Crowds enthusiastically embrace first two shows of Whistle Pig Vail concert series: Dispatch, Robert Plant | VailDaily.com

Crowds enthusiastically embrace first two shows of Whistle Pig Vail concert series: Dispatch, Robert Plant

It's a little after 5 p.m., and fans are already beginning to queue up outside the entrance to the amphitheater. One man strums a ukulele; others set up lawn chairs for the two-hour wait until the doors open.

A few notes and that oh-so-familiar voice drift out from sound check, and excited murmurings of "That's him" ripple down the line that snakes out into the surrounding park. Multiple generations of fans clutch their tickets as they share stories of "I saw them when" and crane their necks to look inside the venue, hoping for a glimpse of the band.

It looks like a big-time rock concert, and it feels like a big-time rock concert, because it is a big-time rock concert. It's Robert freaking Plant, and he's about to play to a diminutive crowd of 2,500 people at Vail's very own Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.

Near and far

Anthony Preville, of Colorado Springs, was one of the first fans on the scene. He strode across the paving stones in the lobby area and, having never been to the amphitheater before, was enamored by the sliver of lawn and pavilion he could see from the gates.

"I'm super delighted about this small, intimate venue. I've been to Red Rocks before and been disappointed, I've felt so disconnected. This is the stage, and that's the lawn," he said, pointing out the scale of the venue.

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"I originally thought it was going to be enormous and I would be a drop of rain in a very large ocean, and now I'm way, way more excited than I was about 15 minutes ago."

Preville said he'd been to Vail to snowboard but had never made the trek in the summer. When he heard Robert Plant was coming to the mountains, rather than a cavernous arena such as the Pepsi Center, it was a no-brainer to hop in the car and see what he was missing.

"Robert Plant — I remember the very first time I heard Led Zeppelin in my brother's car, he was like, 'This is Zeppelin, dude, pay attention.' I was about 8 years old, and I've been a lifelong fan," he said.

As more fans trickled in and the line began to grow, Nancy Kitchell, of Eagle-Vail, and Valerie Woodbury, of Edwards, claimed their places, setting up their stubby-legged lawn chairs to relax in the calm before the rock 'n' roll storm.

"It reminds me of the days of Concert Hall Plaza in Lionshead," Woodbury said, referring to the defunct '80s concert venue.

Kitchell said the push to bring headlining acts such as Robert Plant to Vail is a "game-changer" that will attract tourists and locals alike.

Both Kitchell and Woodbury have been Led Zeppelin fans since high school in the '70s.

"It takes us to when we were younger, like music time travel," Kitchell said, adding that she was happy to pay a higher price for a ticket to see a rock legend in such a small, iconic venue so close to home.

Collaboration

That's the ethos of the new Whistle Pig Vail concert series, a collaboration between the Vail Valley Foundation, the local nonprofit that manages and operates the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, and entertainment goliath AEG Presents.

"We wanted to bring bigger artists, rock artists to the venue. They (AEG) truly have a dominant presence in the Colorado music scene," said Dave Dressman, vice president of sales and sponsorship for the Vail Valley Foundation.

"When we approached them initially, their response was extremely warm. They were looking for opportunities to expand to the mountains and held the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in high regard. From the start, it was a very positive conversation."

Mike Imhof, president and CEO of the Vail Valley Foundation, said the goal of Whistle Pig Vail is to enhance the current offerings at the amphitheater, not replace them.

"We'll remain protective of the existing projects. Hot Summer Nights, Vail Dance Festival, Bravo! Vail — obviously those are iconic and will continue with their normal date patterns," Imhof said.

"The objective is to look at open opportunities on the dates around those projects. How can we fill in with amazing artists that our valley would love to see?"

Four of those artists have been booked for five dates in the series, with at least one more in the works for 2018, Imhof said. Dispatch with Nahko and Medicine for the People opened Whistle Pig Vail on Saturday, June 16. That show drew a crowd of 2,287, according to box office numbers. Robert Plant sold out the 2,515-seat venue.

The agreement between the Foundation and AEG allows for as many as eight shows in the series each summer, and Dressman said he's happy with what's been booked thus far.

"The goal for the partnership is to bring artists who play Red Rocks or Hollywood Bowl or Madison Square Garden in front of tens of thousands of people to the Gerald Ford Amphitheater, where it's 2,500 people," Dressman said. "That's a special night. Dispatch, Robert Plant — the potential here is huge."

What’s next?

There are three more shows on the schedule this summer for the Whistle Pig Vail mountain music series, with a minimum of one more yet to be booked, according to Mike Imhof, president and CEO of the Vail Valley Foundation.

• 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17 — The Jerry Garcia Birthday Band ($39.50-$89.50)

• 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18 — The Jerry Garcia Birthday Band ($39.50-$89.50)

• 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13 — 311 with special guests MTHDS ($55-$99.95)

For more information, visit grfavail.com/whistlepigvail.