Stewart Oksenhorn

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August 28, 2012
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2012 Labor Day Festival: More headliners than days

SNOWMASS VILLAGE -Jim Horowitz, the founder and president of Jazz Aspen Snowmass, tallies up the number of headliners for this year's Labor Day Festival and comes up with five.No, this isn't a return to those couple of occasions when the hugely popular jam band Widespread Panic played the Labor Day Festival and insisted on a two-night stand, stretching the festival to a five-day affair. It's not even a return to the four-day format that was the standard for Labor Day until three years ago, when Monday was lopped off the weekend.The Labor Day Fest remains a three-day affair. But this year, Horowitz says a load of attractions are packed into the lineup - including five headliners, by what Horowitz says is the standard Colorado definition of a headliner: an act that can top the bill at Red Rocks."Steve Miller and Michael Franti, they both headline at Red Rocks. And they have both headlined at Labor Day before," Horowitz said. At this year's Labor Day Festival, which runs Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 in Snowmass Town Park, Miller and Franti are relegated to opening-act status. But for Horowitz, that's an indication of the level of talent. Topping the bill are Sugarland, the country duo whose long list of honors includes a pair of Grammys for the 2009 song "Stay"; Mumford & Sons, the skyrocketing British folk-rock band whose Red Rocks date this week sold quickly enough that a second date was added (and also sold out); and Kid Rock, whose endurance as a pop star was demonstrated when his 2010 album "Born Free" reached No. 1 on the Billboard Rock Album chart, 12 years and six albums after he came to prominence with the album "Devil Without a Cause."Regardless of how a headliner is defined, Horowitz is pleased with the Labor Day talent. "It's big names. Clearly more firepower on one weekend than we've ever had before," he said.This year's festival, the 18th annual outing, also has the diversity Jazz Aspen aims for. Labor Day Festival acts in years past have ranged from aged but enduring artists (Neil Young, Bob Dylan, John Fogerty) to youth-oriented acts (Black Eyed Peas, Girl Talk), bluegrass-oriented bands (Sam Bush, Yonder Mountain String Band) to '70s legacy acts (the Doobie Brothers, Loggins & Messina), reggae stars (Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers, Alpha Blondy) to jam bands (Widespread Panic). This year, the range is not quite as wide as last summer, when headliners included Girl Talk, who uses a laptop to mash up familiar songs, and classic rockers Steely Dan. But Horowitz hints that last year's stylistic range might have been too much of a stretch: a younger audience came for Girl Talk on Friday night, but showed little interest in staying through the weekend; many older listeners passed on Girl Talk."To achieve the numbers we're looking for, we have to have bands that really connect with a wide audience," Horowitz said. "This year has the hallmark of the diversity we always shoot for. But not as wildly diverse as last year."He added that the early sales numbers show that fans seem interested in the full package of musical acts: Three-day passes, as opposed to single-day tickets, are selling better than ever.This year's festival also carries on the Labor Day tradition of introducing acts that are new to the valley, and bringing back some familiar faces.Mumford & Sons and Kid Rock will be making their valley debuts; Sugarland was one of a group of acts that performed on a package show a few years ago at the Wheeler Opera House. Michael Franti, whose mix of social consciousness and soulful sounds have made him a Roaring Fork Valley favorite, returns for his fourth Labor Day appearance in the past six years.Steve Miller - whose hits "The Joker," "Fly Like an Eagle" and "Abracadabra" were radio staples in the '70s and early '80s - appeared at the 2004 festival.Additional mainstage acts this year, both making their local debuts, are Saints of Valory, a rock quartet whose members - a Brazilian singer, a French drummer, a Canadian keyboardist and an American guitarist - came together in Rio de Janeiro in 2009 and are now based in Austin, Texas; and Vintage Trouble, a Los Angeles-based soul band.Playing the second stage are young country singers Canaan Smith and Lauren Alaina, singer-songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff, and rock band You Me & Apollo.Which leaves one more mainstage act: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, a New Orleans band led by trumpeter, trombonist and singer Troy Andrews. The band played a sold-out show last year at the Wheeler Opera House, and their recent albums have featured guests Eric Clapton, Warren Haynes, Kid Rock and Lenny Kravitz.Horowitz says that rsum doesn't quite make Trombone Shorty a headliner.But it puts him close."He's not a Red Rock headliner. Not yet," Horowitz said.Still, with five headliners packed into three days, Horowitz thinks the Labor Day Festival offers plenty."I'm expecting a great festival," he said. "I'd expect nothing less."

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The Aspen Times Updated Aug 28, 2012 06:10PM Published Aug 28, 2012 04:55PM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.