SNOWMASS VILLAGE - Longtime Snowmass locals and visitors will tell you about another era in Village apres ski, back when there were more venues for live musicians to play and financial times were better.
Many restaurants and bars that once supported live music have since closed or had to simplify their expenses. But today, some new faces are beginning to show up in bars and stages around town, and some of the old guard are adding new venues to their weekly schedule.
Damian Smith, of Snowmass Village, has weathered those changes. Smith, a Chicago native, came out to visit friends more than 17 seasons ago, and within a couple of days got a gig on top of Aspen Mountain.
"(I) just sort of gained momentum really quickly, and I moved out here less than a year later," Smith said.
His musical career in the valley quickly took off. He played double gigs the first five or six years he was here.
"I was playing apres from three to six and then having something to eat and then going into town and playing from nine until two in the morning," Smith said. "This of course was back in the era when there were places to play in the valley, lots of them. There were lots of opportunities to play, which has definitely changed."
For many years, Smith booked bands for the Cirque, helping develop that into a popular venue for apres ski.
"We created a really cool thing," he said. "We knew we rang the bell at one point when Ski Magazine put us in their top five apres spots in the country. I thought well, all right, we've arrived. ... But we've gotten older and have some other responsibilities and that's not so attractive to me anymore. So apres ski kind of became very close to my heart."
Smith and keyboardist Terry Bannon have been playing as a duo for several years. They continue to develop their repertoire so that returning guests and locals don't always hear the same songs.
This summer, they played in Basalt, but Smith said they've decided to focus on Snowmass this year.
"Being a member of this community, being a homeowner here, I really believe in Snowmass, and whatever we can do to bolster the apres scene here, which is very important to us, I'm going to do," Smith said.
Smith just recently added the new Ranger Station to his weekly lineup.
"I'm excited because finally ... new blood is coming to town that is interested in supporting live music," he said. "I think live music is an absolute essential to the on-mountain experience for people."
Another longtime local you'll see playing in Snowmass this season is Rob Tepper, aka Rocky Mountain Rob. Tepper, a Basalt resident, moved to the valley from Minneapolis in the mid 1980s and lived in a school bus in the Buttermilk parking lot.
Tepper's goal was to learn the saxophone when he turned 30, but he switched to harmonica.
"There's something about the harmonica that people just smile," he said.
He's been performing a solo harmonica and vocals gig for the past five or six years.
"I was depending too much on someone else," he said. "If they couldn't do it, I couldn't play."
This is his fourth year playing in a Snowmass venue, including Friday evenings at the Edge at Timberline Condominiums. He calls his style of music "harmonica blues."
"My show's totally unique around here," he said. "Most people are used to hearing guitar and Western music. ... I have had people from down South, they tell me it reminds them of things they hear down there."
Haden Gregg and Tom Hills will also be performing from time to time in Snowmass this season. Gregg arrived in 1976, and then spent some time in Santa Barbara before returning to the valley in 1984. He said he's played with Hills and most other musicians in the valley at some point in his time here.
"I think we've both done that with all the musicians here," he said. "We're all kind of a family."
Hills, who was a teacher in the Aspen School District for 20 years, has always played music on the side. Hills is also helping to develop a jazz-focused music schedule at the EightK at Viceroy Snowmass.
"I've been wanting this to happen for like four years now," he said. "There's not a whole lot of jazz clubs around here."
Gregg said he and Jim Dykkan are working on re-releasing their album "Night Plane," produced in the '80s, this spring. It will come out as a three-CD set with the old album, a new CD and a collection of live recordings.
Gregg and Hills will next perform in Snowmass at Sneaky's Tavern on Dec. 28.