Lanyards and Cigarettes: Summers In Festival-Town

By Allison Perry | Telluride

We’ve all heard the popular ski town saying: “Came for the winters, stayed for the summers.” And, if you’re like me, every time you hear it you might want to punch the sayer right in the chest. Let’s get one thing straight, buddy: I came to a ski town to ski. In the winter. And maybe the spring, and fall.

Guess what I couldn’t give less of a shit about? The summer. Because the summer here ain’t any different than the summer in any other ski town, and while I love high altitude mountain summers full of hiking, mountain biking, tank tops, rivers, camping and the afternoon thunderstorms, the high-altitude town in which I spend my summers is completely interchangeable to me.

I love Telluride – don’t get me wrong – but summer here is just a pleasant side effect to how awesome the winters are. I can ride my bike and climb up gnarly mountains in countless small towns in Colorado and beyond.

But each year, without fail, just as I relax into summer, just as I feel grateful for the weather and the town, just when I think waiting for snow to fall again won’t be that bad, I am reminded precisely why this town is not like other mountain towns during summer: festivals.

As we head into our last festival of the season, and the only one I actually like to attend, Chris Viverito has given me a new saying I’d like to inject into the vernacular of ski town locals here: “Telluride. Came for the skiing. Left for the festivals.”

I have had this thought in many forms, and have vowed on several occasions to move away during summers. The swelling population we experience because of our festivals has become just too much to deal with for someone who moved to a small, remote town to escape the constant crush of people.

I don’t hate music, I don’t hate (all) people, and I don’t hate festivals and parties. Live music, wine, mushrooms, movies – all are even better when you get to enjoy them outside, surrounded by jagged peaks, sunshine, flowers, trees, alpenglow, and all that crap.

In the real world, enjoying all of these things in one large, four-day-long dose in amazing outdoor settings is an amazing experience precisely because it is novel. It is not the norm. It is a big to-do and then it is over. Locals and tourists alike can have fun together, soak in the unique experience, and then go home to look forward to it again next year.

But not in Telluride.

Here it has become the norm. Because there is a festival every goddamn weekend.

I didn’t always hate festivals. I remember living in Summit County a few years ago and going to the festivals there. The Lake Dillon Brew Festival was a small, local event that swelled the town’s population just enough to make it exciting. It was intimate, fun, mellow and easy to navigate. The ATMs didn’t run out of money, you could still use your cell phone, the cops didn’t have to hire extra personnel to deal with festival mayhem, the water supply stayed intact, and we all had fun and went home.

Compare this to Bluegrass in Telluride which, by comparison, seems designed to pack as many people as possible in so they can spend their money at the festival, benefit the organizers of the festival, and bleed the town dry of resources while providing questionable benefits to the town or the people who live in it.

As Josselin Lifton-Zoline states, “Given that these shows are being put on by major, out-of-town producers and didn’t arise organically from local culture and culture-makers like the major music festivals on the calendar, it really does feel like we’re pimping town out.”

What’s more, trying to do anything routine during a pimp-out festival weekend in Telluride, such as getting to and from work, driving anywhere, shopping at the grocery store, or simply walking around becomes overwhelming, smelly, claustrophobic, annoying and way too time consuming.

And there’s no trade-off. Locals don’t get to go to the festivals for a special price (many of us can only attend if we can score a free pass), many local businesses outside of the lodging and dining sector don’t appear to benefit that much, and restaurant employees are often simply overworked and undertipped. Why go to Flora Dora or Rustico for a meal when you can get a corn dog and all the beer you want in the venue?

Festivals, particularly music festivals, are hedonistic. And the people who have the time, the money, or both to blow off a whole week of real life to camp out and take drugs all day are usually frat boys and sorority morons, trustafarians, kids, and adults who act like kids for an entire week. Some of our “guests” put an extra burden on law enforcement and create nuisances and stinky smells everywhere they go.

They are not renting bikes, Jeeps, SUPs, or booking guided tours.

They certainly aren’t buying big ticket items like skis or bikes, and I would argue that it’s more than possible that the existence of these festivals and the ensuing crowds has become so widely expected in the region that it deters people from neighboring places from coming to Telluride to buy things and enjoy town for a day.

I don’t even think they let “regular” tourists in during Bluegrass.

Sure, hotels and restaurants must see more business, but is it really much more than regular tourist season would bring? And is it business they even really want? I’d guess asking a hotel main service might yield some interesting answers…

These hedonistic revelers, some of whom seem to believe a truly profound experience in the mountains has more to do with getting blackout drunk and puking in your tent than actually listening to music in the mountains or making time to truly experience anything Telluride has to offer outside of Town Park aside from the weed shops, are simply more of a nuisance to the town than anything else.

Annemarie Jodlowski has a nice idea, suggesting: “It’s the best introduction to town. Get them here for a concert and perhaps they will become loyal tourists who come for other festivals and winter activities. We are a tourist town.” But I haven’t seen anything in the past three summers suggesting that a meaningful number of our festival-goers are coming here for anything other than the festival.

I’ve never met someone on the ski hill who said “I had so much fun at Bluegrass I decided to make the trip here to ski instead of doing it in California where I’m from.” I have, on the other hand, met quite a few people who come to Bluegrass once and are enticed, simply, to come to Bluegrass again.

If we want to get more people here as tourists we’d be better served building a better bike park, building more biking and hiking trails, expanding guided tour opportunities, offering more free concerts and events, and drawing in a crowd of people who want to experience Telluride itself, rather than experiencing a festival in Telluride.

As Neal Elinoff states: “If you’ve read my posts then you know that I agree with this one. The idea of bringing festivals to Telluride was because we needed to bring people here to get Main Street businesses a shot in the arm. Now the festivals keep the commerce for themselves and local businesses get screwed because the festival usurps the retail and restaurant business and there are no accommodations left for money spending real tourists that sustain the vibrancy of a business district.”

While I’m not sure if this is 100 percent correct, I have to agree that no matter what, festivals do not bring in some kind of unbelievable rush of cash to every business on Main Street that justifies the fact that every weekend the town basically gets overrun by annoying, tedious stereotypes of human beings. The standard summer greeting exchanged between anyone who lives and works here year-round  has become “Is it over yet?”

I yearn for off season every summer now. You know, the season where the weather isn’t ideal for anything and we all make zero money? I LOVE it now because I can actually exist without feeling like I’m stuffed in a cage with hundreds of people wearing costumes and just being “so blessed” to be “enjoying _____ in this super awesome town!”

Go home.

Perhaps one could make an argument that the Lanyard Festival Of Entitled Pricks, aka the Telluride Film Festival, brings in some good revenue for all the businesses in town, but that requires putting up with a bunch of, well, entitled pricks for the better part of the weekend.

And no, no, I’m not talking about the celebutards. Just the run-of-the-mill bad tipping, NYC/LA-is-better, whiny, high heel and fedora wearing Illuminati wannabes that mill around Colorado Avenue demanding soy/seaweed/bee pollen infused toppers with their half cream/half almond/half rice milk cappuccinos, using their Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga bags as battering rams and saying things like (true story) “Oh, hahahahaha, we have a driver! We didn’t even look out the window on the way into town. We had no idea there was a bike path. Or mountains. I’m sorry, did we tell you who we are?!?”

I’d gladly see the town take in a little less money than have to put up with those douchebags all weekend long, and the douchebaggery I put up with is the tip of the iceberg compared to people who work in the restaurants and hotels if the stories I’ve heard are correct.

And, finally, what’s with the smoking? And no, my inner narc has not come out, and I’m not talking about weed. I’m talking about the nasty, putrid, acrid mushroom cloud of cigarette smoke that billows over town during every festival, winding its way not only into the doorways of every business and restaurant and open window in town, but also into the nostrils of anyone who dares step outside, or, god forbid, into Town Park, including the children. That’s right people. THE CHILDREN!

Yes, to all the indignant smokers – seriously, you guys still really f*ing exist? I understand it’s your right to smoke cigarettes and be completely abusive to your internal organs while you’re out-of-doors. But really, why are festivals that are placed specifically in a venue celebrating the purity of nature and the mountains such a great place to outwardly express your inner wish to die of lung cancer, or get one of those weird throat holes that makes you talk like a f*ing robot?

Wouldn’t cigarettes be better confined to, oh, say, the streets of Paris or, well, hell? And, more importantly, why do my vital organs have to share the pain and filth you bestow upon yours during every single festival, which is to say, four or five days out of almost every single week of summer.

You know what makes me want to run indoors as quickly as possible and shut the door? Cigarette smoke. And isn’t that just the epitome of a summer in the mountains?

So where am I going with this?

Festivals have indeed usurped summer. In its stead we have something crowded, loud, frenzied, stressful and overblown.

For those of us who would rather enjoy the town for itself and would prefer to invite in visitors who want to do the same, the prevalence of festivals is emblematic of the town’s willingness to further alienate locals in favor of catering to outside groups of people that will bring more money to the people who, perhaps, need it the least, at the expense of the sanity, happiness, inclusion, and financial concerns of the people who make up the backbone of this town and need revenue the most.

Allison Perry’s Ultimate Rant finds its inspiration on the Facebook group page, “Telluride Sweet Rants and Bitching”, a forum to discuss ideas, businesses, housing, government, or anything else related to Telluride, the region, and its people.

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About the Author

Allison Perry

Allison Perry was born and raised in New York City and earned a BA in Political Science from The University Of Wisconsin - Madison and a JD at Case Western Reserve University School Of Law before moving to Alaska with the hopes of becoming the next Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. Although she went so far as to pass the Bar Exam in Sarah Palin's playground, she became disillusioned with law and decided to pursue her dream of becoming a journalist and a photographer. She moved to Colorado in 2010 and after a few years ski-bumming and retailing, she was finally able to transform her freelance writing into a full time career at The Watch. Allison believes local journalism is an essential part of living in a small town, and strives to write objectively, in plain English, with a critical eye and a dash of sarcasm here and there. She is stoked to be a part of the San Juan Independent.