Denver's City Park will host one of its first conventional music festivals this weekend. Chive Fest will bring two stages and eight artists, including Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and Talib Kweli, to the city's largest park this Saturday, August 16. But the first-year festival hasn't been welcomed by everyone in Denver, and if certain neighborhood groups have their way, there won't be many more like it in the years to come.
Previous festivals have tried and failed to use City Park. In 2008, concert promoter AEG wanted to host Mile High Music Festival there, but it backed out, in part because of objections from the Denver Zoo, which determined that the loud music would disrupt the animals.
At the time, the city had no official policy regarding major festivals and other admission-based events. After the debate surrounding Mile High Music Festival (and other similar events), a task force was convened to look into the matter, and in 2010, Denver Parks and Recreation approved a policy allowing admission-based events in seven of Denver's parks: Ruby Hill Park, Parkfield Park, Central Park in Stapleton, Skyline Park, Confluence Park, Civic Center Park and City Park. The policy sets an admission restriction at 7,500 for such events and establishes fees and special tax-collection rules.
City Park has hosted several large-scale events featuring live music in the interim, such as the Tour de Fat and Chipotle Cultivate, but neither charged admission, and proceeds from both events benefited nonprofits.
Those types of events -- with free entry and benefiting a nonprofit -- have been more common for several reasons: They're cheaper to host because the additional taxes and fees imposed on admission-based events do not apply; and the parks department offers a 50 percent discount on the regular permit fee for nonprofits. Perhaps more significant, attendance is not restricted; you can apply for a major event permit for more than 25,000 people if you like.
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Admission-based events like Chive Fest have been much rarer. "Since that rule went into place and that permit became available, there have been a handful of admission-based events," says DPR spokesman Jeff Green. "It takes a promoter and a lot of work to go into it, which is probably why we don't have a lot of them outside of the typical venues." Chive Fest made its debut in June this year, in Chicago, and a Seattle installment followed in July. Still to come in 2014 are Chive Fests in Denver and Dallas.
The Chive is an entertainment website that has gained a large following with photo-heavy posts featuring cute animals, half-naked women and assorted in-jokes, most prominently the catchphrase "Keep Calm and Chive On." It also spotlights a handful of charities each month, donating some money directly and offering wide exposure for those organizations. It recently launched an events department, Chive Live, which is organizing the festivals.
The site has a particularly large following in Denver, which is one reason the city was selected for Chive Fest. In July, Chive Fest announced its college-radio-ready lineup and $77 general-admission ticket price. It also made nods to the culture established by the site, promising "oversized ostriches, blimps, fireworks, cats, Chivettes, and enough glowing green to make Denver Chive Fest visible from space."
The announcement was enough to provoke representatives of the neighborhood associations in Park Hill, Congress Park, South City Park and City Park to write a letter to Denver Parks and Rec. In it, they voiced concerns about the impact on the park and neighborhood from the noise and the influx of cars and people; they had questions about security, as well. They also asked why the zoo, which objected to Mile High Music Festival, remained silent on Chive Fest.
Green says theirs wasn't the only perspective the parks department heard. "We've also received a letter signed by 75 different individuals who are also in the neighborhood who are in support of the event," he says. "We've seen more support for the event than we've seen opposition." Still, the chorus of skeptics became loud enough that the city asked Chive Fest to hold a public meeting to address concerns.
That meeting, held two weeks ago at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, saw heated debate, not all of it related to permits and parking. One attendee said that she was disturbed to read online that the Chive referred to its followers as "misfits." "Do we really want misfits in our park?" she asked.
Parks Permit Office director Kris Wilson heard nothing at the meeting that made her think that Chive Fest couldn't meet the terms of its admission-based-event permit. "We don't have the luxury of discriminating based on the content of the event," she told the crowd. She was also insistent that the Chive is receiving no special treatment.
And despite the questions raised by neighborhood associations and others, Chive Fest does indeed meet the city's 2010 admission-based-event criteria. The music will be over by 10 p.m. and won't exceed 80 decibels when measured from the nearest house. It will pay a permit fee of $10,181.75 and taxes totaling roughly 15 percent of ticket revenue. Attendance will be capped at 7,500, though Scott Nichols from All Phases Event Group (one of Chive Fest's promoters) says he only expects 4,500. He also says the festival will only take up 3 percent of City Park's land and that there will be a total of seventy private security guards, park rangers and police officers working the event. He estimates the total cost of the festival at one million dollars.
As for the zoo, spokeswoman Tiffany Barnhart says this event is nothing like the one the facility objected to before. With Mile High Music Festival, she says, "the main concern was the sustained sound levels over time, as this event featured five stages and sixty bands over three days. That three-day event is very different than what we have learned is being proposed for the Chive event."
Barnhart adds that, in terms of impact on the zoo, this festival is not dramatically different from successful previous events like Cultivate. "We have staff in place to monitor, respond to and care for the animals," she says, "as well as contacts for the night of the event should an issue arise."
The lingering question raised by those at the public meeting was not whether Chive Fest was adhering to the rules, but whether those rules are truly serving the people of Denver. Many attendees questioned the admission-based-events policy currently in place. They expressed fear that a public place of refuge will be transformed into a profitable music venue. A representative from Mayor Michael Hancock's office who was at the meeting said that the permit policy process is being looked into.
But for now, you're free to throw a music festival in City Park. All it takes is a little paperwork and a million dollars.
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