Mike and I were lucky enough to catch Chris Stapleton and Stevie Nicks at Jazz Aspen Snowmass or JAS. It’s a 3 day music fest that takes place every Labor Day weekend, think Coachella for adults. It’s a mix of ritzy Aspen socialites (amazing people watching!) and just regular people like us with a few kids mixed in there. And while I wouldn’t say it’s a kid-friendly event (see below) it’s not a wild one either. For an area known for its sophistication and pricey everything, there’s also a calmness about these shows that feels like 80% of the energy of a typical concert. It’s also not a huge venue which feels nice and not daunting every time you need to use the bathroom or grab a bite. There are some things we wish we’d know ahead of time though, so I thought I’d go through those so you can head to the shows prepared.
Get Tickets Early:
We didn’t do this and paid the price. Literally. I won’t say how much but I’m sure it was more than twice what it should’ve been. You can sign up HERE to receive notifications to your email so when tickets go on sale you can get them at face value sold by JAS directly instead of from another ticket vendor like we had to. The 3 day pass was the cheapest option which we got even though we weren’t able to make Leon Bridges which was the Friday show. There are always 3 acts Friday, Saturday and Sunday with the biggest act typically being the Sunday show.
Little Big Town, Opening for Stevie Nicks
What You Can Bring in With You:
You can (and should) bring in blankets, backpacks, low chairs, umbrellas, sunscreen, and a heavier change of clothes which you’ll need once the sun sets. This past Labor Day weekend it was scorching hot in the day but the second the sun set I threw on a sweatshirt and jacket. You either sweat during the day, or are cold at night trying to dress for either the present or future weather. Next year I’ll wear shorts and bring joggers to slip on over them at night along with a jacket. You’re also allowed an umbrella which we forgot day one but came in clutch on day two when we sat under it and played cards for a few hours while waiting for the bands to come on. The only thing you really can’t bring in is food which they want you to buy in there from their multiple vendors. Since you’re staying the whole day, prepare to bring everything you can to be comfortable.
Go Early or You Won’t Be Able to See the Show:
Nobody likes the waiting part. Gates opened to the venue at 1:00 to line up and wait at another gate that opened to the concert area at 2:00. This means that there are hundreds of people squished together in the scorching heat without any shade waiting to be let in to get a place to sit for the day since all tickets are GA unless you’re VIP. At 2:00 when the gates open, people literally sprint to get a spot so just know that it’s not a casual thing. It’s complete chaos and really opposite of the rest of the experience and weekend. We didn’t get there until 3:00 on day one and had miserable seats so we walked around in standing room only (way too crowded) before finding my brother and sister in law who knew the drill and got there early.
It’s not like a typical concert venue, it’s small so the screens aren’t super big and there isn’t a good viewing experience from anywhere like with Red Rocks. Also, they seem to oversell the venue and there were more people than grassy areas so every night there are people who either pack into the standing room only up front, or stand near the very back of the venue where you can’t see a thing and there’s a walkway in front of you so it isn’t even worth it to go. I felt for the people who didn’t know to get there early or who were older and just weren’t able to grind it out in line early only to hang out in the heat for another 9 hours.
It really is a must to get there as soon as the gates open, sit in the chair you brought under the umbrella you also brought and bring something to do like playing cards and just get comfortable with waiting until you can grab a seat. Once you do that, lay down a blanket (no bigger than 8×8) and some chairs and reserve the space you need, then you can leave it there. Your things will be there all day and nobody will move them. It’s what everyone does.
Have a Plan for the Day:
Once you set your things down, you have until 3:00 for the first of 3 acts. We were never there for the first act and it’s usually someone relatively unknown so we traded that for leaving and grabbing something to eat on a shady patio since the food is average (some local restaurants, but still festival food) and there is no shade and limited seating. This is something else they need to fix. There are tables, but people were burning up and outside all day long. They really need tents that provide shade with tables inside knowing people are there at 1:00 for a seat and once you get one at 2:00 you have at least an hour until you head back to your area. They did have a plastic water bottle for $1 you could fill up with their multiple water stations which was filtered and cold water. This was a great idea and we used it a ton.
The second act is at 5:00 which will be someone you probably know, and the main act goes on at 7:30. This acts came out promptly since there is a curfew which I think is 9:30 or 10- but the concerts never go super late because of this and it keeps everyone on time. So after we put down our blanket and chairs, we went to a restaurant and then headed back around 4:30 for the 5:00 show. We did this on night 2 since it felt way too long on night one and we wanted to get out of the heat and break up the day.
The transportation situation is a terrible one (see below) which is why many people stay all day long. If you’re going to do this, you HAVE to bring sunscreen, umbrellas, chairs, and blankets with playing cards and things to do while you’re waiting. It’s imperative. You can shuttle back to your hotel in Snowmass if you’re staying there (which you should) but the hotels are grouped together and not near the restaurants and little shopping area. You’d have to shuttle back to your hotel, then get your car and drive. Because the walk back to the shuttles is also far, it’s just a grind to leave. They have food vendors there, plastic bottles for $1 you can refill at their filtered water stations over and over, bars, and a few random vendors. There isn’t a lot of shade which I think is the biggest problem when keeping people in the hot sun all day long at that altitude. Bathrooms were clean and plentiful and the lines moved quickly.
It’s Shuttles Only and They’re Terrible:
This is the biggest problem they have at JAS: The transportation. It’s horrible. All of the places you’d stay in Snowmass have a shuttle to and from the venue, or you can park in a public lot in town and take a city bus that comes as a shuttle. The first night we were underprepared in light clothing and so cold that we left a song early and noticed that a lot of people were pouring out to get in line for a shuttle. The hotel shuttle area was a 10 minute walk where it was disorganized chaos. Nobody in a line and people shoving their way to the front of shuttles and running to be first on since they were small and filled up quickly and took 35 mins to come back. You could easily wait an hour or more to get to your hotel. There were just a handful of Ubers in town and when we tried for one, there were none even in our area. We ended up paying a different hotel shuttle driver to take us to our hotel. It was terrible. Even on the second night, which was Stevie Nicks, I saw the same mass exodus toward the end of the show and people running to get in line for a shuttle. A whole venue filled with people who are panicked knowing their transportation is unreliable just doesn’t work especially since they don’t allow public parking anywhere near the venue, and it makes the concert less enjoyable knowing you’re going to have to walk a good distance and then wait in the cold after a really long day. I’m hoping this part is eventually corrected so people can stay and enjoy the show knowing they don’t have to fight in line for an hour to get back to their hotel.
There is Zero Reception if You Have AT&T:
This was strange but we had zero, and I mean zero use of our phones the whole time we were at the concert, and in Aspen. Everyone was talking about it and it made things stressful trying not to get separated when we arrived knowing we wouldn’t be able to text. There was also nowhere in Aspen where our phones worked, just walking through town or even on the drive from Snowmass from Aspen. Verizon faired better, but still had some rough spots.
Kids are Allowed, but None Were Having Fun:
We didn’t bring our girls, but I saw plenty of kids there. I was curious to see how they would enjoy the concert since it’s a pretty tame crowd due to the price and lineups. I saw kids of all ages, from 5 or 6 to teens. They were all bored. Like, seriously bored. Parents accounted for a good chunk of people who were leaving early because their kids just couldn’t hang. I think it’s because of a few things. The relatively calm energy of the crowd isn’t electric like if you were at Red Rocks, and a lot of the seating is VIP or corporate so it’s not like anyone is screaming for Chris Stapleton when they’re there with a client. I also think the wear and tear of the long hours in the heat zap even the most enthusiastic concert goer after a while. To review, the gates open at 1:00, the last concert ends around 9:30, and the transportation isn’t reliable. They’re better off at a concert for someone they really love and where you can reserve actual seats ahead of time. JAS just isn’t a format that works for kids.
Kemo Sabe in Aspen
Things to do in Snowmass:
We stayed at the Viceroy which is a fantastic hotel. It also has a yummy restaurant named Toro in the lobby where we got food from twice. The pool is beautiful and has another restaurant that serves you a full menu while you swim.
The Snowmass Mall is the main outdoor shopping area. It isn’t big at all, but has a few solid choices for eating and shopping for souvenirs. We loved the patio with sweeping views at Venga Venga and the happy hour menu was perfect. They’re also open until 10:00pm which is later than most places that close at 9.
THIS website has a good selection of more things to do in Snowmass, but since you need to be at the venue at 1:00 to get seats, there really isn’t a lot of free time to explore the town.
Things to do in Aspen:
We ate at the Bear Den which was totally fine, 7/10 I’d say but we just had salads. Expect high prices and small portions. The street seating was nice so you can people watch, but the inside looked small and cramped. We didn’t plan ahead to eat so this was the first thing we could score. It’s fine but not a destination.
Off Main Street a little bit is the iconic Hickory House. If authentic BBQ is your thing, this is where you want to go. It’s always busy so expect a wait, but people go crazy over the food so it’s guaranteed to be a win.
The best thing we did all weekend IMO is to visit Kemo Sabe for a custom hat. It’s a high-end western wear store that’s known for its hats that are customized to your liking right in front of you. We waited in a 40 minute line just to get in, but once you’re in you’re given cocktails and a dedicated sales person who will make sure your hat is exactly what you want it to be. I actually made a reel on the process that you can see HERE just to get an idea of how it all works. This was something I’ve always wanted to do so I was thrilled to be able to do it. The hats aren’t cheap and can easily double in price once you add your hat band and decorative items but it’s a forever hat that will wear as long as you need it and it fits so perfectly I wore it comfortably for hours. It also blocks the sun much better than a baseball cap and adds so much style and sophistication to any outfit. The whole experience was so fun and the service was great.
You’ll find a lot of luxury shopping along the Main Street and some restaurants but it’s not extensive. Know what you want to do and see before you go to save you time and to know if there’s anything there you’d like to see. We didn’t have time for hiking or anything outdoors, but it’s so beautiful and worth exploring if that’s your thing.
My advice for JAS is to go in a group to help the time pass and bring some games to play while waiting. Also make sure that you really like every act there since it’s all so much work- it needs to be worth it. Come prepared, bring everything you’ll need for a day in the sun, and settle into the experience.