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The Buena Vista Renaissance

The Surf Hotel sits on the bank of the Arkansas River, making it a prime location for the annual CKS Paddlefest, which emphasizes giving back to the whitewater community.

The Surf Hotel sits on the bank of the Arkansas River, making it a prime location for the annual CKS Paddlefest, which emphasizes giving back to the whitewater community.

This burgeoning community—“BV” to those familiar—about two hours west of the Springs is poised to become a major vacation destination, but there’s no chance it will lose its small town charm.

Seven Peaks Music Festival

Year two of this country music tour de force takes place Aug. 30-Sept 1

The story of how the Seven Peaks Music Festival came to be and, specifically, how it came to Buena Vista features a number of oft-told plot points: Headliner and driving force Dierks Bentley grew up visiting Colorado often and had an affinity for the state. Live Nation’s President of Country Touring Brian O’Connell was looking for a place to hold a multiday country music fest and, more so, to start a tradition. Jed Selby, busy with South Main, got a call from Bentley and O’Connell saying, “Hey, we hear you have some land.”

They were interested in Cottonwood Meadows, the Selby family farm and ranch made up of 277 acres of historic hayfields about a mile outside of town and one of the first homesteads in the northern valley. The idea was to find a place that could handle it all—the stages and the parking and huge numbers of concert-goers who wanted to camp on-site—plus relatively easy road access to get people in and out. Not a small ask.

“It’s a lot,” says O’Connell. “Some sites are great, and some sites aren’t. Some very successful festivals are on lousy sites, and unfortunately, some festivals that don’t perform well are on fabulous sites. There is no magic formula.” In fact Live Nation had not only pinned down another site in the state a few years earlier, a great deal of work had gone into development. But O’Connell says, at the 11th hour, it just didn’t feel right, and they pulled the plug.

So Bentley and O’Connell got on a plane to BV. “We met with everybody from the local school bus driver to the city council to the county commissioners,” O’Connell says. “I think I met most of the business owners in BV at one point or another.” In the end, the Seven Peaks Music Festival was borne.

Year one featured Bentley, of course, as well as Miranda Lambert, Brothers Osborne, Elle King and more. As with any inaugural event, there were lessons to be learned. As O’Connell says, festivals evolve, and returning fans can expect a few changes in the layout this year. “There’s a lot of creativity that goes into why you put things where you put them,” he says. “And sometimes you’re dead on, and sometimes you’re dead wrong.”

Fortunately, he says, they were right way more than they were wrong in year one. Of course, this isn’t their first rodeo, and they had a fair amount of insight into the sociological aspect of the experience. They took note of, for example, the natural on-site pedestrian traffic—“Where people want to go, not where we tell them to go,” O’Connell says.

This year, the secondary Whiskey Row Stage will be moved to free up more space near the main stage. The VIP section will be reconfigured. Ingress and egress will be more clearly communicated. Angles will be adjusted to take even greater advantage of the Collegiate Peaks as a backdrop. “Nothing sexy,” O’Connell says, but a lot of operational details that will make it even better this year.

In addition to a lineup that includes Luke Bryan, Maren Morris, Travis Tritt, and so many more, O’Connell is excited about reconnecting with the people of BV. “We came in to last year with people kind of skeptical,” he says. “Like they wanted to like us, and they wanted to believe us, and they wanted to make sure that we were being true to our word and we were going to put on a world-class event in this community. And I think we left them with smiles last year. What I’m most looking forward to is the ramping up of the anticipation that now they know that this is going to be great—and over-delivering on that excitement.”

 

Anyone with an appreciation for the outdoors—for stunning views, towering peaks, the sound of a rushing river—will enjoy a visit to Buena Vista, Colorado. This increasingly less sleepy town in Chaffee County is a (relatively) short and very scenic drive up U.S. 24 from Colorado Springs, and it deserves its newly earned reputation as a hot spot for people who love the outdoors, good food, live music, and more.

With this in mind, one would be forgiven for thinking less of the person or persons who, much earlier in Buena Vista’s existence, chose to line some of the most prime riverfront real estate in the area with the town dump. Fortunately for those nature and travel lovers among us, Jed Selby has made it his mission to change things.

Selby is the visionary behind the recently opened Surf Hotel, an anchor of his South Main development, which has brought a variety of residential and commercial property to the area along the Arkansas River, now delightfully unrecognizable as the former trash depository.

The area includes homes ranging in size from studio apartments to million-dollar manses, as well as a rafting outfitter, coffee shop, restaurant, and a shop featuring finely crafted leather goods and jewelry. It’s still a very young community—in terms of families making it their home (Jed says the median age of BV has dropped 10 years over the past 10 years), the general attitude of residents and shopkeepers whether they live there or not, and its actual age—so there’s a lot more to come.

Of course, the crown jewel of the area is the Surf Hotel itself. Selby and his wife Kennley entered the hospitality market in 2014 with the opening of the Chateau, 20 rooms that are still nestled behind the hotel, that designer Kennley describes as French with modern details.

Last May, the 62-room hotel made its debut, featuring a contemporary mountain-surf vibe with a touch of New Orleans thrown in for good measure. The lobby bar/restaurant, Wesley & Rose, just launched a new menu and offers handcrafted cocktails and riverfront dining. The hotel also houses the Ivy Ballroom, a world-class live music venue with state-of-the-art sound and light systems that rival just about anyplace of comparable size in the country.

In case you were wondering, the whole place is a family affair: Ivy is Jed and Kennley’s young daughter, and Wesley and Rose are Jed and Ivy’s middle names, respectively. And if you happen to catch the outdoor living rooms perched at either end of the park directly across from the hotel, the colorful tile that adorns the “furniture” was made by Jed’s mom.

Where’s the Beach?

So the concepts of “surf” and “Colorado” seem to be a surface-level disconnect. But rest assured, there is a beach or, more specifically, the Beach Stage, managed by the South Main Arts & Parks Trust. The open-air venue includes a stretch of real sand that fills with revelers enjoying live music every Friday night throughout July and August.

In addition, one of the first things Jed did as part of the development process was to build out the river’s edge, adding easier access for kayaking and paddleboarding and a series of manmade “waves” within the river itself, creating Buena Vista Whitewater Park. It is one of the locations for Memorial Weekend’s Paddlefest as well as summer-long activities.

Late June brings Rapids & Grass, a nearly divine merger of craft beer, river sports, and Bluegrass music. Beer tents line the adjacent park, the river flows along its edge, and musicians take to the Beach Stage in the afternoon and have attendees dancing well past sundown. Later, the music moves into the Ivy Ballroom to keep the party going.

As Jed says, “What’s cool about BV is that it’s one of the few places where you can come, park your car, and have plenty to do inside and outside within walking or biking distance.”

Lassoing Live Music at the Lariat

Robbie Cooper Johnson was in the right place at the right time. She and her husband Court Johnson purchased the Lariat—then a divey place with good bones—in 2015 and spent about six months renovating it. Along the way, they uncovered original Salida red brick (great for acoustics, Robbie says), oak floors, and a back bar that is over 100 years old.

Their goal was to weave the Lariat into the fabric of a growing and changing community—not to mention making it one of the hottest live music venues in the area. Robbie says that the Arkansas Valley is a great location. The audiences are knowledgeable and appreciative, and touring musicians as well as up-and-coming artists are often passing through on their way to the next gig.

She adds that she’s excited for more people from the Front Range to discover BV. “It’s a real delight to turn them on to it,” she says, “to get them coming back and bringing friends.”