This weekend marks the fifth annual Snowy Range Music Festival at the Albany County Fairgrounds. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Micah Schweizer reports, the festival’s organizer has a grand vision, but it’s up to the region’s music lovers to see it fulfilled.
(MUSIC: Tab Benoit)
MICAH SCHWEIZER: Carl Gustafson’s dream hasn’t been without challenges. He started organizing the Snowy Range Music Festival in 2009.
CARL GUSTAFSON: “Here’s how bad it is…the first time that I had this, six weeks later I had a heart attack.”
SCHWEIZER: So why keep going?
GUSTAFSON: “That’s a good question, man! But then you start thinking, what is life for? It’s not just to maintain your heartbeat. It’s to accomplish, to build character, wisdom, memories, to love people, to do things.”
SCHWEIZER: Carl Gustafson says the Snowy Range Music Festival is a gift to his hometown, the place where his music career started in the ‘60’s. This year’s festival drew more than two thousand pitches from bands. Gustafson says he picks the best, and he’s not bound by genre. He’s putting about twenty styles of music on stage this weekend, and one of those styles is country.
(MUSIC: Leann Rimes)
GUSTAFSON: “People kept telling me American roots music other than country is never going to go in Wyoming.”
SCHWEIZER: So he’s hoping a country singer like Leann Rimes can sell more tickets and bring in new fans…who will then be exposed to new styles of music.
GUSTAFSON: “I want people to see there’s so much more out there, such a big, beautiful variety. I mean, would you only like one kind of tree, you know, in your yard? ‘Yeah, I’m a spruce man’[laughs].”
SCHWEIZER: Gustafson is backed by four investors who put up a half-million dollars each year to put on the Snowy Range Music Festival. So far, they’ve taken a significant loss every year.
GUSTAFSON: “And I think it’s because fans don’t trust marketing. Because our American society has become a big blast of superlatives. Everything’s the greatest.”
SCHWEIZER: Gustafson’s also trying to draw new festival attendees with veteran string jam band Leftover Salmon, with guest mandolinist Sam Bush.
(MUSIC: Leftover Salmon)
SCHWEIZER: So far, feedback from the crowd has been so encouraging, the Snowy Range Music Festival investors have promised a sixth year, and they’ve offered a challenge to music fans.
GUSTAFSON: “Here’s one promise they’ve made me, and I would like you to know this. If we sell out even one of the three days, they will immediately start negotiating to get land, work with the city to start building a big permanent stage.”
SCHWEIZER: Gustafson says with local government support, he envisions an iconic, state-of-the-art stage, and the major music festival in the Rockies. He knows his goals are ambitious.
GUSTAFSON: “If I pull this off in the least populated state in the union, somebody’s gonna write a book about it. I think the people of Laramie are going to eventually say, ‘There’s a book out called Acres of Diamonds, and the whole point of it was that you’re lookin’ all over the world for all the cool stuff, and you’ve got diamonds right in your back yard.’ I think they’re going to view this as a diamond in their back yard someday.”
SCHWEIZER: So Carl Gustafson’s thrown down the gauntlet…and he’s waiting for the Snowy Range Music Festival’s breakout year. Now it’s up to the public to get the party going at the Albany County Fairgrounds this weekend. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Micah Schweizer.
(MUSIC: BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet)