A week after Live Nation and Dierks Bentley canceled the Seven Peaks Music Festival “due to current capacity restrictions in place by local health officials,” the local officials in Chaffee County, Colo., are pushing back. They say Live Nation put tickets on sale June 13 for the Labor Day weekend (Sept. 3–5) festival in scenic mountain hamlet Buena Vista, but had not obtained permit approval in advance, and was selling tickets beyond already established local capacity limits. “We learned of [the cancelation] by social media,” says Beth Helmke, the county’s public-affairs officer. “It’s unfortunate that’s how it had to have unfolded, and we wish it could’ve been a more positive feeling all around — but here we are.”
Unlike other parts of Colorado — Red Rocks Amphitheatre, near Denver, has been at full, 9,000-seat capacity since June 1, for example — Chaffee County public-health officials announced June 22 they would raise the cap put in place due to COVID-19 concerns for outdoor events from 2,000 to 5,000 people. In an Instagram apology to fans last Friday, Bentley said of the Labor Day-weekend festival: “We tried everything to make it happen, but Chaffee County has decided against lifting capacity restrictions.”
But long before the cancellation, Chaffee County officials were irritated that festival organizers were moving forward without approval. According to 9News in Denver, after grilling Live Nation promoter Jim Reid in June about selling 6,000 total tickets, County Commissioner Greg Felt said: “Are you sh—ing me? You know we have a 5,000-person event capacity and you’ve already sold more tickets than that? What the hell, Jim?”
Helmke say the rural county kept the capacity limit because the region has one 36-bed hospital and “pretty limited resources in terms of first responders and law enforcement and infrastructure.” This year’s Seven Peaks was supposed to be the festival’s third installment, after stars such as Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan and Maren Morris performed in 2018 and 2019. The festival reportedly drew 8,000 attendees in 2018, then 13,000 in 2019, before skipping 2020 due to the pandemic.
Bentley’s rep tells Billboard they are looking for another location for future iterations of the festival.
Helmke says the county contacted Live Nation to “seek clarification” after promoters canceled the festival to ask whether they were trying to withdraw their special-event permit application: “It is our understanding from Live Nation that they do not intend to pursue events in Chaffee County again.”
A Seven Peaks spokesperson responded: “When the county’s Board of Health didn’t raise the capacity limits, that meant the festival couldn’t go forward. At that point we wanted to pass the news on to fans to know as soon as possible and get them their money back.”
Buena Vista, surrounded by the Collegiate Peaks mountain range, has roughly 2,800 residents and has been conflicted over country and rock festivals in recent years. In 2016, the Vertex Festival, featuring Odesza and Alabama Shakes, drew noise complaints, and county officials later chose not to grant organizer Madison House’s request for a three-year extension.
“You have on one side a demographic that didn’t move to the mountain to be in the middle of a large-scale traffic jam and doesn’t want to have noise at all hours; there’s another component [that believes] a lot of revenue gets created that can really have a huge impact on these towns,” says Don Strasburg, co-president of AEG Rocky Mountains, which helped put on Vertex. “There’s this pull and push within their own community with what they want to be in the future.”