So This Is Country
Even for those who may not have any country music in the “recently played” tab of their digital jukebox, this three day music festival had quite a bit to offer. The seasoned entertainers in Clint Black, Terri Clark, Sawyer Brown, Del McCoury, and Sam Bush were all in great shape as they bantered with the crowd, told some stories, and called on the concert site’s wondrous surroundings to set the mood. Black’s shout-out to Willie Nelson as he dedicated a song to the oft ailing singer was sweet and amusing, “Hey Willie if you’re out there, come on up! I don’t know if he’s here but it sure smells like Willie.” (*weed reference) These veteran artists established a high bar for songwriting and musicality.
Young upstarts The Cadillac Three – “I want to thank Dierks Bentley for letting basically a heavy metal band from Nashville that plays country music ride his coattails all the way to Colorado” – impressed with wicked guitar licks and Jagger Swagger. The Brothers Osborne played a set that paired a modern guitar master (John Osborne) with likely the best vocalist of the weekend (TJ Osborne) in a set that would have convinced both Lynyrd Skynyrd and Garth Brooks that the legacy lives on. As Saturday turned twilight and the crowd swelled to a sea of swaying couples hemmed in by regiments of lawn chairs, we saw testimony to the true country connection made through plain-sung lyrics with catchy turns of phrase. Miranda Lambert finished her groove-country redneck anthem “We Should be Friends,” and a woman who had belted out every lyric along with her turned around and attempted to make friends with the closest 17 or 18 people in the mob behind her. “We should all be friends,” she insisted. Elle King brought her rougher take on music to Sunday evening that nearly ruined the vibe for some, but provided some welcome edginess and substance for others.
Dierks Bentley, as the main organizer of the event, worked his tail off through the weekend. He sat in on a song or two with almost every other artist. In the context of thousands of adoring fans singing along, lyrics such as “I’m a little bit steady but still little bit rollin’ stone/I’m a little bit heaven but still a little bit flesh and bone…” turned from cliche clutter to kind of inspirational. As a group, these fans seemed to represent a culture of their own, one in which these musicians have earned a place as poets. In conclusion, while today’s country music is not for everyone, it really is the voice of a culture and ticket sales like those at this festival don’t happen by accident.
“The Meadows” has seen three very different festivals come through in the past few years. From the inaugural “Vertex” festival, to the mellow “Camp out for the Cause” and now with “Seven Peaks,” the property is finding an identity. With the primary stage at the west side where noise levels are manageable and only one secondary, tented in stage at the opposite end of the field called “Whiskey Row,” this event was focused and well run. Efforts were made with ample vending and even a college football viewing station to provide some diversion, and the pond on the property turned into “The Somewhere on a Beach Party,” replete with floating toys, hammocks, a cafe and a DJ. It gave an Ozark resort feel to the whole affair. The majority of fans who camped through the whole three day period reported they were tired but had enjoyed the whole thing thoroughly; even the kids stayed entertained. A relatively affordable stay at a lakeside resort in the mountains would run about the same costs without the banner level entertainment. We heard several complaints of 20 dollar drinks and the like, but seeing three days without an ambulance in sight and only an infrequent stumbling guest, one has to wonder whether the high alcohol prices may have been the right choice.
Security was well managed with a clear perimeter and friendly staff that drew heavily from local police departments. The cops we talked to really enjoyed the experience and were treated well. The back story from many of the staff and even some of the media personnel, however, was a looming memory of working the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, where a gunman killed more than 50 people and injured nearly 400 last year. This, like Route 91, was also a Live Nation event and even featured some of the same performers. As such, some cars got searched for firearms and no chances were taken by the Live Nation team. That amount of caution paid off, and hopefully it stood as a healing experience for the staff.
Buena Vista did catch a bit of star-fever, with locals firing off pictures scored with Dierks Bentley at the Lariat, The Jailhouse and in VIP situations around the festival grounds. Kiefer Sutherland was spotted down south, rubbing elbows with patrons of Benson’s Tavern in Salida. Bentley and Live Nation were open to local interaction and did seem to show genuine appreciation to the community. He even added local pickers Rapidgrass to the lineup on one of his visits. A shuttle brought festival goers in the mornings and late night from The Meadows to downtown for food and entertainment. A healthy, but not overwhelming amount of traffic arrived in BV over the course of the weekend. Buena Vista Chief of Police Jimmy Tidwell reported some traffic backup, but not “not one arrest related to the concert.” Locals did grumble somewhat about the lack of single day passes, but there was a surprising sense of contentment with the way this event proceeded compared to previous events.
As a whole, the Seven Peaks Music Festival should be considered a win. The Meadows and Buena Vista have been established on a national stage as a low key, friendly, mountain resort-style music venue that can accommodate a large crowd. It can offer the best of the back country with basic, but quality amenities at a fair price. Festivals of this nature every few months have the potential to be a boom to the local economy and culture without destroying the integrity of the community – as long as these events continue to be well-managed, well-secured, and well-mannered.
(All photos by Cailey McDermott.)