Bobby cleared for 2 bashes
The man who alternately has upset and intrigued residents with his attempts to bring a series of free, large-scale music festivals to the Grand Valley scored a double victory Tuesday when the Mesa County Commission unanimously authorized plans for two concerts this year.
Commissioners granted Bobby Willis a use license to put on a country music festival at the county fairgrounds June 23–25 and conditional-use permit for a classic rock concert in Loma for a three-day period sometime after Aug. 1.
If Willis’s attendance estimates hold up, the festival at the fairgrounds will be the largest event the venue ever hosted.
The set of approvals came at the end of nearly five hours of testimony and capped an 11th-hour flurry of activity that resulted in representatives of Bobby’s Birthday Bash LLC and county officials forging an agreement to move the country music festival away from the Loma site, which is just a few miles away from competing act Country Jam, to the fairgrounds.
“We’re very pleased the commissioners approved both items,” said Rich Krohn, one of Willis’ attorneys. “It was a very complex process with lots of moving parts.”
Despite Willis agreeing to a number of measures to mitigate impacts from the festivals and the county attaching several conditions that hold Willis accountable for delivering on and cleaning up after the concerts, several people walked away from the hearing dissatisfied. Some were upset that Orchard Mesa residents weren’t given more time to comment on the festival at the fairgrounds. The notice about the proposal to change the event location wasn’t posted until Monday morning, a little more than 24 hours before Tuesday’s hearing.
The operator of KOA Kampground, 2819 U.S. Highway 50, just east of the fairgrounds, said he is “vehemently opposed” to a festival the size of the one proposed by Willis.
Joe Coleman, an attorney for Country Jam, asked commissioners to hold another hearing to hear from Orchard Mesa residents “before you put 20,000 or 25,000 people in their backyard.”
“Before you put a notice of an event that is twice the size of anything we’ve had before (at the fairgrounds), people may be concerned about parking, safety, other issues,” he said.
But Krohn told commissioners that Willis’ representatives believe the fairgrounds can accommodate the number of people Willis expects to draw to the concert, and they changed the venue to alleviate neighbors’ concerns that the western end of the valley would be overburdened by having Bobby’s Birthday Bash and Country Jam within a few miles of each other on the same weekend.
Several residents, though, remained unconvinced that holding two country music festivals on the same weekend was in the best interests of the community. Some said it would stretch public-safety resources too thin.
Sheriff Stan Hilkey told commissioners the move to the fairgrounds could be beneficial to his deputies because it’s an easier area at which to provide security and maintain order. But it also could be detrimental, he said, because it will spread them out across a wider area of the valley.
“We’ll make every effort to make it right,” Hilkey said of monitoring Bobby’s Birthday Bash and Country Jam. “(But) I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t say it would be a stress on our organization.”
Despite the commissioners’ approval of the license, officials with the county and Bobby’s Birthday Bash must hammer out a number of details. Chief among them is how many people will be able to attend the festival.
The 20,000 or so people Willis expects to attract to the fairgrounds each day is far more than the 3,000 people the grandstands hold or even the 12,000 to 14,000 people the county fair draws on a top attendance day. County planners will have the final say on the fairgrounds’ capacity.
Commissioner Craig Meis said while he is concerned about the last-minute venue change, he believes county staff can work out the outstanding issues.
Commissioner Steve Acquafresca noted the county spent a lot of money in recent years to upgrade the fairgrounds.
“I view this as another opportunity to put that investment to use,” he said.