Vail Music Faire returns after 13-year hiatus; free festival is Aug. 28 at Ford Amphitheater | VailDaily.com

Vail Music Faire returns after 13-year hiatus; free festival is Aug. 28 at Ford Amphitheater

It was sometime in 1995, and Judy Alexander, Betsy Bradley and a few other women were loitering in one spot or another, lamenting the lack of a true live music hangout in Vail, a place where local musicians could meet and collaborate and where live music fans could get their fix.

Motivated by that conversation, Alexander and Bradley hunted down a spot on Bridge Street in the former home of the Schezuan Lion, leased the space and built Club Chelsea, opening the venue's doors to the public in February 1996.

"Club Chelsea became a meeting place for the musicians," Bradley said. "We loved the music and musicians; they just gathered there. A lot of them hadn't played together for a long time. When they had a place to go, that's where they went."

Festival origins

Alexander began searching for a new way to exhibit the growing catalog of talent amassed through Club Chelsea and its sister venue in Aspen. With the help of the Fred and Judy Alexander Foundation, which Alexander started in 1993 after her husband's passing, the Vail Music Faire soon came to life.

"People don't realize how much talent we have in this valley and also they don't get to hear each other very much because they are always working," Alexander said. "That's when the idea of the Music Faire came up to do that: Go expose the community to them and them to the community, was what it was all set up to do."

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The exact date of that inaugural Vail Music Faire has been lost to history — "I'm going to think it was like '98, maybe, or '99," Alexander said — but Airborn, a downvalley country band known for its frequent performances at Cassidy's Hole in the Wall, in Avon, was one of the first acts to take the stage at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater that fall.

"The owners of the Chelsea had the foresight to put something together that was a little bit more listenable, which was nice," said Alan Echtler, of Eagle, former bandleader for Airborn and a longtime musician in the valley. "They kind of went for quality and not quantity, and I thought that was nice."

The annual festivals continued until 2003, when Alexander left Vail.

"When she sold Club Chelsea and moved away for a while, it fell into disrepair," Bradley said.

"Nobody really knows what happened," said local musician Peter Fontanese. "There was no malice or irresponsibility; it just went way."

Bringing it back

After a decade away, Alexander decided that Vail was truly home and moved back to the valley, but it wasn't until last year that the old Vail Music Faire itch began to surface once again.

"Judy and Betsy had a very special birthday party last year, where they celebrated many years of life and friendship, and they asked me to produce all the music for that event," Fontanese said. "It went very well, and it inspired Judy to bring back the Music Faire."

Fontanese signed on as producer for the festival's revival and started connecting with members of the Vail music scene, both old and new, to put together the lineup.

"One of the great things about Club Chelsea was it featured local talent all the time, monstrous jam sessions, and two of the most notable artists from that era, Frank Chase and Prince Havely, are returning for this event," Fontanese said.

Airborn will also make a comeback, with original members Echtler and his wife, Debra, as well as longtime bandmates Ray Merry, Fontanese, Larry Dutmer, Roy Bloomfield and Bob "Bob-O" Hyans.

"The band's been together for 38, 39 years," Echtler said. "Peter and I have known each other for over 30 years, we have played together that long. Ray is one of the 'new guys' — he's been with me for 17 years — and the band going way back had one of the first albums out, as far as Colorado bands.

"We go back to like Timothy P. and the Rural Route 3, Flash Cadillac, that played regionally and tri-state-wise. We've played every major hotel and resort in Colorado, and we used to be one of President Ford's favorite bands; we played for his birthday and a lot of the early events of Vail."

Other members of the old guard will again perform at the festival, including the Kathy Morrow Quartet, Harry Baxter Band and Instant Cash, and Fontanese has also enlisted the talents of some of the newer arrivals to the Vail music scene.

"Joining us this year will be Waking April, who are some very young people from North Carolina who will be shortly making their home in Vail who have family ties to Vail, who we're very excited to mentor as part of this event," Fontanese said.

Sharing the stage

Fontanese said the Vail Music Faire will also provide local musicians with an opportunity to see one another at work, a rare luxury since most are always performing concurrently and therefore can't see the others' shows.

"Brothers Keeper is one my favorite bands," he said. "Scott is a great friend of mine, and I never get to see them. I don't have to be in their band, I can just watch their band, which will be really fun. Same with the Renegade Sons — I consider myself lucky if I get to see one of their shows."

The highlight of the Vail Music Faire for both musicians and the audience, Fontanese said, is the traditional, unscripted, all-out jam at the end of the evening.

"It's just an explosion of music and fun and talent, and it's really wonderful," Bradley said. "I just love hearing them and watching them."

"It should be fun; hopefully the people turn out," Echtler said. "There's a lot of great musicians around the valley that are playing, newer musicians I haven't seen or know them. It'll be nice to hang out and see old faces, as well as new faces."

If you go …

What: Vail Music Faire.

When: 3-11 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28.

Where: Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail.

Cost: Free.

More information: Contact Betsy Bradley at vailbetsy@aol.com.

Vail Music Faire schedule

Sunday, Aug. 28

3 p.m. — Waking April: Bethany McGehee, Alex McKee, Joy Perniciaro

3:30 p.m. — Instant Cash: Andre Lemieux, Peter Fontanese, Larry Dutmer, Bob Masters, Roy Bloomfield

4 p.m. — J. Clay Reed: Wendall Ray, Jeff Reed, Randy Bailey, Peter Fontanese, Larry Dutmer

4:30 p.m. — Justin Allison & Friends: Justin Allison, Peter Fontanese and others

5 p.m. — Airborn: Alan Echtler, Debra Echtler, Ray Merry, Peter Fontanese, Larry Dutmer, Roy Bloomfield, Bob Hyans

5:30 p.m. — Ron Hardy & Friends: Ron Hardy, Peter Fontanese and others

6 p.m. — Renegade Sons: Bob Masters, Leo Spaziani, Joe Hanley, Christian Basso

6:30 p.m. — Kathy Morrow Quartet: Kathy Morrow, Brent Gordon, Peter Fontanese, Larry Dutmer

7 p.m. — Brother’s Keeper: Scott Rednor, Michael Jude, Jon Michel

7:30 p.m. — Frank Chase & Friends: Frank Chase, Peter Fontanese, Larry, Prince Havely, Don Watson and others

8 p.m. — Harry Baxter: Brent Gordon, Peter Fontanese, Matt Lewis, Larry Dutmer

8:30 p.m. — Fabulous Femmes: Sally Peterson, Beth Kuntz, Kathy Morrow

9 p.m. — Prince Havely & Friends: Prince Havely, Kathy Morrow, Frank Chase, Peter Fontanese, Don Watson, Larry Dutmer

9:30 p.m. — Don Watson & the Vail Valley Band: Don Watson, Beth Kuntz, Peter Fontanese, David Andersen, Bob Hyans and others

10 p.m. — Musician jam session