture arts and special events manager.

A signature event, as defined by the 10-year vision, is a reoccurring yearly event or event series with a strong association with Avon and directly supports Avon’s culture, arts, and event purpose and vision. Signature events would also host over 3,000 attendees, and the vision summary notes that the community, town staff and athletic field at Nottingham Park are capable of holding a large signature event “once every three to four weeks during the summer.”

Stella Rae Van Dyke struts her stuff during the Pride in the Park drag show Saturday, Jun 18, 2022, in Avon.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Signature events outlined in the current draft of the 10-year vision are Ultimate Après Avon, Pride in the Park, Best of the West, Avon LIVE!, Salute to the USA, Triple Bypass, Avon Arts Celebration, Dancing in the Park, Summer’s End, Heart and Soul Festival, Man of the Cliff, and a to-be-determined mid-August event as well as a to-be-determined late-September event. 

The 10-year vision also detailed several activation events hosted throughout the calendar year. Activation events are defined in the 10-year vision as “other reoccurring events and activities that are well-established and provide a variety of culture, activities and attractions for the Avon community and Avon visitors, including local live music on Lettuce Shed Lane on Saturdays.” Events listed as activation events include the annual Egg Hunt, the SunsetLIVE! series, Art Around Avon, Art Pop-Up Experiences, Terrace Shows, Lakeside Cinema, Vail Valley Brew-Au, Storytelling at Lettuce Shed Lane, Thanksgiving week music, Holiday Tree Lighting, New Year’s Eve, Fire & Ice, Fireworks in Avon and a to-be-determined spring break event “in scale and quality as WinterWonder Grass CO, but in a different genre.”

The Cultural, Arts and Special Events Committee, which has seven voting members, had a joint meeting with Avon Town Council on April 25. Presenters Dave Dressman with the Vail Valley Foundation and Mike O’Brien of Peak Performances also joined the discussion, helping committee and council members approach the proposed 10-year vision strategically in order to obtain the best return on investment. 

Some of the many hats Dressman wears include acting as the vice president of sales at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and event director of the GoPro Mountain Games with the Vail Valley Foundation, as well as putting on Hot Summer Nights at The Amp and the Showdown Town concert series in Eagle. In his work, Dressman said he understands the local live music landscape. 

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe plays as the sun sets on Avon’s Salute to the USA in July in Avon.
Vail Daily archive

One event type that Dressman explained works well locally is the marrying of sporting events with live music. With the Birds of Prey World Cup races and the GoPro Mountain Games, Dressman integrates live music within sporting events often. 

“With events all day, to cap it all off with concerts — it’s very symbiotic,” Dressman said. 

O’Brien, the founder and CEO of Peak Performances, said the company uses a tool called Gig Digger to solidify talent-buying decisions based on what kind of music people within a specific zip code — and neighboring zip codes — are listening to most. Fresh out of its beta stage, Gig Digger is assisting O’Brien and his team with finding artists to play at the 18 venues that Peak Performances books. Using prior experience and tools like Gig Digger, O’Brien said his team is booking artists at the peak of their careers as well. 

Though not all artists are a “slam dunk with mountain folk,” Dressman said. While jam bands, rock, comedy, bluegrass and reggae often do well locally, pop, alternative, and some other genres tend to struggle. Regardless, he explained that knowing the audience when booking talent is key.

The Cultural, Arts and Special Events Committee sought to understand its audience better using several surveys. The Avon 2021 Community Survey prompted community members to comment on town special events. The 2022 Business Outreach Survey asked business owners to comment on special events. The 2022 AvonLIVE! Survey asked eventgoers what could have improved their experience. All three informed the Cultural, Arts and Special Events Committee about the strengths and weaknesses of existing town events. It became clear to the committee that respondents wanted to see bigger names performing and more events overall. 

Many survey respondents last summer expressed a desire for more concerts in Nottingham Park, like the Los Lobos concert, which took place at Avon’s Summer’s End on Labor Day 2022.
Chris Dillmann / Vail Daily.

Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

In its joint meeting with Avon Town Council, the Cultural, Arts and Special events Committee collected data from peer communities with a special event “flavor” that appeals to Avon — the town of Vail, the town of Breckenridge, the town of Dillon, the town of Silverthorne, Beaver Creek, Frisco and Salida.

Looking to Avon possibly booking bigger names for live music in the future, Dressman said learning to “ride the coattails of Red Rocks” is a necessity.

“Red Rocks is the No. 1 rated amphitheater in the world,” Dressman said. “It helps us and it hurts us sometimes.”

Catching big artists on their way to and from playing the world-renowned venue is more likely than getting artists to come to Nottingham Park alone — for any other venue that stands in Red Rocks’ shadow.  

While the stage at Nottingham Park isn’t quite Red Rocks, O’Brien said the location has the capability of becoming an “it” venue like the Dillon Amphitheater. “The view of the mountains and the water is a big draw,” O’Brien said, also explaining that festivals at the park have a great opportunity to be successful. 

Though, with booking bigger talent, some live music events on the 10-year vision radar may be ticketed—which opens up a separate can of worms in terms of coordinating the event. In navigating the early phases anticipating and within the 10-year vision, Dressman recommended the town of Avon take “baby steps,” just as the Vail Valley Foundation had. “Steadily, we’ve grown based on our knowledge.”

Bigger headliners come with bigger price tags, and preparing to navigate that expense is necessary. Dressman said that an appropriate budget for a larger, ticketed event in the summertime would be around $50,000 to $250,000 for talent buying. 

“The average artist fee — really our sweet spot is $75,000 to $150,000 in artist fees,” Dressman said, also noting that with the biggest shows, fees typically top out around the $300,000 mark and have higher ticket costs. 

O’Brien also said with putting on bigger shows, the town also has an opportunity to partner with sponsors that connect to the audience or relate to the artist to help secure funding. 

Putting on large-scale ticketed shows with big-name artists would be a relatively new endeavor for the town of Avon — and could possibly involve things not going quite as planned. While “failing forward” is still forward movement, council members reiterated the need to tread carefully in the joint meeting — especially when taxpayer dollars are involved. 

Town Council supported the ideas presented in the 10-year vision, and the Culture, Arts and Special Events Committee will begin to assemble budgets for putting on Best of the West in 2024 and Heart & Soul in 2024 or 2025 — another “baby step” toward establishing the event culture the town envisions. 

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