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Aspen Music Festival review: What’s the hurry in classical concerts today?

The live classical music I’ve been hearing recently seems to be speeding by faster than usual, and it isn’t just my imagination. Several musician friends agree they have also noticed a trend for tempos to fly by quicker than they are accustomed to hearing.

Sprinting music can be exciting. Among soloists who have chosen to play at breakneck speed this summer in Aspen, Gil Shaham launched Bach’s Partita No. 3 so fast it could have been a blur, but his articulation was so great that  not a nuance was missed. At another concert, Inon Barnatan lit out fast on Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Variations at the opening gun, and made it a rousing performance.

Others were not so successful. Ravel’s music was a victim on two recent concerts. French conductor Lionel Briguier never let La Valse breathe, so it just sounded angry. Violinist Vadim Gluzman pushed Tzigane so fast all subtlety was lost and the music blurred.

Speed, and some overzealous conducting, undermined Sunday’s Festival Orchestra program. In the marquee piece, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor (a gold-plated crowd-pleaser), conductor Vasiliy Petrenko, usually a master at shaping big works, also encouraged the orchestra to play so loud that much of soloist Alexander Malofeev was lost.

Violins were bowing away like the soloist wasn’t even there. The wind sections upped the ante with extra “f” or two on whatever dynamic markings were in the score. All the while, Malofeev, who at 22 has established himself in the vanguard of his generation, focused on trying his best to play this music in a less bombastic style than we usually hear. It was like Petrenko expected the piano to accompany the orchestra. At least he made no apparent effort to find a better balance.

The result was exciting because of its energy, but it was noise. Not really what the composer intended.

For an encore, with no other instruments to compete against, Malofeev delivered an extraordinary performance of the pas de deux from Mikhail Pletnev’s fiendishly difficult solo piano arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” Suite. At one point I could have sworn he had grown an extra hand and arm to play the downward scale motif — in octaves — amid flourishes that raced up, down and around the piano. He made it all cohere into a stunning representation of Tchaikovsky’s orchestration.

The second half began with Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod, the first and last pages of his opera Tristan und Isolde. Here the pace felt so fast that little of the achingly hesitant, yearning music could breathe. The sound was rich, but the tempo was so fast and so steady that there was no flexibility to convey what it was really about.

This obsession with speed is not a phenomenon limited to Aspen. Last week I heard the whole score at Santa Fe Opera. Conductor James Gaffigan also moved it along a bit faster than we usually hear. But Gaffigan allowed for just enough rubato for an audience to feel a lover’s longing, which is what Wagner intended.

The final piece on Sunday’s program, The Poem of Ecstasy by Skryabin, rose to a series of crashing climaxes. Maybe it was noisier than we usually hear, but at least it made its point. We could feel the ground move under our ears.

NOT TO MISS

Lyric tenor Nicholas Phan assembled a fascinating and far-reaching program for his recital Tuesday night, with songs ranging from Schubert to Missy Mazzoli. On Wednesday, Joaquin Valdepeñas, principal clarinetist of the Sunday orchestra, conducts a concert of music Mozart, Stravinsky and Dvořák wrote for winds (a concert postponed from July). Friday’s Chamber Symphony program finds baritone Will Liverman, who starred in the Metropolitan Opera’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” singing Mahler’s gorgeous Songs of a Wayfarer. Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducts.

Harvey Steiman has been writing about the Aspen Music Festival for 29 years. His reviews appear Tuesdays and Saturdays in The Aspen Times.

The Outdoor Kitchen: New favorites for car camping

It seems that my car-camping kitchen set-up is an ever-evolving mess of tubs, crates and boxes containing tons of stuff I don’t need. Each summer, I try and streamline the process by getting rid of extras and replacing or updating essentials. I’m far from having this system perfected, but here are some new favorites I’ve added to my camp kitchen this season. 

1. Decked X Pathfinder Campfire Cooking Kit

Decked and Pathfinder Survival teamed up to create an all-in-one campfire kit that easily packs into one big zippered bag, priced at $475. The kit contains a variety of cooking vessels, plates, bowls, cups and silverware for four, as well as serving tongs, a brush stove, a small grill and a cutting board. All pieces except the cutting board are made with stainless steel, and each piece perfectly fits into its own foam compartment inside a Decked D-Bag. I love how easy it is to grab and go with this bag knowing you have everything you’ll need.

Decked Camp Kit

2. Montbell Multi Folding Table Wide with Shelf Board

Table space is always a coveted thing when car camping, and this looker from Montbell is my new go-to. It has three levels of height adjustment, including a low setting for when you’re sitting on the ground. Made with an aluminum frame, it’s light and easily packs up into a provided carry bag. Montbell says you could seat six people around it, but I think that would be pretty tight. The separately-sold shelf board sits on the lower portion for extra storage. It took a little bit to understand how to make all the adjustments, but if you follow the instructions you should be able to figure it out quickly.  $259 for the table and $49 for the shelf board, montbell.us. 

Montbell Table
Courtesy photo

3. Eureka Sprk+ Camp Stove

Sometimes it’s nice to not have to cart your giant stove along. This compact, all-in-one single burner stove makes it easy to cut out some bulk while maintaining the option of a powerful stove. An integrated fuel compartment fits 8 oz. butane canisters, adjustable feet allow for level cooking on any surface and an auto-ignition makes for fast and easy lighting. I especially love its simmer control that sometimes gets lost on my bigger stoves. It comes in its own carrying case. I recommend getting the griddle accessory to further enhance your cooking options. $60 for the stove, $43 for the griddle, eurekacamping.com. 

Eureka Sprk+
Courtesy photo

4. Hydroflask Serving Bundle

When you’re cooking for a group of people at your campsite, serving bowls are a great thing to have on hand. This serving set from Hydroflask includes 5-quart and 3-quart bowls, tight-fitting lids and two serving spoons. The double wall insulation keeps hot food hot and cold food cold for when you’re prepping at home before your trip, or for leftovers after dinner. With pro-grade stainless steel, they are bombproof and durable enough to throw in the dishwasher when you get home. $126, hydroflask.com.

Hydroflask Serving Set
Courtesy photo

Meg Simon is an Aspen-based freelance writer, graphic designer and founder of Simon Finch Creative. She can be reached at meg@simonfinchcreative.com.

DanceAspen Turns One

In just one short year, DanceAspen has succeeded in creating a full-time, local dance company in Aspen, thanks to the vision and determination of its founder and executive director Laurel Winton and the entire team of dedicated and talented performers.

From a sold-out inaugural performance at The Wheeler Opera House last September to record-setting attendance at two evening shows in March to various collaborations within the community, such as the Aspen Art Museum and W Hotel Aspen, together they are making their mark.

As a primary fundraiser for the nonprofit organization, the Aspen Bandstand Gala took place at Hotel Jerome on Saturday, July 16, drawing an array of sponsors and selling out every seat. DJ Simone got everyone to their feet for a dance contest and dance session. Laurel Winton and John Sarpa led the paddle raise and live auction. Marble Distilling Company, Daou Vineyards, Montagave Tequila, Oliver Smith Jeweler, Flower Franch, Hotel Jerome and many other businesses enabled the success of the event with their support. And all of the dancers and many of their family members and friends helped design, decorate and execute an A-plus event with a pulse.

All contributions from the gala will go towards DanceAspen’s mission to continue to bring exciting new choreography to the valley, enrich the community with outreach and education and support the local dance artists who have made Aspen their home.

Tickets are now on sale for their upcoming New Horizons performance at the Wheeler Opera House Sept. 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m.

DanceAspen chair board Jamie Wedow with Gail and Boogie Weinglass. Wendy Wetmore photo.
Wendy Wetmore
Jamie Tisch and Justin Douglas.
Wency Wetmore
Robin Smith holds her trophy for winning a dance-off contest, beside her husband, Kenny Smith. May Selby photo.
May Selby
Sharply dressed duo Kelley Binder and Rickey Lamitie. May Selby photo.
May Selby
DanceAspen performer Sammy Altenau and her rad dad, Dave Altenau. May Selby photo.
May Selby
DanceAspen dancer Kaya Woolsey and her mother, Allison Woolsey. May Selby photo.
May Selby
Drita Rosin, Erin McGuire and Ricky Rosin in the Antler Bar at Hotel Jerome. May Selby photo.
May Selby
The dance contest was a hit to say the least, bringing all in the ballroom to their feet. Wendy Wetmore photo.
Wendy Wetmore
DanceAspen supporters and new friends Maryann Gruia and Melissa Temple. May Selby photo.
May Selby
DanceAspen fans Jenny Altenau and Kim Levin. May Selby photo.
May Selby
Laurel Winton and John Sarpa lead the paddle raise. Wendy Wetmore photo.
Wendy Wetmore

Nearly last call: A late-night dining diversion at Stark’s Mountain Grill

When the text came through on my phone from crack cocktail columnist Rose Laudicina that the newly opened dining destination at the freshly minted Viewline Resort Snowmass wanted to host us for a cocktail and dinner preview, I was immediately intrigued. Rose, no slouch to pairing food and drink, had done this before with my Foodstuff predecessor, Kaya Williams, when the duo visited Last Chair at Wildwood Snowmass to pair food and drinks for co-columns last spring.

When we scheduled the night out, I hadn’t connected the dots that our 8 p.m. dinner was at the exact same time as a Snowmass free concert on Fanny Hill. Parking challenges, and the fact that I’d prefer to be in my pajamas petting my dog at 8 p.m. aside, I figured this was perfect. The Viewline’s beautiful deck overlooks the show and has plenty of seating (and a big bar). What I didn’t consider is that the deck would be full (of course it would be). I arrived first, and the team kindly sat us inside in a large, high-backed, red-velvet booth, with the sounds of soft jazz coming through the speakers, and the bass of the band reverberating every time the servers moved from the dining room to the deck.

When Rose arrived, we decided to start with a couple of cocktails and a set of three starters suggested by the staff. I ordered the Melon Refresh with Tequila LALO, Aperol, watermelon, lime and Fever Tree soda, and three generous portions of appetizers arrived at the table. We got the restaurant’s most popular selections, according to the manager: the smoked trout spread with house pickles, herb salad and grilled baguette; the skillet cornbread topped with wildflower honey and grass-fed butter; and elk carpaccio accompanied by herb salad, parmesan cheese and green olive oil.

Elk carpaccio accompanied by herb salad, parmesan cheese and green olive oil.
Katherine Roberts

I sucked down my watermelon drink with the patience of someone who usually schedules a dinner reservation about 90 minutes earlier than we had and tucked into the carpaccio. Thinly sliced rounds of elk topped with flaky sea salt were good but needed more salad to accompany them; the herbs didn’t quite offset the saltiness of the meat.

Our kind server checked on us approximately 7,000 times, as we were the only people actually inside the restaurant, save for about three people at the bar. Everyone else was rocking out to the band outside. In the restaurant’s defense, we were cozy in our half-moon booth. I’m sure they would have tried to figure something out if we had requested a move to a more music-oriented location. I also was too busy stuffing my face to bother anyone with anything. I continued munching and really enjoyed the trout dip, which was specifically sold to us as “not very fishy,” which is generally my main problem with a fish dip (good sell,  manager John!). Light and flaky, with a side of pickled vegetables and perfectly grilled bread for smearing, it was definitely my favorite bite of the night, and I’m even surprised to see myself typing this.

The smoked trout spread with house pickles, herb salad and grilled baguette.
Katherine Roberts

We ordered another drink; this time I tried the Picture Perfect spritz with St. Germain, sparkling rosé, Fever Tree soda and basil. I told Rose it was a “real porch pounder” and proceeded to decide on my main course.

The restaurant features a nice mix of entrees for both meat eaters and vegetarians, with offerings such as a roast chicken, a burger, a couple of meat-free pastas and a salmon (all between $25 and $40, save for the filet, which was a spendy $60 per plate). Rose and I were both in a carnivorous frame of mind, so I got the steak frites, which is an 8 oz. bistro steak with bearnaise sauce on the side and fries, medium rare. Rose ordered the burger, which comes with white cheddar, tavern sauce, red onion and also a side of fries. We should have further strategized our meals to sample more variety, but the heart wants what it wants. For good measure, I also threw in an order for the truffle mac and cheese starter that we could share as a side. Because life is all about balance!

Things went a little haywire in the kitchen, as our entrees took longer to arrive than anticipated. To wit: The band was done before we were, but I was relaxed, well-cared for by the restaurant staff, and the fries were cooked to crispy perfection. Rose equated them to “high-end McDonald’s,” and I’m not mad about it.

So, if you’re in Snowmass, check it out for yourself. My advice? Go with a selection of starters, an order of fries and the side of macaroni and cheese and you can’t go wrong. The wines by the glass were reasonably priced, as well. In the summer, if you happen to be there on a Thursday night, go early and be sure to request a table on the patio. Enjoy the show!

Katherine Roberts is a mid-Valley based writer and marketing professional who basically loves nothing more than eating, drinking, gabbing with friends and listening to music, so this column was a home run. She can be reached via her agency, Carington Creative, at katherine@caringtoncreative.com

Trout dip.
Katherine Roberts
Bistro steak with bearnaise sauce on the side.
Katherine Roberts
Bistro steak with bearnaise sauce on the side.
Katherine Roberts
Melty mac and cheese.
Katherine Roberts
The burger, cooked medium.
Katherine Roberts

Bar Talk: Stark’s Alpine Grill

With a spritz menu fit for its relaxed slopeside patio and classic cocktails prepared to match a more sophisticated vibe inside, Stark’s Alpine Grill seems to be outfitted to please a crowd of varied interests.

I recently found myself tucked into one of the restaurant’s cozy, curved, velvet booths alongside the ATW’s fantastic food correspondent Katherine Roberts to craft a pair of columns focused on the food and drink offerings laid out in front of us.

Stark’s Alpine Grill, located in the less-than-a-year-old Viewline Resort in Snowmass Village, bills itself as a casual yet cozy space with seasonal American cuisine, a cross between a steakhouse and a contemporary supper club. 

Kathrine and I were there on a Thursday, which during summer in Snowmass means a bustling crowd on Fanny Hill enjoying the free Thursday night concert.

The patio was packed. Its location on Fanny Hill is positioned in perfect view of the concert and crowd below, and with beer prices starting at $6 and cocktails ranging from $14 to $16, it seems like a good alternative to hauling your picnic blanket up the ski hill if you’re looking for a new Thursday night concert perspective.

While Kathrine and I didn’t get to experience the patio scene firsthand, we did get to hear the music from our indoor spot.

I decided to start my evening off with a spritz, as if I were outside.

Stark’s has four spritzes to choose from, all $15. Initially, I was intrigued by the Chandon Garden Spritz, a cocktail consisting of Chandon, orange bitters and herbs and spices, but when my dining and drinking companion for the evening inquired about what the herbs and spices were, the employee told us the drink was premade by Chandon, and the description was just what the bar was given.

As a drink columnist, I was looking to try a drink bartenders would mix themselves rather than just crack open and pour into a pretty glass, so I went with the Sunset Breeze spritz, made with Lillet Rosé, prosecco, Fever Tree grapefruit soda and grapefruit.

The cocktail was an attractive pale pink and yellow – it looked exactly like the shell of a grapefruit Jelly Belly. It was served in a classic and good-sized spritz goblet.

The Lillet and the Fever Tree cut through whatever tart acidity might have been present from the grapefruit, making it easy to sip and pair with just about anything on the menu.

Kathrine also ventured into the spritz menu during our dinner, albeit for her second cocktail of the night, opting for the Picture Perfect made with St. Germain, sparkling rosé, Fever Tree soda and basil.

After one sip, she declared it a “porch pounder,” and I crowned it the most well-styled drink of the night, despite the fact that it was perfectly clear. The “glass” (it was actually plastic) was unique and fit the supper-club feel of the space. It truly was picture perfect.

I enjoyed our smattering of apps – skillet cornbread, smoked trout spread and pink pepper crusted elk carpaccio, which you can read more about in better detail than I’m capable of describing in Kathrine’s food column.

To pair with the entrée course, I chose the Spirit in the Dark, $16 from the signature cocktail menu, purposefully looking for something a little more herbal and spirit-forward to accompany the burger I ordered.

The Spirit in the Dark, one of Stark’s Alpine Grill’s signature cocktails.
Rose Laudicina

Speaking of the burger, the Tavern Burger at Stark’s is now in the running for my favorite burger in the area. The wagyu beef tastes of quality, and whatever special sauce they put on the burger takes the flavor up enough to sit in my top burger spot. The burger also comes with fries, which are crisped to perfection and instantly conjured up memories of the salty golden goodness that comes out of the McDonald’s fryer.

But back to the drinks: The Spirit in the Dark is made from The Botanist gin, genepy (an herbal aperitif), lemon, thyme and blackberry. It checked the spirit-forward box, but the herbal component was mostly just there in aroma, not taste. The blackberry gave it a nice juicy flavor and feel, in addition to providing the beautiful berry color the drink sported.

There are two more categories to the cocktail section of the drink menu: the classics for $14 each and a non-alcoholic list for $9 a glass.

After my experience at the Boisson dinner (read more about my zero-proof experience in “Bar Talk: A Sober Approach to Drinking”), the three non-alcoholic drinks caught my eye. I’m excited to see a restaurant like Stark’s dedicating a section to creative mocktails for patrons.

At first glance, the menu and various settings at Stark’s Alpine Grill seems to be at odds with each other – does it want to be a casual American eatery with a party patio or an intimate supper club? However, after settling in and exploring the menu, I believe Stark’s makes the case for itself to be all the above. Instead of conforming to one vision, the restaurant lets customers choose their own adventure, with drink and food options to compliment whatever that might be.

The Picture Perfect cocktail lives up to its name at Stark’s.
Rose Laudicina

Review: Audience peaks with Theatre Aspen’s ‘Jersey Boys’

First performed at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2004 before hitting Broadway in 2005, “Jersey Boys” brings the story of The Four Seasons’ rise to and fall from fame to the stage in a documentary style format. With music by Bob Gaudio, an original member of the Four Seasons, lyrics by Bob Crewe and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, this jukebox musical delivers both musically and dramatically.

Bridging the formation of the group in 1950 through their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, “Jersey Boys” is a musical experiment in the Rashman effect allowing inconsistent interpretations of events and multiple perspectives.

For the book, each surviving member of The Four Seasons was interviewed for their remembered version of events, and rather than seamlessly flattening each telling into a coherent story, the contradictions of personal memory are allowed to shine.

Tommy DeVito, played by Nick Bernardi, is the first storyteller. “This whole thing started with me!” he crows, chest puffed and head high. Tommy weaves the tale of the group that would become The Four Seasons as it is built despite jail time, arguments and a healthy amount of grift. The band changes sound and names (and costumes!) as quickly as Tommy spends money.

Graham Northrup/courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

The clean-cut and likable Bob Gaudio (Alex Ross), a soft-spoken teen quoting T.S. Elliot, takes over the narration and immediately proves that while he is young, he is not to be taken advantage of. Bob brokers deals in Bob’s favor, recognizing Frankie Valli’s rising star, creating a two-man deal within the group held together through the decades on the promise of a handshake alone. The band is launched to fame through Bob’s writing of “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man” while simultaneously the band’s marriages and families wither and crumble.

Nick Massi (Jason Michael Evans) appears from the shadows as the quiet observer, unwilling to let his story be told by anyone other than himself. It is through Nick’s eyes the audience learns of the consequences of Tommy’s deep debt, and Frankie spearheading the payment for Tommy, but also for the sake of the group. Nick is tired and heeds the call of the neighborhood. With resolve rather than defeat he announces, “I just want to go home.” 

Taking over the narration, Frankie Valli (Trevor James) shares his confusion about Nick’s departure, never understanding why anyone would want to leave. Frankie and Bob find replacements for Tommy, who is under the watchful eye of the mob in Las Vegas, thanks to his debts and returned-home Nick to continue touring. Frankie is eventually convinced by Bob to go solo, singing Bob’s songs to their continued success.

Graham Northrup/courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

It is nearly in the exact middle of the blistering 35 songs that the audience finally had a hard time containing their outright joy. With the first notes of “Sherry” came an electric excitement, bobbing heads and quiet yet audible singing along. As The Four Seasons hit their heyday, the audience peaked right along with them.

James’ “My Eyes Adored You” is the showstopper — his voice is plaintive, smooth and laced with sadness. This is that moment in theater that brings you back again and again, an experience so distinct that the strangers around you suddenly feel like a family collectively holding its breath for fear of shattering this brief collective moment in time.

Frankie’s first wife, Mary Delgado’s (Ana Marcu) clear and sweet voice joining Frankie’s weaves further depth with deliciously executed harmony. 

Overheard intermission conversations consisted of sung and whistled lines of the last couple of numbers before the break, and wistful remembrances of “when I first heard this song…” There were even a few moments of croon eliciting applause from those gathered near a gentleman giving his own reprise of “Walk Like a Man.” 

Two lovely women seated nearby gushed with just how much Trevor James sounds exactly like Valli, channeling that distinct falsetto that launched and held The Four Seasons, and then Valli solo in stardom. With beautiful, reminiscing grins lighting their faces, I was informed, “You’re too young to remember Frankie, but you should know, (Trevor) sounds just like him!” 

Back for the second act, the energy remained high with now audible toe-tapping and cheers that were more and more exuberant with the vivacity and participation more like a concert than a theater outing. Strolling out under the stars and into the park after the show, several attendees were still singing their favorite tunes. Oh, what a night!

True colors: Traditional textiles and sustainable practices through functional art at ACES

Textile artist Elena Gonzalez Ruiz came to Aspen for the first time on July 22, 1989, at the invitation of Stuart Mace.

“I was 21 years old, and he invited me to do a weaving demonstration,” she said.

Mace was getting to know her and her community of artists after visiting her hometown of Teotitlan del Valle in Oaxaca, Mexico, where he purchased rugs twice a year for Lynn’s gallery, which he and his daughter, Lynn Mace, co-owned for many years.

Ruiz has been to Ashcroft every year since. In 2007, Ruiz officially became an artist-in-residence for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) and contributes to the organization’s mission through demonstrations about her sustainable, centuries-old weaving and dyeing practices.

“Elena’s native Oaxacan, artisan, hand-woven textiles are crafted using all-natural materials, showcasing sustainable product design in today’s world where so many products are imported from Asia with little regard for environmental and cultural impacts,” said Chris Lane, CEO of ACES.

Ruiz said that of the 7,000 people who currently live in her village, 4,000 of them are weavers (the rest support themselves through agricultural businesses). Ruiz is a third-generation artist herself, and her nephews are continuing the tradition in her family.

“Only 10% of people know how to do the natural dyes. It’s a lot of patience, a lot of work. With the natural colors, it’s totally different, because they are totally unique. You’re lucky if you get two different colors in a day,” she said about the complicated artistic practice she’s been mastering since adolescence. She said these techniques have been practiced in her village since 1464, with the introduction of the pedal loom by the Spanish in 1810. Little has changed since, including the ingredients to make the dyes. Their availability depends on weather and other sometimes challenging conditions, as Ruiz must literally climb mountains to gather what she needs.

Recently, Ruiz enthusiastically offered a demonstration on how the colors work and how the dyes are made. She talked about how adding lime juice as an acidic base or baking soda for an alkaline base affects the colors, as she smeared the powders across her hand to make a vibrant red and a deep purple, all using the same basic ingredient, cochinilla, a dried insect found on Nopal cactus leaves. Using different ingredients such as tarragon (which turns surprising shades of yellow), pomegranate and indigo — sometimes with the cochinilla, sometimes on their own — 21 different ingredient combinations can result in up to 60 different colors. The colors are also impacted by the shades of the wool, which can range from jet black to pure white, with several shades of gray between.

Dried cochinilla, which is used to make many of the base colors for the dyes.
Katherine Roberts

These brightly colored designs, in addition to requiring hard work to achieve and sometimes punishing sessions at the loom, are also thoughtfully executed in the traditional weaving style, with each design having a vision unique to Ruiz’s history and the history of her weaving cohorts.

Elena Gonzalez Ruiz smears a powder, made of dried insects found on Nopal cactus leaves, on her hand. Adding lime juice (an acid) adjusts the hue of the red dye.
Katherine Roberts

“All of the designs have meaning. They’re all very traditional. The rain, the water — if there’s no rain, there’s no water, there’s no life. We weave the rain and the water and the mountains into the rug to represent life,” she said.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, corn and the tree of life also often make it into the designs, all representing things like freedom, prosperity and the ability to always look to the future.

Rugs and handbags previously for sale at ACES Catto Center at Toklat, which is currently closed for renovation.
Courtesy ACES

“The hummingbird is a messenger bird: never stop, never look at the past,” she explained.

Ruiz is currently posted up at the ACES Hallam Lake campus while the Catto Center at Toklat undergoes a significant renovation. She displays her rugs of varying sizes, as well as leather and woven handbags, all for sale, with proceeds going back to her village and 10 percent supporting ACES’ educational programs.

In addition to Ruiz’s work, you’ll find the handmade textiles of 10 other families who work together with Ruiz, as part of her co-operative business back in Oaxaca. She’ll remain at ACES through October to make money for her village and watch the leaves change color, a favorite activity in her down time. She said that even though she’s in a new space this year, it was important to return.

“I came to help my people; during the pandemic it’s been hard to sell in the village,” she said.

Each rug takes anywhere from six months to an entire year to make. Prepping the wool alone takes one month. They range from about $400 up to $6,600, which is the cost of an elaborate, large-scale tree of life design, currently on display in the ACES classroom.

A closeup of Elena Gonzalez Ruiz’s work.
Katherine Roberts
Elena Gonzalez Ruiz shows one of her textiles.
Katherine Roberts
Just some of the “ingredients” that go into Elena Gonzalez Ruiz’s textiles.
Courtesy ACES

Bluegrass and jams: The Travelin’ McCourys play TACAW

When Ronnie McCoury was 13, he picked up a mandolin. Six months later, he was playing with his father’s band, the Del McCoury Band.

“It was kind of a sink-or-swim type of situation,” McCoury said with a chuckle.

Growing up surrounded by his father’s music, McCoury and his brother, Rob, were immersed in the bluegrass world from a young age. In his late teen years, Del taught Ronnie to sing, shaping the traditional bluegrass voice that he still has.

“I guess I just can’t help it,” he said.

The McCoury brothers now have their own band, though they still perform with their father’s band, too.

The band plays a mix of bluegrass with some elements of jam music. 

“I would consider it to be a foot in both worlds,” McCoury said.

He appreciates the freedom to escape the traditional structure of bluegrass music; the songs are usually short (three to four minutes) with two choruses and a solo.

“What we could do a little differently is stretch out our solos and improvise more,” McCoury said. “That’s kind of what the Travelin’ McCourys are getting more into.”

The Travelin’ McCourys’ emphasis on solos gives all of the band members an opportunity to shine.

“It’s all with your ears,” he said. “That kind of music is all listening to other players and seeing what’s going on, trying to make something work with that. … Improvising is a big, big plus for what we do, and so I think that’s kind of what’s happening there. You just gotta listen — big ears.”

The Travelin’ McCourys will perform at The Arts Campus at Willits in Basalt on Friday as part of their “Grateful Ball” tour. They will play one set of their own original music, as well as a set of music by the Grateful Dead.

David Grisman, one of McCoury’s self-described heroes, formed a bluegrass band with Jerry Garcia in 1973 called Old & In The Way. Garcia also played in a folk and bluegrass band with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter in the early 1960s before founding the Grateful Dead. Drawn at first to Garcia’s bluegrass music, McCoury started exploring more of his discography, eventually arriving at music from Garcia’s Grateful Dead era.

Travelin’ McCourys
Courtesy Travelin’ McCourys

“It started out as just a fun thing to do on the side because we enjoy that music and the songs,” McCoury said. “I could relate that way because I was a bluegrass musician.”

Eventually, the Travelin’ McCourys began playing music from the Grateful Dead as an extra set of music. Though the Grateful Dead’s music can hardly be considered bluegrass, the tunes take on a new sound when played by the bluegrass instruments of the Travelin’ McCourys.

“People really like it because there’s a lot of their fans that just love their songs like I do,” McCoury said. “They’re curious to see what it sounds like when we do it.”

Though McCoury’s father is his biggest influence, he also draws inspiration from a variety of bluegrass, country and rock musicians: Bill Monroe, David Grisman, Merle Haggard and Led Zeppelin, to name a few.

McCoury, who lives in Nashville, has recorded and played with several of his musical influences including, most recently, Little Feat. Stylistic influences inevitably seep from McCoury’s guest performances into the music he plays with his own band.

“With your ears you’re listening, and next thing you know you’re playing something and saying ‘Well, where did that come from?’” he said. “Maybe that came from that band I played with.”

If you go …

What: The Travelin’ McCourys: The Grateful Ball
When: 7 p.m. (doors) today
Where: TACAW, 400 Robinson St, Basalt
Cost: $27 for members, $30 in advance, $40 day of
More info: tacaw.org

‘Long Strange Trip’: New Grateful Dead documentary captures psychadelic vibe

The “Long Strange Trip” documentary could’ve emerged long ago, shortly after the Grateful Dead first toured Europe in 1972, but the Dead had no intention of becoming icons, or solidifying the dynamic, spontaneous and ever-evolving Dead experience. After all, when Warner Bros. signed the band, it took the company 18 months to get the musicians to agree to a press photograph. So when a film crew showed up to document the 1972 tour, the Dead gave them LSD in the spirit of participation over observation. Tripping, the crew ultimately abandoned their cameras, and Jerry Garcia ended up graciously talking them down. Later, he said, “Music should be holy — it shouldn’t be business.”

And so it wasn’t until 2017 that “Long Strange Trip” debuted, through an entirely new crew.

“The Grateful Dead’s story was ‘untold’ in part because one of the last documentary film teams that tried to tell it got dosed with LSD. There’s lots of unseen archival footage, but my favorite is that documentary that never was,” director Amir Bar-Lev said. “The Dead didn’t like people to put them under the microscope. There’s a great scene where Garcia realizes the high cameraman is struggling to do his job and tells him, ‘You can always just put down your equipment … and split.’ Classic Jerry: Always taking the psychedelic perspective.”

Bar-Lev, who knew more about the Dead “than is healthy,” he said, began the project in June 2003 by emailing Alan Trist, who ran the Dead’s publishing company. Trist sent him the aforementioned, unreleased “dosed” documentary and told him he should carry it forward. While Trist was easy, it took another 11 years to get everyone else’s blessing in the band.

“It wasn’t easy convincing the band to do this,” Bar-Lev said. “They have a healthy mistrust of anything publicity-related. And perhaps most importantly they were concerned that a film might provide a definitive meaning to their story instead of keeping it open to different interpretations and perspectives.”

Although the nearly four-hour film, featuring never-before-seen footage and unvarnished interviews, could be called definitive, printing that just might cause Garcia to roll over in his grave, so let’s just use the term groundbreaking.

Courtesy Aspen Film

With backing from Martin Scorsese, the film blends a massive amount of archival material, including the entire vault the Dead opened up to the crew and multiple years’ worth of footage the filmmakers scoured the world for, along with more recent interviews to create a cohesive, yet still very Dead-esque, experiential narrative. Multiple editors spent three years editing the film and five months mixing the soundtrack, building a score from the Dead’s original studio multitrack masters. They used the surround channels and remixed the masters. With the live music, they often blended the vault’s clean soundboard recording with an audience version of the same show, to provide a sense of being enveloped by the music and the crowd.

“I knew that this film would spend a lot of time in the past via archival material, but I wanted it to have the feel of taking place in the present moment,” Bar-Lev said. “More specifically, I wanted the film to collapse time. So, for example, whenever possible we discover the archival material in a story beat in the present: people playing a tape recording, or finding a reel of film.”

In one scene, the audience hears the band in 1970, in addition to the camera crew talking about filming the band that same year and tour manager Sam Cutler narrating the scene from Brooklyn and Bob Weir watching from some imagined screening room, complete with the whir of the projector.

“The idea was to capture what I think the band is singing about in ‘Ripple,’ the notion that there’s a wave moving through time with a message for you,” Bar-Lev said.   

Seventeen interviewees weave in and out of the film “as eye-witnesses rather than commentators,” Bar-Lev said.

“Another key idea was that no one voice is sacrosanct. The closer the audience can take in seemingly disparate perspectives, the closer they can get at the truth of the matter,” he said, mirroring the Dead’s philosophy of no one, ultimate authority. As the documentary points out, some days, if the truck’s carburetor blew, it became boss.

As one clip points out: “The narrative of the Grateful Dead is we’re the same as you, you’re the same as us; there is no real distinction. There’s a powerful camaraderie and fellowship,” albeit one filled with “experimenting with psychedelics as much as we were playing music,” which bass player Phil Lesh credits (the acid test experience) for forming the band as a “group mind.”

Overall, as the film notes: “It’s a philosophy of leaving yourself open to possibility and leaving yourself open to magic.”

And the Dead certainly attracted a wild and magical mandala, filled with spinners reveling in religious experiences, “because they thought Garcia was a prophet”; audiences positioning themselves in the Phil zone and the Jerry side; people who were deaf watching signers and holding balloons to take in the vibrations of the music; Wharf Rats meeting during set breaks, committed to a sober path; tapers sharing the shows; and sometimes menacing presences, including the Hells Angels.

“It was total chaos,” percussionist Mickey Hart says in the documentary. “Jerry Garcia did not bargain to be the mayor of a traveling counterculture town.”

The Grateful Dead on Haight Street, 1968.
Jim Marshall Photography LLC

He didn’t quite embrace the role. “When asked to guide the ship, Jerry chose instead to let the scene morph into whatever it did based on the aggregate of how each individual chose to act,” Bar-Lev said.

“It’s not up to us to define the Grateful Dead,” Garcia says in the film. “It’s a living, breathing thing, and that’s one of the parts of its magic. Not defining it is that it becomes everything.”

Jerry Garcia
Courtesy Aspen Film

“Long Strange Trip” provides an immersive experience into the Dead’s fiercely independent vision, constant evolution and uncompromising commitment and intimacy with their audience. It’s the first full-length documentary of its kind, weaving candid interviews with the musicians, roadies, family members and dedicated Deadheads to portray a freewheeling psychedelic subculture, insight into Garcia’s psyche, dynamic shows and unguarded, offstage moments.

“I feel the Dead’s story is more vital now than ever. What the Dead and the Deadheads did, we could do today,” Bar-Lev said. “To paraphrase Jerry Garcia, when he talks about slipping acid into coffee at the Playboy Channel show, it would ‘turn an artificial party into an authentic one.’”

Filmmakers intended the documentary to be much shorter than its nearly four hours, “but it resisted our efforts,” Bar-Lev said, which seems entirely fitting. It ends in 1995, with Garcia expressing his hope that “something carries on after he and the band are dead and gone,” Bar-Lev said. “It’s a beautiful sentiment, because he’s very clear to say he doesn’t mean the Grateful Dead, or jam band music or even music at all. We figured if we ended the film precisely at that point, we’re letting the band say to the viewer: The next move is yours.”

If you go …

What: ‘Long Strange Trip’ Grateful Dead documentary drive-in screening

When: 8 p.m. (gates at 6:30 p.m.) Sunday

Note: If you arrive late, you will be asked to “fade away.”

Food trucks: 6:30-8:30 p.m. (Chamo’s Mexican cuisine and The Dreamery’s ice cream)

Where: Snowmass Town Park Center parking lot, 2735 Brush Creek Road

Presented: By Aspen Film, in conjunction with Snowmass

Tickets: $40 general admission per vehicle; $32 for Aspen Film members

Purchase: aspenfilm.org/drive-in-movie-long-strange-trip

Aspen Film, in conjunction with Snowmass, screens “Long Strange Trip” Sunday evening at Snowmass Town Park Center.
Courtesy Aspen Film
A Summer Experience to Remember

Aspen Film’s Summer of Cinema Drive-in is back for another outdoor film experience. The Grateful Dead documentary airs on a huge, inflatable 40-inch screen as music blares from your FM radio Sunday, intentionally scheduled to fall in “The Days Between” Garcia’s birth (Aug. 1) and death (Aug. 9). The communal scene offers a night of picnicking (in addition to food trucks, you can bring your own food and beverages, but alcohol is not permitted), dancing and socializing outside vehicles.

“A lot of locals will come out for this, and Dead fans. The music does do really well here,” said Aspen Film executive and artistic director Susan Wrubel.

“Long Strange Trip” last screened to a sold-out Aspen audience in 2018 at the Isis Theatre. Since then, Wrubel has been “looking for a way to bring this world-class and defining documentary back to Aspen,” she said. “Commemorating what would have been Jerry Garcia’s 80th birthday and showing this film during ‘The Days Between’ seems ideal. The response to the film, and the appreciation for the Grateful Dead in this valley is palpable. A drive-in setting allows viewers and fans to dance and shake their bones in a concert-like atmosphere.”

The film debuted at Sundance then had several large screenings throughout 2018.

“I must’ve seen the film about 20 times in a theater setting and loved the communal events, which felt a lot like Grateful Dead shows,” said Alex Blavatnik, producer of “Long Strange Trip.” “I am excited to have that feeling back by screening this film in Aspen Snowmass, one of my favorite areas, with such a fun crowd. I am also excited for new viewers to experience the film, as it will be incredibly fun to watch in a drive-in setting.”

“Deadheads far and wide will say, ‘Wow, they really did a deep dive,” Wrubel said, adding that love and appreciation for the Dead never fades away; it just grows, generation after generation. “It’s truly like the music never stops.”

Courtesy Aspen Film

Melissa White tells a new story through a longtime classic

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi once said, “There are no words, there is only music there.”

Yet his most famous composition, “The Four Seasons,” is based on a series of sonnets and, according to violinist Melissa White, is about “delivering an experience” through the story of music. That experience will be presented by White both performing and leading a group of musicians at the Benedict Music tent as part of the Aspen Music Festival and School’s summer 2022 season.

The idea of White both conducting and playing violin was a concept presented to her by the AMFS. When she was younger, she saw Nigel Kennedy present “The Four Seasons” in the same format, and so she was immediately drawn to the idea. While she said she doesn’t consider herself a conductor, she is looking forward to showcasing “a fun, creative space for the audience.”

And because the music tells a story, she wants to paint a picture with the piece.

“I have an idea about making these concepts visual from a technical point of view,” she said. “Once I share these thoughts with the other musicians, I’m excited to hear what their ideas are.”

That’s right, White will only be meeting her cohort of performers just days before the live concert, and they’ll work together to put on a show.

“It will be very fresh, personal and present for the audience, as we’re performing and interacting in real time,” she says.

Which is not easy to do for a piece of music that has been so broadly available in the public domain, heard in everything from elevators to diamond and car commercials over the years.

“With the ‘Seasons,’ it’s a story that people perhaps know, as it’s so widely heard,” White said.

But she’s also quick to point out that a live performance is quite different from listening to a recorded version that’s meant to be palatable for all ears.

“The ‘Seasons’ leave room for interpretation, but with a live show, you’re together in an experience,” she said.

And White is no stranger to collaborating on an all-senses stage, as she was the musician behind the single violin track on the nail-biting Jordan Peele film “Us.”

“The comments that I would get from the booth as I was redoing takes over and over were very specific. ‘Can (you) get scary sooner, or can it be more explosive?’ It was less about delivering a perfect note performance and more about providing audiences with a feeling, a reaction” for the thriller, she said. “It will be fun to take that concept back to this concert hall performance.”

Melissa White
Courtesy AMFS

She asserts that storytelling though music has continued year after year since Vivaldi made sonnets into concertos.

“I think storytelling through song is something that has been around for so long; if you think about black-and-white movies, it was often the music that drove the narrative,” she said.

A simple story even brought White to music in the first place. She begged her parents, who were not musicians, for her instrument of choice for two years straight, starting at the age of 4, after watching Itzhak Perlman tell a tale of “the difference between things that are easy and hard” on an episode of “Sesame Street.”

“I was relentless, and I never wanted anything but a violin,” she said.

And that laser focus has now brought her to a new, never-before-seen place. This is White’s first time in Aspen, and she’s looking forward to that shared experience of “newness” alongside the audience in the tent.

“Hearing this particular music on a recording but never live is a lot of people’s experience with Vivaldi,” she said, “so I’m glad to provide an avenue for audiences to enjoy the performance in a new and exciting way.”

If you go …

What: An evening of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with Melissa White, violin and conductor

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11

Tickets: $75

More info: aspenmusicfestival.com

Melissa White
Courtesy AMFS