The Town That Bud Light Took Over
Anheuser-Busch is flying a thousand people into Crested Butte, Colorado this weekend to film a star-studded, beer-drenched series of TV commercials. What could go wrong?
It's been one of the most poorly kept secrets in Colorado for several weeks now. Starting this evening, September 5th, Anheuser-Busch will take over Crested Butte's main street, Elk Avenue, for a two-day party that will be edited into a commercial in time for next week's NFL games. Over the summer, Anheuser-Busch invited the public to explain why they should be a part of the “Up for Whatever” ad, a follow up to one that aired during last year's Superbowl involving a regular guy named Ian Rappaport beating Arnold Schwarzenegger in pingpong before a stage wall crashes down to reveal the band One Republic.
This year's event will feature 500 party guests flown in from around the country, each of them allowed to bring a friend. The town of Crested Butte—more of a craft beer town, really—was paid $500,000 to rename itself Whatever U.S.A for the event. It's invitation only: with the town blocked off, people who show up hoping to crash the party will be out of luck. Busch set aside 4,000 wristbands to give out to the town's 1,500 residents and then extended the offer on a first-come basis to residents of Gunnison County. They were gone within a few hours.
— Paul Eide (@EidePaul) September 5, 2014
As for what's planned, Anheuser-Busch has been secretive up until now. At noon on Friday, spokesman Nick Kelly revealed that the party will be kicked off with a parade culminating in a performance by the rapper Lil Jon, who will then host hip hop karaoke at a local bar. On the whole, the lack of information hasn't stopped locals (who are almost as good at gossiping as skiing) from speculating. Among the leading rumors: Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff lifeguarding at a beach that was trucked in to a performance by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Hulk Hogan bar tending at the Eldo. “Not true,” says Kelly. “We definitely have a lot of celebrities and musical acts, but none have been mentioned yet. We've heard speculation about everyone from Ashton Kutcher to Jay Z and Beyonce to U2 and the Rolling Stones.” One rumor that's been going around that is true: the rapper Vanilla Ice will be selling ice cream out of an ice cream truck and then performing. Kelly points out that the people being flown in are young. “The one thing that we've tried to explain is that the guests we're flying out are 21 to 28. They will be big-name acts but they'll be more attractive to people in that age range.”
— Rhiannon (@rhirrrr7) September 5, 2014
What we can tell you is that a good portion of the heart of downtown has been painted bright blue. There's a 20-foot gorilla, a massive cowboy boot, outdoor hot tubs, and a boom-box the size of a house next to a trucked-in faux beach. There will be games of Twister played with contortionists. There will be human Zorb bowling. There will be prancing, with Joanna Rohrback, the star of the popular Prancercise videos, leading classes throughout the weekend. All of the main festivities will be held on just three blocks, along Elk Avenue from 1st Street to 4th street. There's a geotagged photostream from everyone at the party on the website Ban.jo.
Not everyone in town thinks that sounds like fun. Crested Butte prides itself on its anti-corporate vibe and remains one the most laid-back ski towns in the state. The closest thing in town to a chain restaurant or retailer is the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Every September, the town still hosts one of our favorite pagan rituals, Vinotok, that involves an elaborate act in which the Green Man, representing the most virile guy in town, beheads the Great Grump, a 20-foot-tall effigy on wheels symbolizing last year's gripes. And as recently as few winters ago there was an NC-17 rated wet T-shirt contest at a downtown bar on New Year's Eve.
Not surprisingly, most local business owners have generally been in favor of the event, noting that it's bringing in a huge influx of cash during the sleepy shoulder season. “It's been a hell of a process,” said mayor Aaron “Huck” Huckstep. Anheuser-Busch initially offered the town $250,000, but after a heated town meeting and many healthy debates, the company ended up doubling its offer.
Most of the national news stories about the event thus far have focused on the naysayers. A Fox News story from earlier this week was headlined “Bud Light's takeover of Colorado town has residents hopping mad,” while the New York Times chimed in yesterday with “Town Becomes Beer Ad, but Residents Don't Feel Like a Party.”
And while there are certainly quite a few residents who feel that way Busch's Kelly is quick to point out that, “For a town that doesn't want us here, they ran through those wristbands pretty quickly.”
Many locals are looking forward to what promises to be a wild weekend. “A healthy portion of the population is excited to experience it,” said Mike Horn, the editor of Stokelab.com and editorial director of Buttery, a creative agency based in Vermont. “We're standing here getting our hair blown back by this thing,” said Jake Jones, the director of North American operations for Irwin Guides, a cat-skiing operation based in town. “It's safe to say that there are a lot of us who are simultaneously worried that we've gotten way more than we bargained for with this thing but, at this point, we might as well enjoy ourselves.”
As of late this morning, the first Bud Light-branded jets, emblazoned with “Whatever” across the fuselage, had touched down at the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport. Locals like Horn were getting their costumes and the hashtag #upforwhatever was starting to light up on Twitter, as guests began tweeting pictures of themselves drinking in their Bud Light-branded swag on the morning's inbound flights. “We're ready to have a party,” said the mayor. “We're going to take fun to a whole new level.”