Montrose County event planners have an ambitious goal in mind: A new signature event, returning year after year, at the Event Center.
Meet the Rocky Mountain Oyster & Red Dirt Festival, coming up for the first time April 25.
Red Dirt music came out of the Texas and Oklahoma red dirt regions and is a blend of country, folk, bluegrass and rock. The band Reckless Kelly, formed in Idaho, but based out of Austin, Texas since 1996, will give Montrose a taste, along with up-and-comers in the genre, Chris Colston and Jacob Bryant.
As for the Rocky Mountain oysters (bull testicles), well that’s another taste entirely and they can be had, all-you-can eat, depending on the tier of ticket purchased.
The Event Center boasts of more than 90,000 square feet of space, including an indoor arena. It was built in part to take pressure off overbooked Friendship Hall, on the other side of the county fairgrounds, as well as to grow with Montrose. Since it opened in spring 2018, the search has been on for events that will draw repeat visitors.
Can Red Dirt country bands with cult followings and the cuisine bring them in?
Montrose County Fairgrounds & Event Center Director Emily Sanchez hopes so.
“It’s kind of similar to the Olathe Sweet Corn Festival, that we could create a draw with and build year after year and make it a fun experience to make people want to come to,” Sanchez said.
Although there are other Red Dirt festivals, she’s found those in Nevada and Texas, not on the Western Slope. There are Rocky Mountain oyster festivals and fries, too, but in Colorado, they are either smaller affairs, or not paired with Red Dirt music, Sanchez said.
“I haven’t found a big festival that combines the two yet,” she said.
There is a “Rocky Mountain Oyster Festival” in Aspen each September, however, the festival serves oysters of the seafood variety, not the cowboy kind.
The Montrose and Olathe FFA clubs have been known to host Rocky Mountain oyster fries, and the county hopes to include the clubs in the April 25 festival.
The festival, with ticket prices starting at $25, features games and contests — the nut toss (think corn hole tournaments); a different take on putt-putt golf; an invite to strut it in cute boots; hillbilly golf with free beer to the winner, and the chance to show off your brand by incorporating it into your wardrobe.
Folks can also vie for a bull-riding buckle — mechanical bull, that is, as the Event Center hosts its first mechanical bull riding competition to crown a champ. Festival-goers can “brand” the giant longhorn the county’s bringing in — he’s fiberglass and is to be displayed throughout the year at the Event Center.
As for the food, if Rocky Mountain oysters don’t appeal, outside vendors are on tap to offer more variety.
Montrose County commissioners last week approved the contracts for the talent coming in for the festival. Reckless Kelly’s guarantee is $15,000, with Colston’s at $3,500 and Bryant’s at $5,000.
“I actually think this could become a signature event. This could be a really great fit for Montrose County,” Commissioner Sue Hansen said, during contract discussions.
Commissioner Roger Rash said he liked the timing of an early spring festival and praised staff for “thinking outside the box.”
“I think it’s a great trio,” Rash said of the lineup.
Sanchez on Wednesday credited Sarah Fishering, Event Center manager, for the idea.
“We tied it to the red dirt because it ties into the center’s red dirt,” Sanchez said, in an echo of what she had told commissioners last week: “If you come in, you leave with a little bit of red dirt.”
Caddy on Tuesday said the combo is unique.
“Nobody does that here in Montrose, or on the Western Slope that I know of. They’re popular in Nebraska and Kansas, but I don’t see them over here,” he said.
“It’s unique enough that we’re going to get people curious. I think there is going to be some curiosity.”
The hope, of course, is that Rocky Mountain oysters, fun, games and music will help the Event Center bring in bodies and revenue.
In early January, country singers Lorrie Morgan and Aaron Tippin drew people from as far away as Ohio and as near as right here, to the Montrose County Event Center for 2020’s first big event.
The concert’s ticket intake didn’t quite match expectations, with the county failing by about $7,000 to break even.
“For the amount of money that was spent, that’s not too bad,” Caddy said. “I would like to see us at least break even.”
Caddy also spoke of the economic multiplier effect, seen in the money visitors and residents spend locally in association with events, and the number of times those dollars can turn around in a community.
Sanchez does not expect instant success, but enough success to build on.
“I think that in the first couple years, it will be potentially a little bit hard to make money, but as we kind of build a name and create that draw, we can definitely break in and focus on drawing people to town and creating that positive economic impact,” she said.
Sanchez told commissioners the three musical acts each appeal to potentially different age demographics.
Reckless Kelly, popular on the college circuit about two decades ago, is a genre stalwart that maintains a cult following.
“I’ve heard a lot of people excited that group is coming,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “The other two are younger and on the verge of coming out. They definitely put on a good show.”
Colston and Bryant are also active on social media, where they enjoy good-sized followings, and it’s anticipated that will help promote the Montrose event.
“The crowd for Red Dirt country and bull (Rocky Mountain oyster) fries kind of mix. It should be fun. We have plenty of room to grow as the event grows,” Sanchez said.
“ … I anticipate people might have a little bit of spring fever and want to come do something fun. It will be good music, good food and kind of a different experience, something that they can’t get just anywhere.”