Michael Franti Trio, Lettuce headline Snow Daze celebration, Dec. 9-11 | VailDaily.com

Michael Franti Trio, Lettuce headline Snow Daze celebration, Dec. 9-11

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily

Time flies when you're having fun — which is why it's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since the Counting Crows took the stage during the inaugural Snow Daze celebration in Vail.

That first festival, a full decade ago, featured not only the Counting Crows, but also a speed dating event, the Dummy Gelunde World Championships and a performance by Beastie Boys DJ Mix Master Mike, as well as various other events designed to kick off the ski season in Vail.

Since then, Snow Daze has bulked up and slimmed down more than a reality TV show contestant. While certain elements — events such as the Dummy Gelunde World Championships (which later became the Dummy Demolition Derby) and the Snuggie Pub Crawl — are now nothing more than #tbt posts, the core purpose of Snow Daze remains: to kick off the ski season in Vail.

A brief history of nearly everything

Snow Daze was initially created as a bookend event for Spring Back to Vail, said James Deighan with Highline, the company that partners with Vail Resorts to produce the event. While Spring Back to Vail was created to bring people who were already familiar with Vail back in the slower ski season in April, Snow Daze was created to bring the crowds in December.

The initial Snow Daze festival was a two-week affair that lasted from Dec. 4 to 17, 2006. Counting Crows were the big news: "one of the highest-profile concerts in Vail's history," according to the Vail Daily's Ted Alvarez in an article about the event. Music was prevalent — Mix Master Mike closed out the party with a free concert — but the other events were designed to get people on the slopes and pumped for the season.

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For the next 10 years, Snow Daze continued on its crusade to get people pumped for ski season. Organizers created occasions to dress up, snow dances were scheduled, drink specials were rolled out and big-name bands performed in conditions that their contract riders didn't even think to cover.

Deighan remembers 2010: the year that it snowed so much, Dwight Yoakam didn't want to go on stage. That year, Edwin McCain was opening, warming up the crowd and (hopefully) the stage. Yoakam was worried the snow was going to freeze him up. His manager told Deighan that it wasn't safe for Yoakam to go on … but that Deighan could talk to the singer himself.

Deighan boarded the tour bus, and the two sat down and talked about a variety of topics, including Yoakam's movie career, his singing and songs that resonated with them both.

"Then I basically said, Edwin McCain has been there for an hour … I think you're going to be OK," Deighan said. "He smiled and gave me a high-five and said, 'OK, we'll get her done.'"

And he did.

Other memories resonate from the audience's perspective.

Yukon Kornelius, a rock music super group with members from Guster, Dave Matthews Band, Barenaked Ladies and others, performed for the first time in 2009; they returned to Vail Snow Daze in 2011.

"It was the first time we had seen that lineup (I think the first time they had ever played together), and we all were all a bit skeptical," said Edwards resident Sean Hanagan in response to a query on Facebook. "They come out and tore the house down the whole night, with Dee Snyder rocking like he was 20. He was still stacked and had that killer hair. Jason Biggs (actor, "American Pie") comes out to rock the cowbell on 'Don't Fear the Reaper.' The combination of talent and the surprise of the set list were epic."

Hanagan wasn't the only one impressed with the lineup.

"I would tell you that the largest amount of talent ever gathered on a stage for Vail Snow Daze would have been Yukon Kornelius," Deighan said. "Two iterations: once at Dobson and it was spectacular, then they raised the bar (in 2011) and brought in even more talent … the collaboration becomes one of the greatest concerts you'll ever see."

Other favorites included Weezer, Wilco, Ludacris, 10,000 Maniacs, OAR and Michael Franti & Spearhead.

Returning friends

Franti, who is no stranger to Colorado in general and Vail in particular, returns Friday to kick off this year's Snow Daze. Franti first performed during Snow Daze 2012; he also headlined the 2015 FIS Alpine Ski World Championships in Vail.

Franti, who is known for a distinctive sound that blends rap, reggae, hip-hop, soul, funk and now dance, seems to epitomize the spirit, exuberance and sense of untapped potential that a new ski season brings.

"I think that when people are up on the mountain, they've come there for the thrill of skiing or snowboarding and the adrenaline rush of that, but they're also there because they love being outdoors and they love nature," Franti said. "As a musician being able to play on the mountain, I share that same appreciation of adrenaline and natural beauty, so I get excited to be there with people who are that and who also care about the mountain and want the mountain to be the healthiest that it can be for generations."

Michael Franti & Spearhead released "Soulrocker" in June. The band's ninth studio album, "Soulrocker" is "a musical relief for people who are feeling stressed out about the condition of the world," Franti said.

"It's not supposed to be something that makes you forget about what's happening in the world, but a record that inspires you to do something about it and inspires you to find what your role is in making the world a better place," he said.

With more electronic and dance influences than have been heard on earlier albums, Franti continues to explore — and expound upon — the ideas and influences that color his sound.

Snow Daze is a performance by the Michael Franti Trio, rather than the full Spearhead experience. But in whatever configuration he plays, Franti is a performer who should not be missed — a force that needs to be seen to be truly experienced.

"It's going to be a day to bring people together from all walks of life and experiences and to be inspired through music to go out and face the challenges of their life and the challenges of the world full of life," Franti said.

Then there's the snow. No one is really sure how the organizers manage it, but it inevitably snows during Snow Daze. Attribute it to the traditional snow dance performed by members of the Ute Native American tribe at the inaugural Snow Daze, a meteorological phenomenon or simply the approval of Mother Nature, but a multi-inch snowfall is the norm during the event.

Let's hope that this year's event brings the snow, in addition to the music and memories.

Vail Snow Daze schedule

Friday, Dec. 9

8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. — Vendor Expo Village, base of Gondola One in Vail Village

6 p.m. — Free live concert presented by Bud Light: Michael Franti Trio, with opening act Turntable Review, Solaris Plaza in Vail Village (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)

Apres and after-dark parties in Vail and Lionshead villages

Saturday, Dec. 10

8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. — Vendor Expo Village, base of Gondola One in Vail Village

6 p.m. — Free live concert presented by Bud Light: Lettuce, with opening act Marvel Years, Solaris Plaza in Vail Village (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)

Apres and after-dark parties in Vail and Lionshead villages

Sunday, Dec. 11

8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. — Vendor Expo Village, base of Gondola One in Vail Village

Apres and after-dark parties in Vail and Lionshead villages

Decade of Snow Daze

Here’s a list of headliners from the past 10 years of the season-opening festival in Vail.

• Big Head Todd and the Monsters (2015)

• JJ Grey and Mofro (2015)

• Lukas Nelson (2014)

• The Wallflowers (2014)

• Rusted Root (2014)

• 10,000 Maniacs (2014)

• Rebelution (2013)

• Big Head Todd and the Monsters (Matisyahu opening) (2013)

• Wilco (2012)

• Michael Franti & Spearhead (2012)

• The Shins (2012)

• Guster (2011)

• Jakob Dylan and Band (2011)

• Yukon Kornelius (2011)

• Mix Master Mike (special concert) 2010

• Dwight Yoakam (Edwin McCain opening) 2010

• OAR (2010)

• Weezer (2010)

• Yukon Kornelius (2009)

• Eve 6 (2009)

• Leftover Salmon (2008)

• Big Head Todd & The Monsters (2008)

• The Fray (2008)

• Ludacris (2007)

• The Roots (2007)

• Ziggy Marley (2007)

• Social Distortion (2007)

• Counting Crows (2006)

• Mix Master Mike (2006)