Story and photos by Ann Larson

Back to: News
March 2, 2010
Follow News

SCENE: They write the songs... and sing them, too

Music has been a big part of Snowmass Village from the early days to the present. From aprs ski bands to summer's free Thursday night concerts and the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June and Labor Day Festivals, music has brought thousands to this small mountain town.The talent that plays here doesn't all come from afar. Four local singer/songwriters have put their mark on the town and the whole Roaring Fork Valley.

When it comes to Snowmass performers, Twirp Anderson was here from the beginning. Playing with the Country Cannonball, he and his band rocked the Timbermill in the early days of the ski resort.Those were the wild days of aprs ski as hordes danced in their ski boots with the wildest getting prone on the floor to do the "Alligator." Now, no one even gets off their chair or barstool to dance.Arriving from Idaho in 1966, Twirp was a real cowboy, who is shoeing horses up to this day. He helped to start the Snowmass Rodeo in 1973 and was its original announcer, a job he's continued until 2008. In the early days he even competed as a saddle bronc rider.He's still singing and strumming at the rodeo during the BBQ dinner and entertains the kids around the bonfire after it's over."Back in grade school, my mother played piano, the only instrument in the house, and we'd all gather around and sing," he said.In high school he taught himself to play the guitar in order to accompany his singing. Later he learned to play the fiddle, banjo and mandolin.In addition to performing with the Country Cannonball with Cash Cashman in the 1970s and '80s, he also played at the Leather Jug when it first opened, where John Denver was beginning to make a name for himself. He later teamed up with the Tracy McLain Band and then with John Sommers. With the latter he formed Heart of the Rockies band that also included Cash Cashman and Randall Utterback.For the past 12 years, he has performed aprs ski on weekends at the Silvertree Hotel's Conservatory to appreciative audiences, who love his blend of music. He's a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n roll. Throw in some Western, folk and pop, and he's got everyone singing along with the music.His inspirations in the early days were Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly and Elvis. Now his singing heroes are Garth Brooks and George Strait."We're happy about our enthusiastic crowds at the Silvertree. Cash and I are playing like we used to play back at the Timbermill. We put a lot of energy into what we're doing," he said.Also a songwriter, he has immortalized the town and surrounding area, where he performs the most, in his song "Snowmass" which paints a picture of the beauty of this mountain town. He had two CDs, "Heart of the Rockies" and "Just Me the Cowboy.""I raised three kids in the Roaring Fork Valley, mostly through the work I did in Snowmass Village," he said.

For Tom Ressel, deciding to be a singer/songwriter didn't come from singing around the piano with his family. When he was just 11 years old, he and a friend were chauffeured to and from a Van Halen concert in Massachusetts by their parents."What's that smell," the innocents asked each other.After watching David Lee Roth do his thing on stage, Ressel decided that he wanted to be a rock star."I was completely blown away," he said.He got himself a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar and began learning to play songs with the help of his school friends in Chumford. He played for a while in a band called Motherless Children and later changed from bass to the guitar.When he was 26 years old, he headed off on a trip across the U.S with another musician. Their van broke down heading west over Independence Pass on August 11, 1996, and they coasted into Aspen. The duo got a gig that night playing at McStorlies for $50.The following year he began playing in Snowmass Village, usually as a solo acoustic artist at the old Cirque, which was formerly the Timbermill, where Twirp Anderson had folks crawling around the dirty bar floor.Though he usually plays alone here, Ressel sometimes plays with old friends in bands in Southern California and back in Massachusetts.Along with his singing and playing, he's also written about 30 songs and made CDs with various bands."Usually the songs are about women and heartbreak or keeping people up to date on my alcoholism. It's honest. I don't write the most upbeat things," he said. He can often be found playing at the Office at the Cirque and will now play aprs ski on Thursdays at the newly opened Base Camp bar and grill at Base Village."Playing in Snowmass Village is great. Everyone's on vacation and ready for a good time and the people working there are super. I'm so lucky that I still get to do this. Playing in Snowmass is awesome," he said.

Damian Smith came here from Chicago in 1995 to visit some old friends and like so many, never left."I got my start in Snowmass Village playing in venues like La Pinata, Cowboys and the Timbermill and I have played in the corner of just about every room in the Village that has a bar in it," he said."My interest in music came from my father who sang for Chicago's Lyric Opera for 40 years. He taught vocal training in our home and as a child my bedroom was right next to his studio, I couldn't help but pick up on the lessons. Also, I saw my father perform regularly on stage," he said.He also remembers seeing the Beatles sing "Hey Jude" on TV and thinking, "That's what I want to do!"Besides the Beatles, another influence in his youth was Jimi Hendrix. Now his inspiration comes from songwriters such as Bob Dylan and John Hiatt. At home he's a producer as he records and edits his singing and playing using Pro Tools influenced by great producers such as T-Bone Burnett, Brendan O'Brien, Dan Lanois and Brian Eno.Damian Smith performs solo acoustic and has a duo with Richard Hathaway of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to which they add other local musicians to create a trio or quartet. Once in a while, he also performs in a duo with master keyboardist Terry Bannon. He's been writing, co-writing and producing songs for himself and other artists since 1985 and tries to play as much original material at gigs as he can."I especially love performing in Snowmass Village because it's my home with my wife, Claire. I love the sense of community here. The Snowmass locals and our longtime repeat visitors are particularly supportive. Just hang around one of my gigs long enough to watch them sing along to "Raise Up Your Glass" (drinking anthem and ode to fallen local Chip Johnson) and you'll see what I mean. There's nothing quite like it," he said. Damian is encouraged by Snowmass Village's support of local live music at venues including The Office at the Cirque on the Snowmass Mall and the new Base Camp Bar & Grill and Sneaky's Tavern at Base Village. He plays regularly at all three."Each one of these venues has a healthy respect for how important live music is to the on-mountain experience for locals and visitors alike," he said.

Another local singer and songwriter who has had a big influence on the music scene in Snowmass Village is Dan Sheridan, who moved here in 1988. "My interest in music started as a young child listening to my older brother play guitar and sing on our parent's front porch," he said.His musical tastes were influenced early by Neil Young and James Taylor. These two giants of the music world are still his inspiration along with Todd SniderAs a songwriter he has won awards for his songs including first places at the Rocky Mountain Folk Festival Songwriter Showcase in 2002 and Swallow Hill Songwriting Competition in 2001.While his skills are touted by many, one of his songs, "Big Money" from his 2003 album "Recycle," recently got him in trouble and fired. It was the first day of 2010 and he was playing at Sneaky's Tavern at Base Village singing about how "big money ruins everything." So what was the big deal? Did Joni Mitchell get fired for singing "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."But someone took offense and Sheridan was given the axe. He did get a lot of press though, not only locally but in Denver and in the L.A. Times.There was enough ink to get people with similar views about big money ruining paradise to check out his Web site at and maybe buy his latest album, "Small Town Love," which includes that ill-fated tune.Hopefully Dan Sheridan will be back playing in Snowmass Village venues soon. His talents can still be heard at the Aspen Highlands and around the Roaring Fork Valley. While he often performs solo, he can also be found alongside Randall Utterback, who also plays with Twirp Anderson.An Aspen resident, he always enjoyed performing in Snowmass Village, especially outdoors. He's played on the Fanny Hill stage.Although he sees his skills as a songwriter more than an acoustic guitarist, Sheridan enjoys recording his own CDs.There are many talented singers and musicians in Snowmass Village, Aspen and the rest of the valley. These are just four of those who write the songs and sing them, too.

Stories you may be interested in

The Aspen Times Updated Mar 2, 2010 06:33PM Published Mar 2, 2010 05:15PM Copyright 2010 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.