BUENA VISTA • Just outside city limits, on a tree-lined field of grass bordering Cottonwood Creek and yielding stunning views of the Collegiate Peaks, country music star Dierks Bentley gazed upward.
“Those trees turn more yellow as the day goes on,” he said, nodding toward a patch of aspens more golden than the rest on one peak.
Dressed in black board shorts, a black T-shirt from local gear shop the Trailhead, sandals and a black Seven Peaks ball cap, Bentley looked much like a member of the busy crew feverishly setting up the Seven Peaks Music Festival site Thursday afternoon. He spoke softly next to the three-story stage being assembled. His partner in developing the country music festival, Brian O’Connell, spoke louder.
“Welcome to what we hope to be a long-standing tradition,” said O’Connell, concert promoter Live Nation’s president of country touring.
“It’s kind of an emotional time for everybody on staff here. My buddy Dierks and I, we’ve been friends forever. We wanted to do a signature music festival together, and this is it.”
Bentley added, “It’s going to be a kick-ass festival.”
With Bentley’s star power, and big-time country acts Miranda Lambert and Brothers Osborne, rocker Elle King, and ’90s country favorites Clint Black and Sawyer Brown, among others, the festival running Friday to Sunday is no small endeavor.
Why Colorado, and specifically the small mountain town of Buena Vista, with its cozy population of fewer than 2,800?
Bentley, 42, who has 16 No. 1 songs, including “What Was I Thinkin’?,” and “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)”, recorded his latest album “The Mountain” in Telluride last year and fell in love with the state.
“I’ve been looking for more excuses to come out here,” he said. “I’m so mellowed out just being here. It’s four days without going into a building.”
Thursday was only the third time the Arizona native and father of three children, 4, 7 and 9, had visited Buena Vista. He arrived on his tour bus, “Goldie,” a bit earlier in the day, fresh from a gig in Salt Lake City.
“You couldn’t plan this place. There are so many unique things about it,” he said. “It’s exciting to be part of something from scratch. I mean, I make records from scratch, but it’s different when it’s something you’ve been planning. It’s exciting to see it all come together.”
They looked at sites in Denver, but none had the beauty or feel of “BV.”
The festival was planned with the average Joe in mind, down to the ample numbers of port-a-potties and the lack of a VIP seating section in front of the stage, O’Connell said. “The everyday fan is so important to the lifeblood of the festival. We made it so there’s nothing stopping people to get to the front of the stage. The only thing that’s going to get in your way are people. There’s not going to be a barrier.”
With festival passes starting at $215 for the three days, and on-site camping and parking costing extra, the event is an investment for that average fan. The organizers expect at least 10,000 fans to make the site a temporary Labor Day weekend home, and they’re prepared to accommodate three times as many.
Tickets were sold to people in 49 states, O’Connell said.
“We haven’t had any challenges so far. We kind of anticipate everything going on. Nine in the morning tomorrow, that’s when the challenges come in. If I gotta cut a tree down, I’ll cut a tree down,” he said. The tree canopy next to the site’s VIP area had to be “raised” by cutting out branches to make a better sight line, he said.
If a fan doesn’t like the musician on the main stage Saturday and Sunday, a second tented stage is set up across the way with a lineup of “baby bands” — up-and-comers such as 21-year-old country singer Abby Anderson. That stage is named Whiskey Row, after Bentley’s chain of bars.
There’s also a Somewhere on the Beach area, so-called for Bentley’s hit of the same name, where more tunes will be pumping.
Two college football viewing tents complete with bean-bag chairs are also ready for fans who want to watch weekend games, including CU vs. CSU and Notre Dame vs. Michigan. And if you want beer, wine or cocktails as well as fair food, there are multiple vendors. A cocktail will run you $13; a bottle of pinot noir starts at $38.
O’Connell said the place is designed for fans to move around. “We call it festival-ing. We don’t tell you how to have fun; we just provide you with the opportunity.”
Bentley will play a full set Sunday night to close the festival, but he plans to be on stage with other acts, including Brothers Osborne. He said he’s a fan of their song “Heart Shaped Locket” and wouldn’t mind getting in on it. “I’ve gotta make that happen,” he said.
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