Dead Reckoning: Show is a go with county

JACKSON HOLE, WYO –County commissioners today gave their consent for a Dead & Company concert this summer after meeting to discuss the special events permit for three hours this morning.

Commissioners Greg Epstein, Mark Newcomb, and Smokey Rhea all voted to issue a compliance certificate for the concert at the Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch this August, subject to five conditions: (1) Traffic and safety plans must be in place by April 1; (2) All other plans due by May 1; (3) Pre-release of ticket purchases is made available for locals; (4) Music cutoff by 9pm; (5) Ensure day-to-day town/county resources are not adversely impacted.

The board of county commissioners has been slammed with emails over the past few days, mostly in support of the show. Chair Newcomb estimated 400-500 emails were received by the BCC with “the vast majority in favor.”

A reader poll conducted by Buckrail also indicated strong community support for the event with 89% saying YES.

Highline’s James Deighan said the idea of the concert came together late last year when he was approached by the band asking he find them a unique, truly Americana situation. When he proposed an open ranch in picturesque Jackson Hole, they loved it.

“The Dead can play anywhere in the world they want,” Deighan said. “But they are especially excited about the prospect of playing here in Jackson Hole.”

Commissioners agreed they all wanted to see the show. They first looked to other stakeholders who would be on the front lines should a Dead show be approved. The board received mostly assurance from first responders who said the event will stretch their resources but they were up to the task.

“We can pull this off. We can have this,” Sheriff Jim Whalen said, referring to a relatively quiet eclipse event. “Last Rendezvous Fest, we had one arrest. If that’s not a cause for celebration I don’t know what is.”

Fire Chief Brady Hansen and Fire Marshall Kathy Clay had some concerns if the worst-case scenario were to happen concerning wildfire or even a mass shooter event like the one experienced in Las Vegas.

START’s director Darren Brugman said he would run as many buses as possible but August was already a busy time for the mass transit agency.

Newly hired transportation coordinator Tom Newland expressed his concern over the perfect storm—“Armageddon,” he called it—should traffic problems in South Park exacerbate headaches from work being done on S. Highway 89, reconfiguration at the Y, and resurfacing of Highway 390.

Public comment at the morning meeting was entirely in support of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a Dead show in Jackson Hole with the exception of one commenter, Jennifer Ross. The South Park neighbor said the impacts of the music festival could not be mitigated, adding, “The right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.”

During discussion, commissioners (minus an absent Paul Vogelheim and Natalia Macker) all said they would support the event but all had some reservations.

Rhea worried about the precedent-setting “Pandora’s Box” they might be opening with allowing such a large-scale concert.

“When we wrote into the LDRs that private property owners could have up to three special events a year, I think we were envisioning more of a family reunion or daughter’s wedding,” Rhea said.

She added that it wasn’t the concert promoter’s fault that the county did not have a better-defined process in place for larger special events like this. “We need tighter restrictions,” she added.

Newcomb called “nuisance” a grey area, referring to county administrator Alyssa Watkins denial of the event based on the way the current LDRs read, but he believed the headaches of a few were outweighed by a larger community benefit a show like Dead & Co. would bring. He did, however, want to explore compensation for time and resources expenditure something like a two-day music festival would have on town and county staff.

Deputy county attorney Keith Gingery explained that, while the promoter had in the past and was willing to again reimburse cops and Fire/EMS for working the show, never had the county required staff’s time planning the event be paid for.

Promoter Deighan was also unwilling to go there, saying the concert would bring millions in tax revenue and that any other community would be happy to host it. He simply could not commit to monetary compensation without knowing a fixed cost to him.

Epstein admitted, “It will take a lot of resources; a lot of volunteer effort. We may all have to come out as a community to help the Gills clean up their land. This is about all of us coming together.”

Deighan, who joined the meeting via video chat from Colorado, thanked the commissioners and promised he would get to work right away on booking the show.

“I will put in an offer the minute I get off with you, in fact,” he said.

If Highline can strike a deal with the band’s agent and conditions are met along the way, Dead & Co. will out on two shows August 18-19.