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Rolling on the river

Erik Vienneau

One of the nation’s largest paddle sports events, the Gore Canyon Classic, has, like a gnarly Class-V rapid, swelled into the Gore Canyon River & Music Festival.Local music fans should be thrilled by this year’s unprecedentedband lineup. But many local paddlers fear the event, which started as a grassroots race down the canyon’s intense Class V whitewater nearly 15 years ago, is going too commercial.This year (Aug. 16-17) the event, which features national headlinehip-hop act the Pharcyde, funk favorite Jive and the spiritually-driven bluegrass-based act Robert Bradley’s Black Water Surprise, will be held at Rancho Del Rio for $32 instead of the traditionally free Pumphouse parking lot party.Since the mid-’80s, kayakers have been paddling the wild Class V rapids of the Colorado River buried deep inside Gore Canyon. As the sport grew and participants swelled into the hundreds, flocks of spectators followed. The three-hour hike into the canyon to watch the event is strenuous, so many fans, family and friends ofcompetitors gather in ever-swelling groups each year to camp, party and wait for competitors to return at the Pumphouse parking lot.This event was created by paddlers for their community and isn’t seen as a marketing event like some other Vail Valley sports fests.”The Teva Whitewater Festival is more of a media push to let people know we are open for the summer,” says Chris Amoroso, owner of Colorado River Center, referring to the Memorial Day weekend sports festival that takes place further up valley on calmer waters.”It’s not designed to bring world-class paddlers to the area,” he says. “The Gore is a wonderful festival that is truly a festival about people that are paddling. This is more about top, elite, paddlers like Buffy Bailey and local heroes battling it out on Class V whitewater than it is marketing.”In the past, entertainment surrounding the event was pretty simple.”In the beginning it was 20 guys around a campfire who would get up and race the next morning,” says Charlie Ebel, who organizes safety and rescue for the event and has paddled the race most years since 1989. “We’d give whatever prizes and shwag we had away out the back of a pickup truck.”In 1996 the first local bands began to play, replacing the banjo fireside set. This is the first year the event is being held at the larger venue, and the first time national acts are hitting the stage.”There’s a complaint from some boaters that it’s becoming a race around a music festival instead of a music festival around the race,” Ebel says. “We really have outgrown the Pumphouse parking lot.”He sees the growth of paddling in a positive light. “There’s a really cool energy going on and a lot of people want to be part of it, so it needed to move to a Rancho.”According to event coordinator Paul Tefft of EnviroAction Sports, the 3,000-plus crowds were making too much of an impact on the BLM land, so county officials insisted he find a larger venue for the event.That venue is the spacious, riverside Rancho Del Rio, and Tefft is taking full advantage of the move by offering a full stage, lighting and seven impressive musical acts in addition to river equipment demos, food vendors and a jumbo video screen to watch the Gore Canyon race while avoiding the tough hike in.If the past 20 years have been a small, steady step for paddling’s kind, then this year is a giant leap for the valley’s music- and sports-festival loving community.”Each year the event just grew and grew,” Tefft says. “The music was free up until last year, and this is the first year we’re having to charge, but there’s better talent. We’re taking it up a notch.”Some paddlers and fans of the festival think it should remain freeand located at the Pumphouse parking lot, but Tefft says, “if they want to give me $50,000 to put on a party, I’l do it.” He adds that he is surprised anyone is complaining about dropping $30 for a show he calls, “the deal of the century.””We had the crowd already,” Tefft says. “We figured keep the whitewater component but give everyone else more to do. Music lovers that aren’t even into paddling can now check out the sport’s unique, free flowing, river vibe.”As always the entertainment side of the festival seems to be following the growth of the sport. Over the last two years Fox Sports, ESPN and the Travel Channel have all featured the event nationally in some form or another.Just last year local acts like Sucker and Ordinary K were playing for the masses; this year the action is swelling.Call 923-3955 or surf into http://www.EnviroActionSports.com for info on the Gore Canyon Music & River Festival. More than $20,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to the day’s top competitors. Tickets are available at Mo Jo Music in Avon, B-side Music in Edwards.Friday, Aug. 16 6-7 p.m.Steve Skinner 7:30-8:30 p.m. Tuscarawas River Band Set 1 8:30-9 p.m. Premier of the Best of Gore 2001 Video 9-10 p.m. Tuscarawas River Band – Set 2 10-midnightDJ and action sports videosSaturday, Aug. 17 2-3 p.m. McCloskey Brothers 3:30-4:30 p.m. Little Blue 5-6:15 p.m. Sucker 6:45-8 p.m. Robert Bradley’s Black Water Surprise 8-8:30 p.m. Race Award Ceremony / Giveaways 8:45-10 p.m.Pharcyde 10-12:30Jive – band jam and sports videos


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