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Will county be Grateful for Dead show this summer?

JACKSON HOLE, WYO –County commissioners will consider tomorrow whether a concert proposed for South Park this summer will happen. County staff is recommending the BCC deny the show.

Board of County Commissioner administrator Alyssa Watkins will recommend denial of the Dead & Company concert being proposed by James Deighan of Highline Sports & Entertainment at a special meeting of the BCC tomorrow morning.

Staff recommendation

In staff documentation, Watkins cites numerous reasons for denial of the event. The anticipated workload on staff would be “significant and likely to affect other priorities,” she wrote.

In addition, Watkins made the findings to call the event a potential “nuisance”—defined in the county’s Land Development Regulations as “any condition or event where the noise, music, crowds, odors, and disturbances resulting therefrom substantially interfere with the enjoyment of property by occupants in the neighborhood, or any event which public resources (fire, law enforcement, ambulance, etc.) are unable to provide adequate support or the ability to provide support is diminished because of location, traffic, multiple events, size of event, etc.”

During a meeting with the concert promoter last Wednesday, county staff expressed concerns regarding parking, traffic, noise and other strains on infrastructure. They were reportedly told by Highline to have trust in them and look at their reputation with Rendezvous Fest as evidence they will successfully promote this event and mitigate its impacts on the community. (Highline is the promoter for Rendezvous Fest as well).

Watkins countered that while her department has a lot of respect for Highline they are not willing to undertake such a large special event based on “good faith.” An estimated 20,000 could attend, according to the concert promoter. There needs to be more planning—reviewers expressed the need for a detailed traffic plan, communications plan, medical plan, security plan, and safety plan—and there simply isn’t time. Highline says they need a “go or no-go” decision now.

Added to county concerns is WYDOT, who said it wants a chance to review the application and offer concerns. Additionally, the Town of Jackson—while not directly affected as the event is scheduled to take place just outside of town limits—could respectfully ask to be part of the discussion since the concert is to take place within a 1/2-mile buffer zone identified in LDRs.

Another concern for the county is the length of time the South Park neighborhood would be compromised—nearly the entire month of August. The two-day concert is tentatively scheduled for August 18-19. Set up would begin August 8; teardown would be completed by August 24. The concert would be held on private property owned by the Gill family on lots 6 and 7 of the Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch.

Hereford Ranch land where concert would take place. (JH Hereford Ranch)

Highline is estimating a significant support staff will be needed to stage the event. An estimated 350 total personnel would include 10 senior management reps from Highline, 25 volunteers, 125 independent contractors, 80 security/law enforcement, and 110 food and beverage vendors.

The size and scope of the event brings extra concerns for Watkins and staff who say a two-day concert that could attract up to 20,000 is far different than a wedding or wine-tasting, for instance, as examples of the usual special events allowed on private land. Approving a concert of this size could set precedent for others on private land.

“Staff recommends that at a subsequent meeting, the commissioners consider their broader vision for the community as it relates to events of this nature. Should the Commissioners wish to encourage future events of this nature, staff recommends considering changes to the guiding resolution to allow the process to better accommodate large-scale events,” Watkins wrote in her staff report.

Commissioners’ thoughts

At a voucher meeting last week, commissioners had a preliminary discussion about the concert. Commissioner Greg Epstein has been vocal about wanting the concert to come to Jackson Hole, but admitted big decisions for big events have to be carefully considered. “These events take time…months,” Epstein said, referring to concerts at the Village involving Zac Brown and Michael Franti. “These people are professionals and this is what they do. To say ‘no’ right off the bat with something this complicated is getting ahead of ourselves.”

Commissioner Paul Vogelheim said he, personally, would love to see the Dead in the valley. “Yet I’m concerned about the implications in terms of timing and cost for our personnel and infrastructure costs,” Vogelheim said.

At the voucher meeting, Vogelheim also expressed a desire to know more of what was being expected of commissioners. “This looks like less of a special event application and more of a policy decision,” he said, asking Watkins what it was that was being asked of the commissioners.

Watkins admitted, “The size and scope of this project exceeds anything we’ve historically seen. The established process is really for events of a less complex nature. What the applicant is asking is for some degree of preliminary approval and we have not done that historically. It is not built into your process as it stands. It does to a certain extent become a policy decision whether this is the type of event we want to see moving forward. If so it is my recommendation we look at making changes to the process.”

Commissioner Mark Newcomb called the decision “tricky on a number of levels.”

With a fairly full plate for its regular meeting March 6, the BCC agreed to convene especially to decide the fate of a Dead & Company concert tomorrow morning in the commissioners chambers beginning at 9:30am.

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