Vail Snow Daze

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:: Vail Snow Daze ::
:: Various venues around Vail :: Dec. 8 – 14, 2008 ::

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By Brian F. Johnson

Photos by Soren McCarty andSusan Etter

Just to make things clear, so that no one can claim a lack of journalistic integrity later on, I have to admit this out in front: I got styled for this festival. Now, I’m a lucky guy and get styled a lot for shows and festivals but this was almost picture perfect.

We got a late start on Friday afternoon – already having missed several days and nights of music that started the week-long festival, including a blow out by Big Head Todd and the Monsters on Thursday night. The reason we got the late start was a much-needed stop at a tire store, and while it put us behind, we were thankful for the new car-sneakers the rest of the weekend.
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Snow was dumping long before we hit the Eisenhower Tunnel, and by the time we pulled into Vail it was a full-on winter storm, the perfect setting for a festival that bills itself as the “largest early season, winter resort party in North America.”

Waiting for us at the hotel was a goodie bag like I’d never seen before, full of hats, scarves, coffee mugs and beer. But being so late we took only a quick glance at the bag and ducked out the back door of the hotel, which was all of 100 yards from Dobson Ice Arena.

We had, in fact, missed about half of the first set, but the hot Dobson Arena was really only getting warmed up when we got there. I’ve seen Salmon a ton, both pre- and post-hiatus, and I can say with all honesty that Friday night may have been the best show I’ve ever seen by them. Leftover Salmon is, without a doubt, one of the best festival bands in the country — maybe the world — and their ability to whip a crowd into a frenzy is unparalleled. Friday night they did it with seeming effortlessness.
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While Keith “Scramble” Campbell danced and painted on the side of the stage, the Leftover boys tore through their second set and while smiles and laughs always abound on a Salmon stage, this night they seemed particularly merry.

After the band left the stage, the party, the group and close Leftover family over-flowed into the hotel bar, where we happened to be staying, so, suffice to say, I can’t really tell you about the rest of the night with any accuracy, but no one I saw seemed to be having a bad time.

One of the things that made Vail Snow Daze such a different experience is the town of Vail itself. Now, I’m not into the whole walk around and shop for hours and hours, but while the other festivarians were on the slopes, with the family in tow, we set out to explore the town and the fresh snow made it look like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Saturday night, the snow started to really fall again — even harder this time. The idea of standing out in the snow for several hours for a live show didn’t seem all that great, but we bundled up and braved the weather and we were glad we did.

There’s something completely special about standing outside in the snow seeing live music, and The Fray, who headlined Saturday night, knew it.
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Playing a series of songs from their new self-titled album, their new single “You Found Me,” and the hits they’ve had from their debut, How To Save A Life, the Denver pop band kept the crowd on the edge of their frozen little toes for three hours. At times, the people around me had more than an inch of snow on top of their hats, and it was truly cold, but no one seemed to mind or complain.

While the snow accumulated on the edge of the stage, the band somehow managed to keep their fingers warm enough to complete their set, and somehow avoided the shocking potential of mixing snow with electronics.

I don’t know how they did it, or what it was that made this whole festival come off so flawlessly. Normally when you take big-name, high priced sponsors and mix them with relatively conservative towns, the result is disastrous, or at the very least a bland experience for the fans. But someone everything aligned for this festival, which turned out to be a great party for the music freaks, as well as a perfect pre-holiday getaway for families. And as if it was a well-coordinated cue set up by the promoters, attendees woke Sunday morning to a foot of fresh pow-pow, so that boarders and two-plankers alike could shred the gnar before heading home.

Two thumbs way, way up for Vail Snow Daze. I can’t wait to see who they get next year.

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