Vail area locals celebrate the return of big concerts: ’This is something I need to heal’
Demand for local, full-capacity concerts surges as the Vail Valley Foundation and AEG Presents release more tickets to see big names
Listening to music at home has kept EagleVail resident Robyn Loring Specthrie going during the past 14 months of pandemic life, including when she battled COVID-19 herself. But the experience of seeing music live, surrounded by other fans, is something that cannot be replaced by a livestream or even the best of home speakers, she said. A live concert is something else entirely.
Specthrie described herself as an “empathetic person,” saying that she feeds off other people’s emotion and energy. This is one of the reasons behind her love for concerts; she attended 57 shows in 2019 before the world of live music ground to a halt.
“When I’m sad, I tend to tuck in and I don’t share with people. Music is my genre, so to speak, that gets me through some of that sadness when things aren’t going well,” Specthrie said.
“My connection to music at home is maybe a little more spiritual where my connection when I go see music live is like a sound, body, spirit, soul connection,” she added. “It’s the energy of the people around you, everybody singing and dancing.”
It is a distinct and powerful feeling that can be difficult to put into words. Specthrie called it “energy,” another local live music lover Jason Napoli called it “electric” and Don Strasburg, the regional co-president of AEG Presents — the concert promotion company behind most of the Vail area’s biggest shows — called it “flow.”
Whatever you call it, it is an irreplicable feeling that all three said they cannot wait to have wash over them once again.
All three also agreed that this heightened state is watered down by social distancing, masks and capacity limits. Now, with the mask mandate lifted in Eagle County, the return of full-capacity concerts in Vail has been met with a year’s worth of pent-up musical fervor from locals, but some are battling mixed feelings about the safety of it all.
The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater currently boasts five, big-ticket shows in its summer lineup: Michael Franti and Spearhead (June 4), Bob Weir and Wolf Bros (June 11 and 12), Lindsey Stirling (July 8), Rodrigo y Gabriela (Sept. 3) and Death Cab for Cutie (Sept. 11), according to the Vail Valley Foundation’s events calendar.
When the first round of tickets to see Bob Weir — a founding member of the legendary jam band the Grateful Dead — went on sale in late April, the Vail Valley Foundation was playing it safe and planning a show at 50% capacity with face masks required, said Tom Boyd, the senior director of Communications and Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater Operations for the Vail Valley Foundation.
They were not alone in navigating this uncertainty, said Jeremy Gross, special events coordinator for the town of Vail.
“Everyone started their planning conservatively,” Gross said. “We were reviewing plan A and then plan B comes along and, you know, now we’re on plan M and P and getting closer to Z, which now they look much closer to 2019.”
Gross said Friday he is happy to report that the number of permits requested to hold large events like concerts has returned to pre-COVID levels.
Napoli, a “lifelong Deadhead,” was eager to score tickets for he and his wife when the first round of Bob Weir tickets was released in April, he said.
“I thought we had tickets because it seemed that way but then I got kicked out before I was able to put in credit card information,” he said. “It was a little deflating.”
Napoli called the VVF to confirm what he already knew. Tickets to fill half of the over 2,500-seat amphitheater had sold out in eight minutes flat, Boyd said.
“The types of people who love Bob Weir’s music and the Grateful Dead are extremely passionate,” Strasburg said, speaking as a fan himself. “Their passion is so strong that it makes a lot of sense that there would be a high demand.”
Eager to see Weir on what could be one of his last tours, Napoli said he looked at a few resale sites where a pair of tickets was already going for more than $700. He held off in the hopes that more would be released.
As vaccination rates climbed and hospitalizations dropped moving into May, Boyd said VVF was thrilled to put the second half of tickets up for sale Thursday, which sold out in an hour and a half.
This time around, Napoli beat the clock to score four tickets for the Friday show and, without speaking to one another, his wife snagged two tickets for the Saturday show too. Both fully vaccinated, Napoli said they are incredibly excited for the show and feel fortunate to go into it without any safety concerns.
Specthrie was unable to score Bob Weir tickets but will be going to see Michael Franti at the Ford Amphitheater in addition to his show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, she said.
For her, the return to her beloved world of dancing to live music in crowded lawns surrounded by friends looks a bit more complicated, she said. She is excited, but the post-traumatic stress of battling a severe COVID-19 infection early in the pandemic still hangs over her.
Specthrie has chronic lymphocytic leukemia, leaving her with autoimmune issues. When she contracted the coronavirus last March, she said she was sicker than she had ever been with COVID-19-induced pneumonia – an infection that lasted 34 days.
The sickness and nearly two months of social isolation left lasting marks on her physical and mental health, Specthrie said.
“I have some long COVID symptoms. I lost 25% of my lung capacity,” she said. “So, living at altitude, that’s become a problem, and I’m a hiker and a biker and a skier and it’s restricted my altitude activities.”
The infection has also impacted her ability to be comfortable enough to feel the sweet release that she loves so much about live music, Specthrie said. She is excited to see Franti at the Ford Amphitheater, where she will be in the lawn surrounded by vaccinated friends, but is anxious about the show at Red Rocks, which will also operate mask-free at 100% capacity.
“Music is a huge part of my heart and soul. So, not being able to keep up with my regular activities, music is like the one thing about my normal life that I can actually try to regain,” Specthrie said. “And I have to figure out how to do that with the balance of the anxiety that comes with being in a crowd of people.”
She said she plans to wear a mask to the Red Rocks show to make herself feel more comfortable and has accepted the fact that she may end up leaving if she gets too anxious. She is eager to attend more shows, but likely won’t go to any that are indoors.
Specthrie asked that people think twice before they judge someone who continues to wear a mask or keep their distance in these times as they are likely just trying to enjoy themselves in a way that makes them feel safe and at ease.
While Specthrie was back on the East Coast visiting family this week, she decided to dip her toe in the water by seeing a smaller live show at a local bar, she said.
“I stood by my table and I moved my feet and it was so good to hear live music,” she said. “It made me realize that, OK, this is something I need to heal a little bit from this year of disconnection.”
A second round of tickets for the Michael Franti show was also released Thursday, Boyd said. Death Cab for Cutie tickets went on sale Friday morning, Strasburg said, so there are still plenty of opportunities for local music lovers to reconnect with the electric, communal experience of listening to live music together.
Email Kelli Duncan at email@example.com