| AspenTimes.com

In ‘Freak Kingdom,’ a professor examines the political Hunter S. Thompson

Woody Creek rancher Wayne Vagneur knocked on his neighbor's door to deliver the news of President Kennedy's assassination Nov. 22, 1963. The neighbor was Hunter S. Thompson — living in a rented cabin during his first stint as a Woody Creeker — who would write the phrase "fear and loathing" for the first time later that crushing day in a letter to a friend.

In the sober and serious new book "Freak Kingdom," author Timothy Denevi argues that Thompson had a political awakening in that moment and thus began a tireless decade-long mission combatting American fascism and fighting for the ideals of the U.S. Constitution as he reinvented journalism.

Denevi, a professor in the MFA program at George Mason University and nonfiction editor at the online journal Literary Hub, focuses his clear-eyed narrative on Thompson as a political writer from that dark November 1963 day to Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974, tracking his work through the Vietnam era and a tortured decade of American history.

"I'm continually struck by how talented and how on-point he was about America, institutional injustice and the ways the people with the most power retain that power through un-democratic means," Denevi said in a recent phone interview.

Denevi's book is about the intellectual substance of Thompson rather than the illicit substances and hijinks that often take precedence in biographical treatments. It is telling, for instance, that the book's section covering the period of the drug-addled road trip with attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta that inspired "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" focuses far more upon the fact that Thompson was simultaneously reporting another story at the time: "Strange Rumblings in Aztlan," about the Chicano civil rights movement and the police killing of journalist Ruben Salazar in Los Angeles.

This scholarly treatment chronicles Thompson's dogged work on police brutality, surveillance and abuses of power of every stripe, his watershed 1970 "Freak Power" campaign for sheriff here in Pitkin County, his years in the miasma of American politics on the presidential campaign trail and, of course, his commitment to expose the criminality of President Nixon.

Denevi will discuss and sign his book Wednesday at the Temporary at Willits. The midvalley venue is marking the publication of "Freak Kingdom" with two nights of events. On Tuesday, it will host a conversation between Hunter's son, Juan Thompson, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Loren Jenkins about Thompson's political legacy followed by a screening of the 2008 documentary "Gonzo."

Denevi brands Thompson an anti-fascist committed to exposing and defeating a messy and particularly American strain of totalitarianism. The election of Donald Trump two years ago lit a fire under Denevi, who covered the 2016 presidential conventions for LitHub, to tell this story.

"I think the prism of America right now, after 2016, focused my view on what matters and what doesn't, in terms of political commitment," he said.

He looked to Thompson as a model for what writers and activists might do to combat Trump's agenda effectively.

"I became fascinated by the question that (Thompson) and Oscar Acosta were constantly deliberating, which is, 'Do you work within the system to make it better? Or has it gotten to a point where the system itself is so corrupt that it needs to be torn down?'" he recalled. "In this sense, Hunter Thompson was an optimist, which you wouldn't think. But he did believe he could work in the system as a journalist on the campaign trail or as a political activist running for sheriff in Aspen."

Denevi's book makes the case that Thompson's campaign for sheriff clarified his thinking about government policy and solidified Thompson's political ideology of protecting civil liberties and the environment, reforming the criminal justice system and providing checks on power. After being beaten by police and demoralized by the crack-down on protesters and press at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Thompson found something like hope in his work in local politics here.

"Being able to see change on the ground level in Aspen, after being brutally denied any chance of that change in Chicago and throughout the horror of 1968 was an incredible, I think, experience for him and how participatory democracy can work — how working within the system can effect important change," Denevi said.

The protests against the war in Vietnam and against Nixon weren't getting anything done, Thompson had concluded. As he put it, "there was no point in yelling at the f—ers. They were born deaf and stupid."

Instead, Thompson began infiltrating the system, beginning with Joe Edwards' mayoral campaign in Aspen in 1969, with his own bid for sheriff, and then as a campaign journalist for Rolling Stone championing presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972.

Thompson's campaign, as Aspenites know, lost in the short-term but won the long game, finding torchbearers in the revolutionary anti-development county commissioners of the 1970s and in a line of progressive sheriffs who have shaped local policy in the "Freak Power" tradition.

Denevi's lively and well-researched account of the "Freak Power" movement argues that it was a crucible for Thompson, which prepared and propelled him to go back onto the national scene and undertake his herculean run of prolific journalism in the early 1970s railing against Nixon and the far right.

"It bolstered him to go back out on the campaign trail," Denevi said.

Denevi writes in clean and unadorned prose. He thankfully doesn't attempt to match the fireworks of Thompson's inimitable writing, from which he quotes judiciously. Aware of the siren song of the incendiary gonzo style, Denevi said, he chose to read works by another Aspenite — James Salter — to get a more restrained style into his head as he was working on "Freak Kingdom."

"I tried to imagine James Salter writing about a friend," he explained. "That was my magnet away from Thompson."

Denevi argues that Thompson's legendary drug and alcohol intake was largely utilitarian — a tool that fueled him beyond his natural physical limits to write as prolifically as he did over this decade. "Freak Kingdom" makes particular note of Thompson's use of the amphetamine Dexedrine through this era to keep up the prodigious pace of his writing. Citing revealing correspondence with Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner from the spring of 1973, Denevi argues that the speed and alcohol caught up with Thompson's mind, body and family life as the Nixon era waned.

"Thompson could sense that something drastic was happening — to his body, to his self-identification as a literary writer," Denevi writes. "Most of all: to his relationship with the world and the people he cared about."

The book ends vividly with Nixon resigning and Thompson at the Washington Hilton missing his deadline to write about it for Rolling Stone. Denevi suggests that, after this fierce decade-long fight and a final depressing victory over Nixon, Thompson's tank was empty.

"It took 12 years of sustained work and attention to arrive at this point where the most crooked president in history is being driven from office," Denevi said. "It would be hard to look at that event and not to see how much effort that demanded. And, in doing so, to look ahead at what you would do next, to be unable to think of doing it again."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Singer-songwriter Heather Maloney on the rise at the Wheeler Opera House

Heather Maloney's folk songs of diamond-cut wisdom and impeccable words were born out of silence.

Trained as a singer, she spent three years in contemplation at a Vipassana meditation center in New England, neither speaking nor singing. She emerged in 2010 as a writer, ready to give voice to something that emerged in the quiet.

"It literally is the reason that I started writing," Maloney, who will play the Wheeler Opera House's "On the Rise" series Saturday, said in a recent interview from western Massachusetts during a tour break.

She'd sung all her life, trained in opera and other forms, and developed her voice as an instrument. But her years in the woods gave her something to do with it.

"The reason I had never thought about writing my own songs to sing was that I really didn't have anything to say that felt passionate about saying," she explained. "It was more the joy of expression."

Since then, Maloney has been writing piercing and poignant songs that have drawn comparisons to immortals of folk like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.

Maloney is among the more prominent artists featured in the Wheeler's "On the Rise" series, which is aimed at helping Aspen audiences discover new artists. Maloney landed on the national scene three years ago with the release of her acclaimed full-length album "Making Me Break," after which Spin named her to its "Artist to Watch" list and opening for the likes of Lake Street Dive, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Gary Clark Jr. and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Releasing music on the indie record label Signature Sounds, she's already drawn attention and adoration from music greats like Graham Nash and collaborated with popular acts like Band of Horses and appears poised to grow in stature.

Though her meditation study is key to her origin story as an artist, Maloney is not a preachy songwriter or a singing guru. The wisdom in her compositions is delivered with humility and self-effacing humor.

"I'm careful about not saying, 'Oh, I've meditated so I know these things to be true,'" she said, adding with a laugh: "It's more like I've come into contact with my own craziness. And other people, seemingly, can relate to that."

Her years of contemplative study simply helped her find some things to say.

"As I dove into my own self in a way that I hadn't before, I would stumble upon parts of my heart and mind and past that felt like the thing we call insight," she explained. "It was like, 'Oh, here's a shiny little gem that, if I could weave into song form I could share with other people. In the meditation center, I collected those gems and realized I had enough material from my own experience that I could do something with it."

A singer and songwriter working in the American folk tradition, Maloney said she doesn't think much about the form itself, its tropes and how she might push them into the 21st century. She was raised in a house without television, where the center of entertainment was a record player and a collection of old folk records from the 1960s and '70s.

"Any writing that I've done from the beginning has been strongly informed by these artists," she said. "So I couldn't escape it if I wanted it. It just informs what I do in a deep and unshakable way."

Her most recent record is the EP "Just Enough Sun," released in January. It's exemplary of her thoughtful work as a songwriter. Maloney has a poet's way with words, bringing depth and weight to simple phrases and finding the universal in the specific.

"Let Me Stay," for example, is about the personal experience of sleeping at her childhood home, in what used to be her bedroom and then her brother's — now converted into a guest room. Maloney lists specifics about the room and its transformation over the years as she and her brother grew older and moved out before hitting listeners with the line "I am a guest in every room I've ever known," transforms this personal song into a universal human statement nostalgia and homesickness for the past.

"The personal feeling for me was wanting to slow it down, and that ends up being something that a lot of people can connect to, as well," she explained. "That song is sort of about impermanence and that being an inevitable and often difficult part of life. But there is a sweetness in it, too."

The six-song record also includes a cover of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," an empathetic song about the first chimpanzees sent into space and the brilliant "Don't Be a Pansy," which was inspired by a misguided music critic's misogynistic assessment of Maloney's music.

"I wanted to respond to it and make art of it, in such a way that anyone could relate to it, whatever your gender is — male, female, anywhere in between," she said. "So 'Don't Be a Pansy' was more about, 'Why are we undervaluing these qualities that are considered feminine qualities? How is that hurting us?'"

It's a fierce folk song, written in direct address to a bullying "you," about a storm that takes down a stiff oak tree but spares a patch of bright pansies.

"It's a feminist song, but I tend not to lead with that word," Maloney explained. "I finish with that word. Too many people misunderstand the meaning of it, so I'd rather get to the meat of what it means and then reveal that it's a feminist song. I think that's more effective."

Her upcoming Aspen show — following concerts in Denver and Fort Collins on Thursday and Friday — is an intimate solo acoustic performance that will include material from "Just Enough Sun," some brand-new songs that she's just begun playing publicly and beloved covers like her version of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock," along with some storytelling.

"The meat of what I do is really around writing and telling stories and lyrics," she said. "These shows are really fun for me, as a writer, to really dig into the story part of what I do."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Aspen Community Theatre stages a ‘Big River’ for our tumultuous times

It's a classic American story with an irresistible old-timey score, but "Big River" is not an escapist piece of entertainment.

And that's the point of Aspen Community Theatre staging this musical adaptation of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" this fall, according to director Marisa Post: It's important.

Though peppered with whimsy, it is still Twain's timeless tale of Huck fleeing his abusive dad and Jim fleeing slavery on the Mississippi River — a story of America's original sin of slavery and the brutality of American racism. In this bitterly divided moment in American history, punctuated by police shootings of young black men and racially motivated acts of terrorism in the headlines, "Big River" is a vital show to stage, Post believes.

"Given some of the tumultuousness in the world right now, telling what I think is the quintessential anti-racism story seemed important," Post said. "It's important that, through art, we tackle dicey subject."

The community theater experience, with your friends and neighbors joining their talents and volunteering their time to put on a show, Post suggested, is a powerful way to deliver a message like the one in "Big River."

"Somehow you come into a theater experience and you take it in and you feel it, you get it, nobody has to preach at you," Post said. "And it just gives perspective in a beautiful and loving way that can open up conversations."

It's a show that reflects Jim's words to Huck about the "considerable trouble" and "considerable joy" life serves you, and that offers both ugliness and uplift. Songs like the unifying Huck and Jim duet "Worlds Apart," Post hopes, will resonate all the more with an Aspen audience in 2018.

"It's so deep in terms of the reality of our situation," she said.

The production comes on the heels of Theatre Aspen's searing summer production of the musical "Ragtime," which similarly thrust the history of American racism onto the Aspen stage in a timely show that became a high point of the summer season here.

"Big River" opens Friday at the Aspen District Theatre and runs through Nov. 18. The Broadway show won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1985.

The longtime local actor Gerald DeLisser is taking on the slave Jim in his highest profile role after more than a decade performing with Aspen Community Theatre.

DeLisser, 36, might be the hardest working man in the Roaring Fork Valley theater scene these days. A prolific performer, he pops up regularly in productions at Thunder River Theatre and Theatre Masters, in the comedy troupe Consensual Improv and at the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue, where he is a full-time player. He's been performing in Aspen Community Theatre productions going back to "Fiddler on the Roof" in 2006. But playing the co-lead Jim in the beloved annual Aspen Community Theatre production is a crowning moment for DeLisser.

"It's definitely a complicated character; in some aspects he seems wise and in others he's not," DeLisser said this week. "He's not educated but he says some of the wisest things in the play. It's a fine balance."

DeLisser is paired with Carbondale's Patrick Keleher as Huck. A precocious 16-year-old who has starred in Theatre Aspen School productions of "Mary Poppins" and "School of Rock," he's also worked with DeLisser on local productions and developed an easy rapport that translates into their onstage bond as Huck and Jim.

DeLisser noted that the production's first dress rehearsal fell on Election Day 2018, when Colorado voters were asked to take provisions allowing legal slavery out of the state Constitution. These issues of freedom and racism haven't faded so much since Twain's time, DeLisser suggested, but Huck's conversion remains instructive for our moment.

"A lot of racism is just lack of knowledge," he said. "Lack of people having experiences with other groups of people and being closed off from each other. For Huck, it's really just getting to know Jim that he learns his beliefs weren't true."

DeLisser caught the acting bug as a teenager at Oakwood Friends School in Poughkeepsie, New York, where musical productions were a point of school pride. He dug into Aspen's theater scene during summers as a teenager, and has been a fixture of it since moving here at 18 working with mentors like Post and Beth Malone.

"The people I admired most when I first got out here were the Crystal Palace players," he said, referring to the legendary Aspen dinner theater that closed in 2008.

He's since gotten to work with many Palace alumni like Travis Lane McDiffett, who plays Pap in "Big River." And these days he performs improv with Palace players Nina Gabianelli and Mike Monroney and works alongside the Palace's John Goss at the Vaudeville Revue.

DeLisser has been working with Post, the "Big River" director, for nearly 20 years — going back to his first summers here as a teenager in Aspen Theatre in the Park student productions.

"I knew in my gut that this was his role and this was his time," Post said of casting him as Jim. "He auditioned and it turned out it was his time."

Post has watched DeLisser hone his craft over two decades, and is proud to see him take center stage in "Big River."

"It's so heartening," she said. "He was a great kid and he is such a great actor. It's such a deep story that it requires deep people like Gerald."

Post has also been working with Keleher since he was 12.

"He is just a super talented kid and this is huge for him," Post said. "It's a starring role where he's never not onstage. So he is learning a lot about himself and the kind of grit it takes to hold your own up there."

The supporting cast includes familiar Aspen Community Theatre faces as well as some newer ones, like Glenwood Springs High Schooler Curtis Madden as the scene-stealing and rambunctious Tom Sawyer and Shaunice Alexander — a New York-based performer who spent the summer as a Theatre Aspen apprentice — as a slave billed as Alice's Daughter who booms out the show-stealing "How Blest We Are."

The show's winning score is full of throwback country songs, rustic bluegrass and fiddle-heavy gospel composed by the great Roger Miller. They're performed here by a 10-piece band — led by the stalwart local music man and pianist David Dyer — that includes the bluegrass icon "Pastor Mustard" himself, Dan Sadowsky, on guitar.

There are jaunty sing-along bluegrass songs like "The Boys," "I, Huckleberry, Me" and "Arkansas" and show-stopping Huck-and-Jim duets like "Muddy Water," "River in the Rain" and "Worlds Apart." But it's a dialogue-heavy show, so much so that some have called it a "play with songs" rather than a musical.

All of the sets, props and costumes come from the Utah Shakespeare Festival's summer production of the show. The stage has been painted in an impressionistic river design, which gives way to a grand Mississippi River backdrop. Huck and Jim's raft moves around the stage in a bit of wizardly stagecraft. (In fact, it's human-powered with an adapted motorized wheelchair inside, operated by the brave Evan Piccolo, who spends the whole show inside its cramped interior).

The "Big River" script has been revised to remove most of the racial epithets from William Hauptman's 1985 original. Hauptman rewrote his script in 2010 after seeing a revival of the musical and being shocked himself by the 18 uses of a racial slur in it.

"(E)ven my selective use of the word seems excessive," he wrote in a note included in the Aspen Community Theatre program. "It would not do to eliminate the word … entirely — I have to be true to the world of Twain's novel or we can't have Huck's conversion — so I am suggesting that half the uses of the word be eliminated or altered."

In the Aspen Community Theatre version, from Hauptman's revised script, it's used five times. The show may spark debate about whether even that usage is appropriate, spoken by white actors for a predominately white audience in overwhelmingly white Aspen. But Post is confident that the musical, and the context of placing the word only in the mouths of racists in it, is treating the material appropriately.

"The first time, people might feel like, 'Ugh!'" Post said. "But then it's understood that it's in context."

When she and the Aspen Community Theatre leadership saw the Utah production, she recalled, it was an evening of thundering uplift with a largely Mormon audience that stood and cheered as Jim was finally freed from slavery during his triumphant song "Free at Last."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Premier valley jazz students will perform with Jazz Arts Messengers

Valley jazz students are collaborating with the vaunted Jazz Arts Messengers for a free concert today at the Third Street Center in Carbondale.

The Roaring Fork High School Jazz Band and additional valley students will join the Jazz Arts Messengers, the premier ensemble from the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts for the performance, presented by Jazz Aspen Snowmass. It is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

Students from the valley will be under the direction of JAS In-Schools music instructor Mark Johnson, and the Jazz Arts Messengers under the direction of CCJA artistic director Paul Romaine. The student ensembles will perform both separately and collaboratively as they present music that ranges from mainstream jazz to contemporary jazz-related jam music, along with originals written by students.

The CCJA is a nonprofit organization based in Denver dedicated to providing unique musical experiences for youth and the community. CCJA offers students the ability to explore their creativity and voices, both individually and collectively under the mentorship of professional jazz musicians. CCJA students play in a variety of small and large ensembles, participate in workshops that include musical as well as business topics, attend camps, collaborate with other organizations and play for tens of thousands of people each year.

More info at jazzaspensnowmass.org.

Immigrant students craft second annual ‘Home’ exhibition at Art Base in Basalt

The Art Base in Basalt will host the second annual "Home: Un Hogar" exhibition, showcasing a collaborative project by teen immigrants in a partnership with Basalt High School's English Language Development Program.

The show opens today with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibition runs through Dec. 20.

Newcomer students from El Salvador have been exploring the definition of home with artist MYXZ over the past eight weeks at the Art Base. MYXZ and the students imagined different ideas about home and explored found objects and stories. A mural of the students' ideal hometown — complete with a self-portrait and a poem created by each of the students — commemorates their achievements in their first art class.

The students participating in this project are enrolled in the English Language Development program at Basalt High School taught by Leticia Guzman Ingram, who in 2016 was named Colorado Teacher of the Year. Most of the students, aged 14 to 18, arrived in the U.S. in the past few months — often after grueling journeys — and are just beginning to learn English and acclimate to life in Colorado.

An innovative effort to foster community through art, welcome these newcomers to the valley and build bridges between the midvalley's Spanish- and English-speaking residents, "Home" was launched last year at the Art Base.

"This is a great way to express their feelings without necessarily vocalizing them," Ingram said last year. "We want people not to be scared of the unknown. Both the kids not being scared of art and the community not being scared of these kids."

The Basalt community will be invited to add their own definitions of home and identity to the mural over the course of the exhibition.

More info at theartbase.org.

The immigrant experience is also in the spotlight this weekend at The Temporary at Willits, where English In Action and Writ Large are teaming up to bring the live storytelling experience "Immigrant Voices" On Saturday night.

Performing without scripts, six local immigrants from five different countries will share stories of their personal experience of leaving home and creating a new future.

The participants are Eeswar Atluri from India, Diana Cardenas from Columbia, Rosa Contreras from Guatemala, Jose Miranda from Venezuela, Ignacio Pimentel from Mexico and Iliana Renteria from Mexico. Doors open at 6 p.m.

"It takes courage to speak in public," said Writ Large's Alya Howe. "Imagine how much courage it takes to stand up and speak in your non-native tongue … it has been a privilege to work with all these storytellers and to journey with them to be there for opening night."

Sweet Lu Olutosin, Cory Henry, Niki Haris and more to play Jazz Aspen cafe series this winter

Jazz Aspen Snowmass will host JAS Cafe concerts at the Little Nell and the Cooking School of Aspen this winter, in a nine-artist series running from late December through late March. The music nonprofit announced the full lineup Wednesday.

Jazz Aspen has added four apres-ski shows to this season's lineup, starting at 5 p.m.

The series kicks off at the Nell Dec. 21 and 22 with vocalist Sweet Lu Olutosin performing swinging holiday classics.

In a second holiday performance, two-time Grammy-winning Hammond B-3 organ, piano wizard and vocalist Cory Henry will return to the Cafe. Henry will perform with his band the Funk Apostles at the Cooking School Dec. 28 and 29.

Over Winterskol weekend Jan. 11 and 12 at the Nell, the joyful New Orleans-based retro jazz group Sammy Miller & the Congregation will perform. Cuban pianist Chuchito Valdes returns to the Cafe at the Nell for the first time in six years Feb. 1 and 2.

Two weeks later, Feb. 16 and 17, the pianist and singer-songwriter Robin McKelle will make her Cafe debut.

Also in February, five-time Grammy-nominated jazz pianist, arranger and Dean of Frost School of Music at University of Miami Shelly Berg will perform with a trio and guest vocalists. Berg and his school last summer partnered with Jazz Aspen for the launch of the new JAS Center and JAS Academy program. Berg's shows are Feb. 22 and 23 at the Cooking School.

Nigerian-born, London-based vocalist Ola Onabule will be at the Nell on March 1 and 2. Vocalist Niki Haris, who performed with Jazz Aspen founder James Horowitz last winter, returns for a run at the Cooking School on March 15 and 16 for a celebration of jazz and American roots music.

The winter series will conclude March 29 and 30 with Deva Mahal. Daughter of blues legend Taj Mahal, she is a genre-defying vocalist and songwriter.

Many of this winter's Cafe shows will feature JAS Listen Up! pre-concert artist discussions, in which performing artists share stories and insight on the music they will perform and what to listen for. Currently scheduled talks include Sammy Miller, Robin McKelle, Shelly Berg, Ola Onabule, Niki Haris and Deva Mahal.

Tickets for the series go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. and can be purchased at 970-920-4996 or at jazzaspensnowmass.org. Individual show tickets range from $45 to $75 while a series pass to the five shows of your choice is available at a discount.

Photographers discuss dog show at Aspen Chapel Gallery

Ten participating artists will discuss their photography in the current Aspen Chapel Gallery show, "Man's Best Friend," on Wednesday.

The exhibition is in partnership with the Aspen Animal Shelter. The show includes canine-centric work by Dan Bayer, Ted Bristol, Annie Hosier, Klaus Kocher, Heather Lafferty, Brenda ManesBland Nesbit, Bryna Patterson, Karen Sanders and Summers Moore, who also curated the show and will lead Wednesday's hour-long discussion.

"The pictures of dogs, cats and horses has delighted viewers because most of us relate to animals," Moore said in an announcement. However, there is more to the pictures than what you see and our discussion will be more in depth about the photographs, process and technique."

The show opened last month with a lively reception including artists, locals and their four-legged friends. A percentage of art sales are being donated to the Aspen Animal Shelter.

The talk is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. Regular gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. "Man's Best Friend" runs through Nov. 25.

A ‘Winter House’ party: Swiss mountain fare meets cozy hospitality at an exclusive Aspen popup by Eleven Madison Park

Aspen’s après-ski scene will get a cool boost this winter when Manhattan's inimitable Eleven Madison Park unveils EMP Winter House, seasonal alpine sister to the popular EMP Summer House in the Hamptons. In partnership with Chefs Club Aspen and American Express to transform the space anew, EMP co-owners Will Guidara and chef Daniel Humm seem to understand that drawing a crowd to the historically mellow, 3,500-square-foot venue inside the St. Regis Aspen Resort will take a village. Specifically, a "yurt village."

The team has begun construction on nine domed safari-tent structures, each ranging in size to accommodate four to 10 people, which will surround a grand fire pit in the westward courtyard. One yurt will feature a communal bar to serve outdoor high-top tables with radiant heaters; the other eight yurts will be available for private reservation beginning at 2 p.m. daily when EMP Winter House opens on Dec. 15. (Booking begins Nov. 14, for dining through Jan. 31.)

"They're mini private dining rooms…tucked away with a heater to stay warm, great music playing…a space to call your own," Guidara says. Lights and trees will lend "a winter wonderland vibe, inspired by (New York City's) Union Square holiday market."

Swiss-native chef Humm—who, alongside Guidara, has earned multiple James Beard Foundation Awards and three Michelin stars for Eleven Madison Park, named No. 1 restaurant by the World's 50 Best Awards in 2017—is conceptualizing casual yet creative afternoon and evening fare that he hopes will quash hunger after a day on the mountain. During après-ski (2-5 p.m. daily), expect sharable plates of oysters and fruits de mer, sandwiches, and crave-worthy bites such as a signature bacon-wrapped hot dog with black truffle and celery relish, plus plenty of champagne, rosé, and hot cocktails.

Humm recalls time spent at the EMP Summer House for inspiration here. "We had lobster boils, fried chicken dinners, and taco experiences, large spreads of food where people could have fun, connect with each other, and also order other items à la carte," he says. "We wanted the same thing with the yurt village menu, and I can't wait to see it in action."

Dinner, either in the revamped dining room or out in private yurts, will showcase lighter seafood or vegetable-based fare to balance heartier dishes inspired by Humm's European upbringing. These include lobster served in the shell with bisque, mustard, and Parmesan; Zurich-style chicken with mushrooms, onions, and cream sauce; classic veal schnitzel; potato rösti; and Mont Blanc, the showstopper dessert made with puréed chestnuts and crowned with cream to resemble a snow-capped peak.

"Some of these dishes have a reputation as being very heavy and rich," Humm notes. "While our dishes are still indulgent, we use acid, fresh herbs, and vegetables to keep them modern and bring lightness to the plate. Sometimes it's also just a matter of introducing a different ingredient into a classic—changing the mushroom or the cut of meat—to elevate the dish and put our own spin on it."

Also exciting: large-format Swiss fondue with crusty bread, potatoes, pickles and charcuterie, as well as broth-based fondue Chinoise, a DIY hot pot for searing proteins and vegetables. Melted cheese and cured meats make a natural pair here in Aspen; Humm offered fondue in the hip NoMad Bar in the accolade-winning NoMad Hotel in New York last winter to great success. His posh upgrade, prepared tableside: scrambling a few eggs into the remaining cheese bubbling at the bottom of the crock, then making it rain with shaved black truffles.

"Many dishes are inspired by flavors I remember from my childhood, the fondue being one example: I have strong memories of sharing it with family and friends often, especially through the winter months," Humm says. "I also have fond memories of places like St. Moritz, El Paradiso, Kronenhalle, all of which evoke a certain atmosphere that subtly may have influenced some of our decisions on the food or the vibe."

While EMP Winter House aims to craft unique experiences with top-notch service (thanks in large part to staff imported from Guidara and Humm's East Coast operations) and impeccable wine (more than 250 bottles, including 20 selections by the glass), don't expect the multicourse tasting menus for which Eleven Madison Park is known.

"You can pop in and have one or two courses and go home," Guidara explains. "A place that's warm, satisfying, cozy, and comforting, where you can nuzzle together and have really well-made food and exceptional cocktails. At Summer House I loved working the dining room because it was full of regulars—and energy."

American Express is the exclusive reservations and payment partner, though cash will also be accepted. Another ally is BMW, which will roll in with SUVs to transport guests to and from the property throughout the season.

"We've been lucky enough to spend time in Aspen, it's a place we feel at home," Guidara says. "A lot of people in Hamptons are also in Aspen. I think it's kind of fun that you can go to your beach-house restaurant and be served by the same person who walks up to your table at your mountain-house restaurant."

Like many branded popups in Aspen recently—Donna Karan's Urban Zen boutique; Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP shop; SoulCycle in the old Boogie's building for the past two holiday seasons—EMP Winter House will reside here for a limited time only. The restaurant is set to shutter for good on April 6.

Food for thought, though: While Guidara originally envisioned Long Island's EMP Summer House as a place where staff could continue working while EMP closed for renovations beginning in June 2017, the popup was such a hit that it, well, popped up this past summer for a second season.

amandaraewashere@gmail.com

 

5Point Film Festival names Regna Jones new executive director

5Point Film Festival has appointed Regna Jones as its executive director, the Carbondale-based nonprofit announced Friday.

A longtime Roaring Fork Valley local, Jones has worked as an educator and producer in the arts for more than 20 years. She comes to 5Point from Aspen Film, where she was the director of operations and education, working to produce the nonprofit's three annual festivals, education program and community film programs in Aspen. Jones also is also the current board chair for Carbondale Arts.

"The board could not be more pleased to have Regna Jones at the helm of the organization," 5Point board president Connor Coleman said in the announcement. "Her wealth of experience in the film world and strong background in art, culture and education will undoubtedly perpetuate 5Point's reputation as one of the premier adventure film festivals."

Established in 2006, 5Point is an adventure film festival. Its flagship festival runs in Carbondale in the late spring. Jones replaces Meaghan Lynch at the helm of the festival.

"It is an honor to be joining 5Point Film Festival in the community that I love and to be an agent for positive change through work that inspires adventure, creativity and connectivity, both in one's self and in others," Jones said in the announcement. "I will bring energy and thought to building relationships and look forward to continuing to offer opportunities for wonder, reflection, conversation and action in support of artists, audiences and the communities 5Point serves."

Carbondale comes together for Dia de los Muertos

A tradition borrowed from Mexico, Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, has become an annual gathering for the town of Carbondale.

A holiday that dates back hundreds of years, Dia de los Muertos is a time for families and friends to remember family members who have died.

“So many of our families have Latin American backgrounds. It’s a good way to recognize that at a community level,” Valley Settlement Executive Director Jon Fox-Rubin said.

The Roaring Fork Valley celebration, which began as a fairly small event over a decade ago, has grown over the years.

The collaboration of the community now includes Carbondale Arts, Valley Settlement, Thunder River Theatre Company, SOL Theatre, The Third Street Center, Mezcla Socials and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklorico.

“It is a time to honor those who have passed on. For Carbondale it is also an opportunity for our different cultures to come together,” Carbondale Arts Executive Director Amy Kimberly said. “That is one of the most wonderful things about Dia.”

Carbondale Arts will bring the community together on First Friday, as festivities will begin at 5 p.m. at the Third Street Center where altars made by families honoring the departed will be on display.

“It is very colorful. The altars are all very moving and honor something or someone who has passed,” Kimberly said. “It is a great mix of traditional altars and then artful altars that are very nontraditional.”

There will be dance performances and Que Viva, where loved ones will take a moment at the altars to say the names of anyone who died in the past year.

At 6:30 p.m., a procession of more than 200 people will go from the Third Street Center through town to Thunder River Theatre.

A giant Katrina puppet and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklorico will lead the procession with participants dressed in traditional costumes and dancing.

According to Fox-Rubin, it is an opportunity for children and adults to dress up and partake in some of the historical traditions.

There will be two performances by Ballet Folklorico at Thunder River Theatre at 7 and 7:45 p.m.

The evening will close with a fire/aerial silk show at the Fourth Street Plaza on Main Street by Dance of the Sacred Fire Troupe, which is new to this year’s event.

“What’s neat about Carbondale is we have two dominant cultures side by side, the historic Anglo culture and the newer Latino culture,” Fox-Rubin said.

“It’s a neat way to engage all ages and folks from different backgrounds together.”

kmills@postindependent.com