Steamboat’s Betse Grassby retiring from Strings Music Festival after 26 years
August 8, 2013
Steamboat Springs — To hear Betse Grassby tell it, the start of the Strings Music Festival was really just to have a party.
There was the time they employed guys who lifted weights at the old Steamboat Athletic Club to move a piano across the deck and through the crowd into position.
There was another time a world-renowned violinist left a $1 million violin at a sushi restaurant.
There have been too many times to count that Grassby has had to direct multiple semitrailers where to park and where to leave instruments.
Through it all, what a party it has been for the past 26 years. It hasn't always been pretty, but for the director of operations and non-classical programming, it's all been worth it.
Grassby, who helped start Strings, will retire from the series at the conclusion of this summer.
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The community is invited to acknowledge Grassby's contributions Saturday in the Strings Cafe after the Earl Klugh and Nnenna Freelon concert, which begins at 8 p.m.
"It was really our party," Grassby said. "I knew we needed a piano. I got a Baldwin in Denver. Of course, it was tuned. But before the second concert, the performer said, 'When is the piano tuner here?' I had no idea you needed a piano tuner through the summer."
Luckily, it has gotten better since then. Much better.
Grassby has seen the transformation of Strings from a makeshift stage at the old Steamboat Athletic Club to the world-class facility it is today.
It began in 1987 when John Sant’Ambrogio believed they could start a music festival.
"He said, 'We could do a really good music series,'" Grassby said. "He said, 'Betse, you do it.' So we did."
After getting a $4,000 grant from the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, they did eight concerts that first summer.
The goal was to get 200 people for the summer. More than 200 showed up the first night.
"Betse always brought so much energy," said Executive Director Kay Clagett, who helped start the festival with Grassby. "With her, it was always a fun atmosphere to work in."
Soon after starting, the Steamboat Athletic Club couldn't house the number of people who showed up.
In 1992, it moved to Torian Plum. In 2003, they purchased the seven acres of land where the current facility is. By 2008, they had built the pavilion.
"There are a lot of things I will miss about her, but mostly I'll miss our daily friendship and working connection," said Finance Director Annie DeGroff, who stared working with Grassby after the first year. "We've had a lot of good, positive, wonderful times. That's what made Strings grow as it's grown."
Grassby isn't sure what is next. She plans to stay in Steamboat, a place she has been for more than 40 years.
She said she still has a passion for the music industry but the thought of having a summer to herself is an amazing one.
"I don't know. I guess it's because it's 26 years," she said. "I have been so blessed to have this career in Steamboat Springs. I would never have imagined it in 1987. I've been so lucky that I have been able to have this amazing career in Steamboat. I've been able to work with some of the finest musicians throughout the country in one of the finest venues."
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com