It's a well-known fact that in order to be a true Coloradan, a yearly prescription of outdoor adventure must be filled. This weekend, I went to Buena Vista to do just that: kayaking, rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, etc. But when I loaded the car and set off on the three-hour drive from Denver, the last two things I expected to discover when I got there were a thriving music scene and a beach.
Buena Vista has both. Every Saturday night in July and August, a makeshift venue called the BEACH -- aptly named because of the sand, the surf shack and the view of the river surfers yards away -- puts on a free show. During the day, the BEACH's stage is simply a wooden platform used for yoga, and the nearby tables are filled with diners stopping by the crepe stand that serves breakfast every morning. At night, though, the space absolutely transforms into one of the best outdoor performance spaces I'd been to in a long time.
Although the BEACH's sand emulates an oceanside venue, it is impossible to forget that it is actually in the heart of the Rockies. The Collegiate peaks of "purple mountains majesty" fame tower to the right, the river valley with its lush pines and racing water sits to the left, and as the sun dips low, the chill of a summer night in the mountains sets in. But it's difficult to be cold in the kind of crowd that shows up to watch the music. Much of the town comes to dance, drink and sit around the fire pit, close enough to the stage that musicians might sweat on them and close enough to the river that sparks from the file waft almost to the water.
Dinner can be purchased both from the creperie and from local restaurants that bring selections down just for the night. Almost exclusively local alcohol is for sale at the surf shack -- beer on tap from Elevation Beer Company brewed twenty miles outside of town, liquor distilled right in Buena Vista at Deerhammer Distilling Company, and wine from Vino Salida Wine Cellars in Salida.
Outside the surf shack, under twinkling ropes of lights, children play in the sand, dogs wander through the crowd or nap under tables, and friendly greetings are exchanged between locals and vacationers alike.The audience isn't just there for the music -- they are there for the community, for the people they know and the people they might meet, for a relaxing evening after a long day on the river or the trails. It is a Colorado crowd in a Colorado space, from the pastel sunset to the scruffy beards.
At the show on Saturday night, I approached the sound designer, a ponytailed, beach-blond man by the name of Ben Coleman, to ask if it was the BEACH or the Jerry Garcia tribute playing that had drawn the crowd. He told me that the venue had seen at least that many people -- a hundred or more -- every Saturday night this summer. "People love music here," he said, "If they hear there's going to be a show, they go." The town might only have a permanent population of 2,500 or so, but with three other locations to see live music and property outside of town being contracted to host music festivals, it's no big surprise that the BEACH sees an excited crowd all summer.
A later conversation with Coleman -- who turned out to be one of the team working on the expansion of both the town and the venue -- revealed that the venue, the music festival grounds, and the entirety of the pristine South Main is the brainchild of Jed Selby, who first came to Buena Vista to make a stretch of the Arkansas River into a river park for kayakers and river surfers. With that a success and new businesses popping up around town, Selby set his sights on bringing more music and art to South Main and Buena Vista.
To date, the BEACH has put on thirty free concerts with increasingly bigger names -- this summer has seen the Fox Street All Stars, winner of our 2013 Best Traditional Rock Band; Trout Steak Revival, winner of this year's Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition; and multi-award winning bluegrass group the HillBenders, among others. It's all thanks to Selby's South Main Arts & Trust fund, which hopes not only to expand the visual art scene and outdoor recreation possibilities of South Main but also to eventually make the BEACH a permanent amphitheater to draw bigger crowds and bigger bands. There is no doubt that as the venue grows, Buena Vista will see tourism for more than just the recreation offered there. But even as a tiny venue with a barely permanent stage, the BEACH is a Colorado must-see: for the '#nofilter' Rocky Mountain views, for the local booze, the local people, the local music, but above all, for an outdoor music experience that literally couldn't happen anywhere else.
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