The Snowmass Balloon Festival

With all that goes into planning the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen—booking a lineup of world-class chefs and sommeliers, scheduling a multitude of seminars, and, of course, organizing the signature Grand Tastings—the team wasn’t taking chances that the annual festival, which traditionally takes place in June, would have a second pandemic-induced cancellation. Pushing it back to September 10–12 seemed like a much safer bet.

“We really felt that it was important to ensure the safety and well-being of all the attendees,” says Diella Allen, executive director of event marketing for Food & Wine. “We’re feeling really confident about our September dates. I know it will be beautiful as the leaves change across the mountains.” Consumers apparently feel confident, too—as of May, the Classic was sold out.

Allen and her team aren’t the only ones postponing a major event this summer. Across the country, numerous large gatherings that traditionally take place in May or June have been moved to September or October in the hopes that Covid-19 cases will have gone down, vaccination rates will be up, and social distancing restrictions will have loosened. With the recent relaxation of safety protocols, the gamble appears to be paying off, as summer 2021 is shaping up to be a soft return to pre-pandemic life. “There is just something about interacting in person that is so much more personal than on-screen life,” says Eliza Voss, Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s vice president for destination marketing.

Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur and author Tayari Jones at Summer Words in 2019

Image: Daniel Bayer

Aspen Words plans to host its annual literary gathering of writer workshops, author panels, and a fundraising gala the last week of September rather than in June. “We decided that a fall conference would grant us time to plan and maximize opportunities for all participants—students, faculty, and staff—to get vaccinated,” says Adrienne Brodeur, executive director of Aspen Words. “We also hope that by waiting a little longer, people will feel safer, more comfortable gathering, and ready to celebrate.”

Other organizations have followed a similar trajectory, give or take a few weeks. Brake the Cycle, an annual fundraiser that raises money for clean water and bike access in Zambia, rescheduled its Aspen Invitational 100K road ride from July to September 4. Snowmass Rendezvous—with craft beer, wine, and spirits tastings and live music—will now take place on the Mall July 16–18, rather than in June. And Heritage Fire, the beloved celebration of outdoor cooking and sustainably raised meats, moves from mid-June to July 31 at Snowmass Base Village.

Beer lovers at the Snowmass Rendezvous

Likewise, Carbondale’s 5Point Adventure Film Festival pushed back its annual April flagship event to mid-October. Says spokesperson Sarah-Jane Johnson, “The festival experience is way more impactful with an in-person audience versus on Zoom.”

For some, just keeping an event in its traditional September slot has required a hopeful outlook. “All you have to do is look around and see that many shows in many places are being announced for the summer,” says Jim Horowitz, president and CEO of Jazz Aspen Snowmass (JAS). “That to me indicates optimism. We’re just part of the wave.” To that end, JAS will hold its annual three-day Labor Day experience—with headliners Stevie Nicks, Eric Church, and Kings of Leon—as usual over the September holiday weekend. The festival has recently drawn 10,000 people per day, and, pointing to current music industry trends, Horowitz hopes this year will be no different.

All this isn’t to say June’s dance card is empty. In fact, JAS has moved forward with the standard dates for its June Experience (24–27). Organizers of the Aspen Fringe Festival (June 11–12) are excited for it to be one of the first shows at the Wheeler Opera House in more than a year. The Little Nell took advantage of the weekend vacated by the Food & Wine Classic (June 17–20) to schedule its own Culinary Fest, featuring chefs from fellow Relais and Châteaux resorts. And a new, two-day juried art show debuts at Snowmass Village. Season-long events return, too, like Snowmass’s Thursday night free concert series on Fanny Hill on June 10 and the Snowmass Rodeo on June 23.

For the most part, events that have changed dates for 2021 plan to return to their standard times for 2022, both to accommodate attendees who plan their summers around the usual dates and to resume their posts as launching points into the warmer months. “For over 30 years, we’ve held the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen in June, and this timing has remained a fixed annual spot on the calendars of food-loving consumers, chefs, restaurateurs, winemakers, and those across the culinary community,” says Allen. “We like to think of it as a celebratory kickoff to summer.”

This year, at least, September will offer an unprecedented send-off to the season, as traditional happenings like Aspen Filmfest, Snowmass Balloon Festival, Golden Leaf Half Marathon, Ruggerfest, and Snowmass Wine Festival combine with the rescheduled events for a packed month of activity. Says Sara Stookey Sanchez, public relations manager for Snowmass Tourism, “For summer 2021, September has stolen a bit of the limelight from the other months and is about to have its moment in the sun.”

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