Keeping Vail’s concerts clean
Vail, CO, Colorado
How much swearing is too much? Is grabbing one’s crotch on stage a sexual act? Does encouraging the use of illegal drugs constitute a crime? These are the questions that local concert promoters and producers have to deal with constantly.
Recent complaints to the town of Vail’s Commission on Special Events about some of the live acts brought to this year’s Spring Back to Vail festival in April is forcing event producers and promoters to take another look at who they allow to perform during both ticketed and free concerts in city limits. Could this mean the end of even remotely controversial performers on stage in Vail and a shift toward more family-friendly events in the future? Will we be seeing more Barry Manilow and less 50 Cent or just more marketing towards mature audiences?
“If it’s a free show out in the streets that other people are going to listen to without paying for a ticket, then it has to be PG,” said Diane Moudy, owner of Resort Entertainment, the company that books many of the concerts for the town of Vail and other concert promoters. “If it’s a ticketed show ” providing the money isn’t coming from the town of Vail or from the committee for special events or something ” then it’s just a parental (advisory) or an explicit lyrics restriction.”
A PG show means little to no swearing and no sexual or drug content; the clause is written into each artist’s contract voluntarily, Moudy said.
While free shows must remain fairly tame, the rules for shows that require a ticket are a little different. When the Kottonmouth Kings ” a band notorious for its stance on legalizing and promoting marijuana ” played at this year’s Spring Back to Vail event, it was a ticketed show, but according to the town of Vail special events coordinator, Sybill Navas, not enough was done to market it to mature audiences.
“I think there is an issue of what we want public dollars to support,” Navas said.
Obviously, Vail representatives don’t want to be perceived as condoning illegal behavior in any way. Because the town funds a large portion of many of the big concerts brought to town, they don’t want the artist’s actions to reflect negatively on that support. But the town doesn’t have an official position on the PG rating of those shows, instead she called it more of a “gentleman’s agreement” that each party will do what’s best for all involved.
Jeff Brausch feels his company did what it could to promote the Kottonmouth Kings concert as an adult-oriented show, including adding a warning label on the Spring Back to Vail Web site.
“These sort of shows that may have explicit lyrics and content, much like CDs and MP3’s, we put those labels on our shows,” said Brausch, CEO of Highline Sports and Entertainment.
At the heart of the matter is the different perception of right and wrong. While it’s easy to understand why parents don’t want acts like The Kottonmouth Kings or Snoop Dogg on stage preaching the benefits of smoking weed, nobody seems to care when a reggae act like Ziggy Marley or a pop act like Ben Harper sing songs like “One Good Spliff” or “Burn One Down.” At the same time, Vail wants to draw big name musical acts that will bring in the crowds, Moudy said. So where does one draw the line?
“It’s a self-policing thing,” Moudy said.
She’s booked acts such as Digital Underground, Kid Rock and Ludacris in the past and said that there’s always a conversation with the artist(s) about what behavior is and isn’t allowed on stage and most performers are sensitive to those restrictions. If they do break the rules, they could be arrested or never invited back to perform in Vail again, she said. It’s about trust, Moudy said.
That trust can also be broken, though. After all, the musicians don’t have to obey the rules if they don’t want to, something Jeff Brausch, CEO of Highline Sports and Entertainment, has seen in the past.
“You can put this stuff in musician’s contracts all day long, but honestly they’re not going to care,” Brausch said. “It doesn’t make a difference to them. And often when you try to push this stuff on them, they fire back the other way. We’ve seen that with shows with punk acts in the past where you tell them ‘keep it clean on stage, there’s kids in the audience and it’s f-bomb, f-bomb, f-bomb.'”
Of course, for every edgy act that is brought to town, there’s twice as many clean acts ” Gov’t Mule, Counting Crows and Michael Franti and Spearhead, for example.
And then there’s the C-word: Censorship. Nobody seems to want a part of that.
“I don’t think the town wants to cast itself in the role of a music censor by any stretch of the imagination,” Navas said. “We’re not trying to determine what people should and shouldn’t listen to, but I think we are trying to determine what’s appropriate for public support and that gets a little bit dicier in terms of how it’s approached or looked at by the community at large.”
Brausch worries about trampling citizen and artist rights by censoring performances, but at the same time he doesn’t want to condone illegal behavior, he said. He is also aware that not every show in Vail is going to be a ballet or a chamber orchestra.
“The shows we bring are hardly hard core. They’re very mainstream,” Brausch said, adding that the Kottonmouth Kings would probably be as far as his company would go in pushing the entertainment envelope.
“We’re charged with bringing the biggest names to Vail to pull people here, but now if we have the handcuffs on, it’s going to be tricky to do,” Brausch said.
But according to Moudy, censorship is a non-issue because the acts always know well in advance what they’re allowed to do onstage. If they can’t handle restricting their act to a PG rating or agreed upon stipulations, they have the option to bow out.
It all boils down to image. Nobody wants to be viewed as the buzz kill, but everybody wants to make money. As long as each part of the hierarchy does their part to be respectful of who the shows are marketed to and don’t book overtly offensive acts, things should continue along a mostly smooth track, Brausch said.
Those who were around for the first Spring Back to Vail concert will remember that Snoop Dogg was the headlining act. Navas still gets asked why the Town of Vail brought him in to perform, she said. She tells those people that Vail is full of Snoop Dogg fans and that those people are entitled to be entertained by him, but in the end the show needs to be marketed to the appropriate audience.
So, would the town of Vail ever allow the Kottonmouth Kings back?
“We would prefer that they were not brought back under the town’s sponsorship,” Navas said, chuckling.
With winter soon approaching, will we see a major shift in Vail’s music lineup this season?
“We’ve already started booking talent for Snow Daze and we are going to have big, major acts and still target the younger audience for sure,” Brausch said.
That should keep Eric Webb and Angela Denton happy. The Avon residents said they work a lot, and when they’re not working, they have a hard time finding things to do with the over-21 crowd.
“I think when the sun goes down and you’re ready to party, that’s what Vail and the whole Eagle County is about,” Denton said.
They both agree, however, that shows with mature themes should be marketed strongly to an adult demographic. That being said, Webb doesn’t see any reason why those shows should stop coming to town.
“If I sign up for the Kottonmouth Kings I know what I’ve got myself in for and I really appreciate that Vail will bring these bands into town,” Webb said.
High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 970-748-2939 or email@example.com.