Given the early bombast of Whatever USA taking over Crested Butte, it would now be hard to characterize this Town Council as presiding over the “Land of No.” Given the requests with this event it doesn’t get much more “YES” than what we will see this weekend. Even as the sun set on Labor Day with forklifts hauling in giant gorillas at 2 a.m., many might say there is too much “YES” oozing out there already.
Someone else said given the passion and impact of tearing a hole in the community fabric, this might be one of the indicators that the town is changing. This time, taking the next step toward serious tourism town.
For me, as difficult as the last two weeks were with divisiveness sprouting on every street corner, this event will set the foundation for discussion of how this community chooses to proceed with itself. Do we want to become one of those places open to big events? Do we want to be a place that rents itself out for a few days? Do we want to pull it back a notch or two or ten from Whatever USA?
Let’s be honest…the people coming here this weekend will not be having a Crested Butte experience. The Town Council and majority of the community made a choice to hand over Elk Avenue and let Bud Light throw on the pancake makeup and heavy lipstick. The town has suspended its sign, lighting and noise regulations. This weekend will be louder than normal, brighter and more neon than normal and bluer than normal. Given all that, I anticipate a pretty fun experience.
Now, out of all the words spoken or written in support of and against the council allowing this party a few resonate in the bigger discussion. Setting aside the sloppy, secretive rollout of the event to the local citizens, the idea of “selling out” is first among the concerns. That idea of suspending rules that make Crested Butte Crested Butte in exchange for money. The idea of forcing some residents and businesses to accept things that are not normally part of a September weekend (or week, really), while others benefit.
Then there is the comment that while poverty is glamorous for a while, what is it that this town wants to be? It seems clear that the vast majority do not want Crested Butte to be a mining town anymore. So that leaves the direction of being a tourist town and accepting the pros and the cons that come with it. I suppose some would argue we have balance now with families and retirees and young workers selling t-shirts and running ski lifts that gets really crowded for six weeks of busyness in the summer and a couple weeks in December and March.
When one person at the public hearing pointed out that the businesses in town get asked all the time to support the area’s voluminous non-profit organizations they pleaded that this Whatever USA event was the business community asking for some help from the rest of the community. One guy said this economic bump would help put food on the table for the Average Joe.
Someone told me after the Monday meeting that she had a vision of George W. Bush descending upon the public hearing sometime in the wee hours. She interpreted it as a sign that his actions in office installed a general mist of fear into people. I love this liberal-tilting town where we can blame Bush for pretty much everything (and probably deservedly so…). The point being that for some, instead of being open to new things and being willing to try new experiences, there are those in the community who were so afraid of the unknown they did not want to even try.
Several others made that observation as well. They pointed out that in Crested Butte the people are known as risk takers willing to try ideas like riding townie klunkers over Pearl Pass or take off their chains and zoom down Kebler in costume or host the first U.S. Extreme ski competition on the cliffy terrain of the ski area.
We are where we are right now. Rumors are flying about Whatever USA workers being hassled inappropriately. Please don’t do that. Businesses have apparently 86ed some customers who were on the other side of the debate. Maybe rethink that.
There are people so against this “sell-out” they are doing the weekend snow and rain dance hoping to dampen the Bud Light party. Of course, there is talk of plans for a protest or even civil disobedience. Again, a council that had been split on the issue came together to unanimously give this the okay…and that matters.
So look at this as an opportunity to establish a foundation of debate.
Let’s watch and participate and play and see if it works and if we can handle it. Watching the setup, this looks like it will be pretty over-the-top and there have already been surprises. As has been the norm with this thing, communication has been less than stellar. Given the press this past week, I fully anticipate more than 10,000 bodies trying to check it out.
The bottom line is that the CB council certainly owes the community a real discussion when it is over. Set up Jerry’s Gym one more time in September or October (not next spring) and ask for a community review of this event and a macro discussion about the town’s economic future. Maybe five people show up. Maybe 300 come once again and (respectfully) comment on the direction of the place based in the ramifications of this event.
Will Whatever USA work so smoothly that it sets the town on a new direction of hyper-event tourism? Will the money be worth the hassle? Will free beer bring in mobs that don’t respect our home? Is it okay to throw out much of what makes the downtown unique and throw this much make-up over the town? Did we screw ourselves in the long haul for a half million clams? Was it more fun than we thought and we should do it more?
That is the discussion to have and it will be a more valuable discussion after Whatever USA leaves Crested Butte, Colorado.
In the meantime, get out on Elk Avenue this weekend and ride the blue wave that is setting up. Play some beach volleyball or Twister. Relax on a blue bench. Listen to some music. But don’t forget your earplugs…