When Owen Hutchinson took over as executive director of the Vilar Performing Arts Center (VPAC) in January 2021, the lauded local concert hall in Beaver Creek Village had only a few shows on the schedule for the entire winter. It was a treacherous time in the pandemic, of course, and most of the valley’s entertainment scene had been pared down or shuttered. Hutchinson scrambled to get something on the calendar every week, working around Covid protocols that limited attendance to an audience of 50 to 150—in a theater that seats 530. Renowned bluegrass musician Keller Williams, for example, played six shows over three days in March 2021 to make it all work.
The Vilar, like the 2,565-capacity Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater anchoring Vail Village’s Ford Park and other local music venues, offered what it could during Covid times—often to a masked audience, always with a tinge of yearning for normalcy. This summer, thanks to a confluence of events—from diminished public-health concerns to a hungry audience of mountain-town arrivistes—not only are those same venues expecting a return to a full season of programming, but after two years of exile in the pandemic’s cultural desert, they’re anticipating the biggest summer in the valley’s history in terms of both quality and quantity. “And the reason that’s possible, that we’re able to graduate to that next level, is because demand is so significant right now,” Hutchinson says.
Most national-act venues in Colorado announced shows earlier than in past years, including the VPAC (vilarpac.org) and Ford Amphitheater (recently rebranded as “The Amp,” grfavail.com), which are run by the Vail Valley Foundation. “Summer concerts throughout Colorado were going up in January or February,” Hutchinson says, instead of March or April. Similarly, whereas in a normal summer the Vilar would present 11 to 12 shows, including comedians, “this summer we’ll be up to 17 or 18 and might even reach 20,” he adds. “Typically, we’d have one show a week, and this year we’ll see two or three a week from late June through August.” The theater also extended its season into September for the first time.
For a venue that is approaching its 25th anniversary next winter and was originally designed for classical music and opera, the Vilar’s diversification will be on full display in the first two concerts of the summer: the Fleet Foxes, an iconic indie folk band, plays June 29, followed on June 30 (and July 1) by Creedence Clearwater Revival legend John Fogerty, the most expensive artist VPAC has ever pursued. “That show represents the Vilar Center’s ability to reach higher,” says Hutchinson. “It is where we’re going.”
Thirteen miles east, The Amp, managed by Dave Dressman, again has a lineup packed with shows that you’d expect to find at venues triple its size. Notable new visitors include Joe Russo’s Almost Dead on June 1 and 2 and country sensation Maren Morris on August 16. And for the first time since 2019, the Bravo! Vail Music Festival again will stage four full-size orchestras—the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and New York Philharmonic—from June 23 to August 4.
“We’re excited to just be able to bring music back and have people gather around music again this summer,” says Bravo! Vail executive director Caitlin Murray. “For a lot of people, Bravo!’s a big part of summer in Vail, and to have that back in full force is going to signal a new phase of things for people.”
Five to Try
VAIL FARMERS MARKET & ART SHOW The valley’s biggest (and certainly most crowded) farmers market floods Vail Village’s East Meadow Drive with a sea of humanity mobbing more than 100 tented stalls selling everything from doughnuts hot out of the fryer to doodles (caricatures, not dogs) to elk antlers for your Bernedoodle. Don’t miss the market’s family-style farm-to-table dinner series (July 8 & 22, Aug 12 & 26). Sundays, June 19–Oct 2, 9:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. vailfarmersmarket.com
VAIL INTERNATIONAL DANCE FESTIVAL This hip festival swings with a two-week celebration of swivel-hip artistry. The most anticipated performance? Now: Premieres (Aug 8), featuring new works by some of the nation’s top performers, including a preview of the festival’s 100th commission, a new work by Justin Peck in collaboration with bluegrass artist Chris Thile under the artistic direction of the festival’s in-house superstar, Damian Woetzel. For the finale on Aug 9, guest artists will attract bargain hunters with “Dance for $20.22,” wherein tickets for reserved seats can be had for just $20.22 (lawn tickets go for half that). July 28–Aug 9, Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater (Vail Village) and Vilar Performing Arts Center (Beaver Creek). vaildance.org
FOURTH OF JULY Avon: At press time, the decision to stage or cancel the largest fireworks show in the Rockies was pending due to wildfire concerns, but sky show or not, the Town of Avon’s Salute to the USA will woo the well-washed masses to Nottingham Park on July 3 with a small-town carnival of a festival featuring Uncle Sam stilt walkers, Lady Liberty human statues, bouncy houses, vendors serving funnel cakes and fresh-squeezed lemonade, and an evening of Grammy-winning talent performing on the lakeside stage. 5–10:30 p.m. avon.org. Vail: The highlight of Vail America Days? The region’s largest Fourth of July parade, which snakes its way through Vail Village before arriving at noon in Lionshead. Instead of the usual pyrotechnics, after the sun sinks behind Castle Peak, look for a wildfire-friendly drone light show over Vail Mountain, choreographed to the tunes of your Fourth favorites. vailamericadays.com
GOURMET ON GORE The valley’s Labor Day Weekend foodie festival offers an open-air tasting along Gore Creek Drive, Gore Creek Promenade, and Willow Bridge Road through the heart of Vail Village that’s fueled by wine, beer, and spirits paired with culinary delights from the valley’s top restaurants. Also try: Food Trucks Al Fresco, a sampling of locally favored street food via a pod of mobile kitchens parked on East Meadow Drive. Sept 2–4. gourmetongore.com
OKTOBERFEST Toast the arrival of autumn in Lionshead (Sept 9–11) and Vail Village (Sept 16–18) by hurling (kegs of imported beer), hoisting (steins of the same), chowing (on bratwurst), and dancing (the polka) at one of the top 10 Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States, according to USA Today. oktoberfestvail.com