I took three teenage girls to the Austin City Limits Festival. The original plan involved having another mom with me, but it didn’t go down that way. So I went, I saw, and I survived ACL.
I had a Sunday pass, but the girls had three day wristbands. My daughter and her friends are close to 18, and veterans of two years of Summer Fest in Houston, so I didn’t have to hold their hands. I just needed to be around to be sure that when they walked into the hotel suite at 11 pm each night that everything was okay.
One thing I’d say about the music. I’m lucky to have a hip kid. Alt Rock rocks, and without my daughter, I doubt I’d know any of these groups. So many of the bands — Cold War Kids, Young the Giant, Mumford and Sons, Saint Motel, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats — I really like. When Catherine rolled out the ACL weekend proposal several months ago, I thought — yes, I’m good with this plan.
As many of my readers know, I grew up in New Orleans. That means the Jazz and Heritage Festival is part of me, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a music festival. I was pleasantly surprised with Austin City Limits.
ACL was very well organized, and the space for the festival in Zilker Park was amply big to hold the number of people attending. Bathrooms at music festivals are always a downer, but there were plenty of them, lines were fast — and the ones I used flushed! And they were clean. It’s the little things.
ACL wristbands could be activated with a credit card so that attendees simply swiped the wristband to pay for food, drinks, and festival merchandise; this was a very effective system, and made lines go quickly. The food was great!! Catherine had been raving about it from their first two days at the festival, so by the time I went on Sunday, I was ready. My sister, who lives in Austin, brought a good friend of hers and joined me on Sunday afternoon. We enjoyed Kimchi fries and spicy chicken tacos from Chi’lantro. Oh, so good!
I knew I wasn’t up for all day at the festival, so the band I chose to see was Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. Man! The first time I heard his song S.O.B. I could feel the R&B, rock and even some gospel. Infectious rhythm. And as I listened to the band’s other music, I liked them even better.
My stay at the Sundance Resort in late September was full of crisp fall air and leaves turning golden yellow, orange, and red.
What a gorgeous time to be in Provo Canyon! Mount Timpanogos received a dusting of snow a couple of days before my arrival. The first afternoon was lightly rainy, but perfect for taking an umbrella walk and doing some writing.
I’ve been aware of the resort for a long time, and looked at visiting on several occasions, but never managed to make it happen. Now that I’ve finally been, I wonder — what took me so long?
I spent a long September weekend at Sundance Mountain Resort, hiking and taking photographs. The fall days were so lovely, and brought to mind the Stanley Horowitz quote: “Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.”My time there happened to coincide with the Harvest Market — a venue for great music, local artists, and good fun. What an idyllic retreat . . . the food was great, and I absolutely loved Sundance.
Rooms and Suites
All of the accommodations at Sundance are in cabins and range in size from a standard rooms to lofts and suites. I really like that there isn’t a big lodge or hotel building. The cabins fit into the landscape, nestled among the trees. In fact, one of the things I like the best about Sundance is that it feels private, personal. Nothing about the resort is over-developed.
I stayed in a standard room this time, which was very comfortable. It was was rustic, with rough pine paneling, luxurious bedding, and a well-designed bathroom. I walked back and forth from my cabin to Base for meals and activities. It was great exercise. If you don’t want to walk or drive, it’s not a problem. There is a small fleet of Acura SUVs driven by staff that will take you back and forth.
There was really good in-room coffee! What a nice surprise — ample Starbucks, with real cream. Oh, this is the way to my heart first thing in the morning.
One thing to be aware of — the cabins are built like regular homes, not hotels. What I mean is this – there isn’t commercial sound damping between the floors. You will hear the people in the room above you move around, take showers. This didn’t bother me — I’d stay in the same room again without a second thought.
If this is something you want to avoid, I would recommend booking a second floor room, or a loft configuration — I’d call Sundance and have a reservation specialist find a room or suite that will please you.
Other larger rooms configurations offered:
400 sq. ft.
500-600 sq. ft.
550-700 sq. ft.
1,000 sq. ft.
Note: at the time of writing, there are not handicap accessible rooms at the Sundance Resort. The restaurants, store, and other public buildings are accessible.
A view of the mountains from Ray’s meadow at Sundance. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
The Tree Room Library, Sundance Resort. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
I saw wild turkeys on my morning walks several times. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
You can have as much – or as little – activity as you would like while you’re at the Sundance Resort.
In the warmer weather, there’s hiking, mountain biking, and ziplining — you take Ray’s ski lift up and hop off for your chosen activity. Hiking and biking are divided along two sides of the mountains for safety. Then in the winter, you can go skiing, snowshoeing, or head to the Nordic Center.
If you’re looking for rest and revitalization, then The Spa at the Sundance Mountain Resort offers a full range of services: massages, facials, body treatments, manicures and pedicures, along with seasonal offerings.
I enjoyed taking the Alpine loop drive above Sundance that winds up over the summit. The road is narrow, but there are ample pull-outs for photo stops, or simply letting someone in a hurry get on their way.
Sundance Resort offers a variety of classes, including jewelry making, pottery, watercolor, and photography. I took a photography class, and my experience at the Sundance Art Studio was outstanding. I was the only student — something I did not expect. I’d call myself a serious amateur photographer. I expected to be sitting with a group of beginners — which would have been fine because I always learn something. But I didn’t have to do that. Annalisa took time to find out where I was with skills and looked at some of my photographs before setting an agenda for the lesson. She is a great teacher, and I’ll take class with her again when I’m back at Sundance.
The summer season at the Sundance Mountain Resort is the busiest in terms of number of events. In the summer of 2016 these were comprised of multiple music events, including performances by the Utah Orchestra, special food events, and Sundance Summer Theater performances. Sundance Summer theater is done in partnership with Utah Valley University, and the summer 2016 offerings were The Music Man and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. An example of special food events would be the supper club evenings that include lift tickets up to Bearclaw cabin, where participants have a gourmet dinner served outside surrounded by the Wasatch mountain range.
Coming up in October are the Halloween Lift Rides, along with film screenings. Later in November, a set of four Redford films will screen on consecutive Fridays. Then there is the Author series of talks. There are so many different activities over the course of the year, you’ll want to check the Sundance calendar to see what’s going the month you’re going to visit.
Sundance Mountain Resort does a great job with food in four different venues: The Tree Room, The Foundry Grill, The Owl Bar, and the Deli. I ate everywhere except the Deli during my stay at Sundance.
I had dinner in the Tree Room my second night – as the fine dining option, I simply had to try it. The restaurant is beautiful: rustic wood paneling, navajo rugs and native American artwork, white table cloths with soft lamp light. Entrees range from $28 to $48. My Tree Room Pepper Steak was outstanding. Tree Room Menu.
The Foundry Grill is Sundance’s less formal restaurant, but the ambiance is equally pleasing, and the food was just as good as the Tree Room. At lunch, the entrees range from $15 to $25 dollars, while in the evening $25 – $44, but you can still get salads or pizza for under twenty dollars. The Sunday buffet-style brunch at the Foundry is a big deal — and a big favorite with the locals. Brunch sells out most of the time, so be sure to make reservations. Honestly, and this is just a “me” thing – I preferred their regular breakfast. I am not a big buffet person, and this is absolutely not a knock on the Foundry Brunch, which has a gorgeous breakfast buffet. Foundry Lunch Menu. Foundry Dinner Menu. Foundry Breakfast Menu.
The Foundry Grill, Sundance Mountain Resort. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Smoked Trout Hash with poached eggs, from the Foundry Grill.
The Owl is my kind of bar, with great character, good people, and a selection of food drawn from from the Foundry’s menu. I liked the rough hewn log interior decorated with black and white images from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I was at the Owl each night for drinks, and had lunch there twice. The Owl Bar Menu.
There is also a Deli that serves things like breakfast tacos in the morning, sandwiches, and while I did not eat at the Deli — the food looked great.
Since the food and the atmosphere at the two Sundance restaurants, the Foundry and the Tree Room, are so good, locals come to eat regularly. If you want a table, you’d better make a reservation in advance, or you’ll be eating at the deli or hoping for a table at the Owl Bar — which is sometimes hard to come by.
What impressed me about Sundance, more than anything – it was the people. This started before my arrival. I made reservations about two weeks before I arrived. A day after I booked the weekend on the Sundance Resort web site, a received an email survey from the concierge to find out what I would like to do. Brenda followed up with a call about an hour later. This personal touch was the hallmark of my whole experience at Sundance. It’s not a large resort, so the staff really has time to treat guests as individuals.
People like working here. John, who waited on me numerous times at the Foundry, has worked for Sundance for over six years. Owl bartender J. Jaye has been with Sundance fourteen years, and told me she was a junior in terms of longevity. My photography instructor was the same — a fourteen plus year Sundance employee. John, J. Jaye, and Annalisa all talked about why they like working at Sundance. That speaks volumes. The company treats its people well, and that makes this is a great place to be – for guests as well.
Maple leaves on a rainy afternoon at Sundance. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
The sun breaks through – gorgeous afternoon at Sundance. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Bridge near the River Run cabins at Sundance. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Red tailed hawk with a bird rescue group at the Sundance Harvest Market. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
There are certainly other mountain resorts in Utah, and for that matter, in many western states. So why choose Sundance?
Of course the resort is beautiful, but it’s so much more than that. Sundance has played an important role in film and storytelling in our country. Would we even have the Independent Film movement in the U.S. without Robert Redford and his Sundance? It’s impossible to say.
In my twenties I first became aware of Redford’s work in Indy film with the Belizaire the Cajun (1986). This little movie was about the part of the world I was from — but I didn’t know much about Cajuns — I grew up in New Orleans. The film launched me into reading about the Acadians.
I had never heard the term Independent Film before this. It’s when I started to understand how hard, how nearly impossible it was for films that didn’t interest the big studios — to get made and get to an audience.
In a Hollywood Reporter article, Stephen Gallway writes, “Redford received a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and added $50,000 of his own money to create the nonprofit Sundance Institute in 1981, then launched the festival in Park City three years later. Even Redford’s agent at the time, Freddie Fields, thought he was crazy. “I said, ‘I want to do this. You’re not going to stop me,’ ” recalls Redford. ” ‘I’ll only give it three years. If it doesn’t work, I’m not going to beat a dead horse.’ And in the third year, it started to happen.””
In a Roger Ebert interview from 2003, Redford discusses the first years of the Sundance Film Festival. “We had 30 or 40 films, in two theaters. I was standing in the street outside the Egyptian Theater, handing out brochures like a street hawker, trying to talk people into coming inside. I saw David Putnam, who was running Columbia at that time, and gave him the pitch. He went in, saw Jim McBride’s ‘The Big Easy,’ and bought it. That was the first film bought at Sundance.”
“The lab has been, maybe, the best of all of it. The festival is great, it went way beyond my expectations, but the festival is about showcasing work.”
“The lab is the heart and soul of Sundance. That’s where things get developed. That’s where new people come in that wouldn’t have a chance. Then we work with them. Then we bring my colleagues in, the screenwriters, actors, directors.” (Vanity Fair, 2016).
Some of the films that have come from the Sundance Lab work are Reservoir Dogs (1991), Boys Don’t Cry (1997), and Maria Full of Grace (2002).
In a 2013 BBC interview for the Sundance London Film Festival, Redford was asked why he thought independent film was so critical to the industry. Redford responded, “I think because of the value of the independent voice. There’s nothing wrong with the big blockbusters. That’s the wonderful thing about the industry; it accommodates all kinds of film. I don’t think it should only focus on one kind. By increasing the independent film, for me it was increasing the opportunities for audiences to have more of a choice in the marketplace.”
I’m booked to head back to Sundance in November to see the screening of Jeremiah Johnson. This will be a treat because it’s been many years since I’ve watched it. It’s possible that without Redford’s experience making the film, and then the fight to get it released, we might not have Sundance — Jeremiah Johnson gave him firsthand experience with the frustrations of making and launching a project that wasn’t the studio’s idea.
So, yes. There are many other mountain resorts you might visit in America. But none of them are Sundance. I don’t have big, important money to donate to the Institute. But I sure can choose to spend some of my vacation dollars supporting a place I find meaningful.
Listening to Redford talk about Sundance will give you an understanding of what he thinks, that it’s “a place where I could meld my two loves: nature and art.” The Story of Sundance Mountain Resort.
“To us Sundance is and always will be a dream. What you see, smell, taste and feel here is a dream being carefully nurtured. It is an area whose pledge is to people. What we offer in the form of art and culture, spirit and service is homegrown and available to all.” – Robert Redford
Thank you for visiting!
I’m writing and traveling full-time now, and if you like my work, please subscribe to my blog via email.
Sources When I started writing this blog posting, I wanted to finish with a bit on Redford and his impact in Indy film. I’d read his biography several years ago, but wanted to go through some more recent articles. And then I couldn’t quit reading. So, I’m sharing — great reads and listens. Enjoy!
JFK Library. “A Conversation with Robert Redford.” YouTube. YouTube, 22 Sept. 2014. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
“BRANDING VIDEO: “Sundance Vision” for Robert Redford’s Sundance.” YouTube. YouTube, 2011. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.
Callan, Michael Feeney. Robert Redford: The Biography. New York: Vintage, 2012. Print.
Carliss, Richard. “Robert Redford: Our Man from Sundance | Film Society of Lincoln Center.” Film Society of Lincoln Center. N.p., 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
Coates, Kristen. “Becoming Sundance: The Development of America’s Premiere Film Festival.” The Film Stage. The Film Stage, 11 June 2010. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
Dowd, Maureen. “The Sun-Dried Kid.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 9 Oct. 2013. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
Ebert, Roger. “Redford Reflects on Indie Films, Political Climate | Festivals & Awards | Roger Ebert.” All Content. N.p., 19 Jan. 2003. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
Galloway, Stephen. “Robert Redford at 77: More Acting, a Possible Exit From Sundance and Poignant Regret.” The Hollywood Reporter. N.p., 15 Jan. 2014. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.
Luscombe, Belinda. “Heroes of the Environment.” Time. Time Inc., 17 Oct. 2007. Web. 01 Oct. 2016.
News, BBC. “Robert Redford on Independent Film – BBC News.” BBC News. N.p., 24 Apr. 2013. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
Raab, Scott. “Free at Last: The Robert Redford Story.” Esquire. N.p., 13 Mar. 2013. Web. 01 Oct. 2016.
Redford, Robert. The Outlaw Trail. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1978. Print.
Scott, Mike. “As ‘Belizaire the Cajun’ Gets a 25th-anniversary Re-release, Director Recalls Its Unlikely Road to Release.” NOLA.com. Times Picayune, 2 Apr. 2011. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
Smith, Krista. “Catching up with Robert Redford at Sundance, Talking Barbra, the 70s, and the Future of Indie Film.” HWD. N.p., 30 Jan. 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
Wise, Damon. “Sundance 2015: Robert Redford Talks Change but Not Retiring.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 23 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.