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Summertime sips at Ajax Tavern

Ajax Tavern, located at the base of Aspen Mountain, is known as a place to après in the winter and relax on the patio in the summer to see or be seen.

It’s a restaurant that has a reputation that precedes it, largely thanks to its location and patio. One of my favorite reviews on Yelp of Ajax Tavern reads, “Who cares what the food tastes like when the apres-ski is amazing! It is worth the wait for a table. Sit on the sun-soaked deck in March with good friends and order truffle fries along with your beverage of choice. This is Aspen.” The restaurant also garners a fair amount of rave reviews about the Ajax truffle fries, Ajax Wagyu Double Cheeseburger and the onion soup gratinée (French onion soup).

The idea of truffle fries and an afternoon spent sipping rosé on the patio on a recent Saturday led a friend to get a table on the Ajax Tavern patio for lunch, and I was all too happy to help fill a seat at the table.

While the promise of enjoying a glass of rosé outside on a perfect summer day in Aspen – mid-80s, not a threat of rain in sight – was enticing, I hadn’t been to the tavern in a few years, and I decided that it would behoove me as the Aspen Times Weekly drink columnist to give the cocktail list a chance first.

The summer cocktail program features nine drinks highlighting a variety of spirits, from a spicy mango mezcalrita to a bourbon watermelon cooler.

The drink that initially caught my eye was the Cool As A Cucumber.

Made with cucumber, mint, basil and Empress Gin, one of my favorite spirits, which is a highly drinkable gin that also happens to be an aesthetically pleasing purple color, this cocktail was crafted to be an easy summer sipper that combines the classic pairing (thanks to Hendrick’s) of gin and cucumber with the summer flavors of mint and basil.

The Cool As A Cucumber was as expected: a pretty, light purple color accessorized with a small garden’s worth of mint and basil, some muddled at the bottom of the glass with the cucumber while other sprigs of herbs sprouted from the top of the drink. It was light, herby and refreshing — a nice cocktail to accompany a warm, sunny day.

From left, Cool As A Cucumber and the Summertime, with truffle fries.
Rose Laudicina

Another drink that caught my attention, this time due to its interesting ingredient list, was the Summertime.

The spirit in charge in this drink is Bacardi white rum, but it’s accompanied by “fresh summer juices,” which I learned were grapefruit and cranberry (not sure how cranberry counts as a summer juice as it’s typically a winter flavor), Cointreau and cotton candy.

Served in a martini glass, the Summertime is definitely a showstopping drink; it’s a drink to be seen, if that’s your Ajax Tavern goal. Many of the other patio patrons turned to look and commented on the drink when it arrived at the table, as its cranberry color and cloud of blue cotton candy on top is hard to miss.

The server also commented on the drink as it arrived, but more in the form of a PSA that this circus of a cocktail is difficult to make, I assume due to the balance and infrastructure needed to allow the cotton candy to float on top and not immediately disintegrate in the drink, so it takes a bit longer than other cocktails on the menu.

The Summertime at Ajax Tavern, made with Bacardi white rum, Cointreau, fresh summer juices and cotton candy.

It’s important to note that as soon as the Summertime is placed on the table, it’s go time in terms of snapping whatever pictures you want for the ’gram and getting a taste of the sweet treat topper before it either melts in the summer heat or falls into the drink below.

Once the blue cotton candy dissolves into the liquid, the drink transforms into a deep purple, and it’s ready to enjoy.

It’s a spirit-forward drink and well-crafted to balance the sugar content that comes from the cotton candy as it diffuses, making it appropriately sweet. The rum is more present in the smell; it doesn’t overpower in taste, as in it’s hard to put a finger on what the spirit is, and the tart flavor of the juices is present in each sip. One of my fellow lunch companions said it was reminiscent of a blue Jolly Rancher, which is not a bad comparison.

Overall, would I say it was my drink of choice? No. I preferred the Cool As A Cucumber, and in the end, after a few sips of the Summertime, I pushed it aside and instead got a glass to help my friend finish her bottle of rosé.

Will I be back to Ajax Tavern? Of course. There was at least one other drink on the menu that caught my eye, and as the previously mentioned review stated, the promise of the “sun-soaked deck … truffle fries … and beverage of choice” will always lure me back in.

If you go …

What: Ajax Tavern

Where: 685 Durant Ave., Aspen

thelittlenell.com/dine/ajax-tavern/menu

Price: Cocktails are $18 each

 

Say Yes to Adventure

As we ascended the final steps to the summit plateau, I moved aside to let Matt go before me. He walked along the crest of the narrow ridge, paying close attention to each foot placement, toward the high point a short distance away.

He stopped when he reached the spot where it was clear he could go no higher. After a brief moment to take in the expansive views, he turned towards me and, with a huge smile, gave me a high five. After years of gazing at Pyramid Peak from afar, he finally stood on its summit.

Matt commented about how he had always wanted to climb Pyramid but was unsure if he would ever get the opportunity, and he thanked me for leading him to the top. As we sat down on the rocks around the summit to take it all in, I could sense his satisfaction in being there. I felt the same sense of accomplishment, even though I had been atop this mountain many times before. 

It was easy for me to relate. There was a time when I, too, wondered what it would be like to climb Pyramid. In my case, it was 25 years ago that I found myself, like Matt, following a friend up to the 14,018-foot summit of Pyramid Peak for the first time. 

“Do you want to go up Pyramid Peak later this week?” my co-worker asked as we finished up our shift at Carnevale, an Italian restaurant on the Hyman Mall back in the 1990s. “I have a friend who knows the route and has offered to take us if you’re interested.”

I mulled the offer over for a moment and said yes. It was an easy decision for me. I had friends who climbed the mountain, and their stories made me curious about the experience. And as a rule, I always tried to say yes when invited on mountain adventures.

Following your curiosity often leads to novel experiences. But, sometimes, it can lead to much more. Saying yes and being willing to try new things can teach us about ourselves. It can present challenges that test us and reveal interests and passions we may not have known we possess. It can present new opportunities and broaden horizons.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, opting into this outing set me on a path I had never anticipated.

With a borrowed helmet and ice axe, four of us set out from Maroon Lake, toward Pyramid Peak. My work buddies and I followed our friend, Scott Hicks, up the mountain’s

Northwest Ridge. Scott knew the route and was the type of person who liked to share his knowledge — two useful attributes for anyone playing the role of guide.

We made our way up through the talus-filled amphitheater, ascending steep gullies and scree-covered faces, following a meandering route that would have been impossible to cover safely had it not been for Scott’s knowledge of the route.

For someone new to mountain climbing, I found it exhilarating. It was a physical challenge with brief shots of adrenaline amidst a stunning backdrop. It was Type II fun, though that term wouldn’t appear in the outdoor lexicon for many years.

I still recall the joy of topping out on the airy summit, surrounded by Elk Range peaks in all directions. I was so glad I said yes to the invite and was just as grateful that someone like Scott was willing to show the way.

The descent down the more common Northeast Ridge was straightforward by comparison. It’s more clearly defined and offers faster egress off the mountain. Back then, there was much more snow in the amphitheater, and I recall trying to emulate Scott’s demonstration of glissading down the long strips of snow that remained there mid-summer.

Soon enough, we were back down at Maroon Lake. The physical effort and the added rush from the exposure and loose rock left me mentally drained and physically exhausted. 

I awoke the following morning feeling proud of our accomplishment and curious about other 14ers. The next thing I knew, I was at Ute Mountaineer in its small old location on the Galena Street mall to buy the “Gerry Roach Guide to the 14ers.” I was intent on doing more. Maybe even all of them. And that’s how my love and endless pursuit of 14ers began for me.

What started with a one-off invitation to join a group of friends on a local peak evolved into an incredibly rewarding chapter of adventure in the mountains. After more than 400 14er summits, 35 or so on Pyramid, I still enjoy it as much as I did back on that first day.

I often see Scott around town. After we exchange hellos and share brief updates on our latest adventures, I occasionally remind him of the credit he deserves for introducing me to something that has become a big part of my life. It wasn’t the only factor that set me on my path, but that day he led me up the mountain definitely played a part.

Now, 25 years later, I regularly find myself in Scott’s role, leading people to places like Pyramid Peak who might not otherwise be able to do it themselves. I take interested friends, as well as clients as a guide for Aspen Expeditions. You could say I’m paying it forward. But I’ve also found that I really enjoy showing people the way, especially those like Matt, who exhibit the same curiosity I had back when I got started.

As Matt and I descended through the endless talus slopes of the amphitheater under the afternoon sun, I found myself pondering the 25 years that have passed since I first hiked here. It’s still exciting to be on the mountain. And it’s always special to reach the summit.

And unlike other aspects of the valley, the mountain itself hasn’t changed very much either. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative has made substantial improvements to the approach trail, and parts of the upper route are cleaner of the loose rock. There is much less lingering snow in the late summer, but overall, the experience is the same.

I shared my tale of my first Pyramid climb with Matt as we neared the valley floor, and I told him he should be proud to have taken the initiative to achieve this goal. Too often in life we opt out of the challenges, we come up with excuses, we say no.

Saying yes is so much more fulfilling.

I’m happy I did that back when Scott offered. Matt was happy to have said yes too. And he’ll probably never look at Pyramid Peak the same. Perhaps it will lead to something more, much like it did for me. But even if it doesn’t, it will likely turn out to be an experience he’ll never forget.

Ted Mahon moved out to Aspen to ski for a season 25 years ago and has been stuck in the Rockies ever since. Contact him at ted@tedmahon.com or on Instagram @tedmahon

Matt and Ted Mahon on the summit a couple of weeks ago.
Ted Mahon
A curious mountain goat high on the route.
Ted Mahon
Standing on the summit on a more recent outing with the expansive Elk Range behind Ted Mahon.
Ted Mahon

The Tao of Etheridge: Singer songwriter talks about life lessons before Belly Up show

Back in 2013, while working on a proposed box set of archival recordings, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge came across a group of songs that had been recorded in the late 1980s but never released.

Now, she’s taking these tunes on the road as part of her newest album, “One Way Out.” She performs at the Belly Up on Aug. 17. For fans familiar with the singer’s biggest hits from the mid-1990s, “One Way Out” (both the title track and the album) have a harder rock edge and go heavy on her distinctive voice and guitar sound.

“My intention was to show that I’m a rock-and-roller,” Etheridge said during a recent phone interview.

Lively and effervescent, you get the sense that she loves what she does and has limitless energy, especially when it comes to her job of more than three decades. And, this album was a bit of a return to those roots.

“I got this idea to get the band back together — the original, very first band I ever toured with, which was Kevin McCormick on bass, Fritz Lewak on drums and John Shanks on guitar,” she said. “These guys are monsters.”

They recorded with her on the album, and the rest is (recent) history.

Looking back, Etheridge said she’s happy these songs are being dusted off the shelf, as a lot has changed since she decided not to release them initially. As to why she waited?

“I was still very confused about who I was and was easily drawn off track sometimes,” she said.

But now she feels ready, and then some.

“These songs now — the me now is so different of the me 30 years ago because I’m not afraid of my strength,” she said. “I’m not afraid to get up there and RAWR ‘I’m a rock god.’ These songs were feminist; singing these songs now is like getting my power back, power that I had dampened on my own when I was younger and less sure of myself.”

Those headed to the show are likely to pick up on that rollicking attitude as Etheridge looks forward to another return to Colorado, several years after lifting a self-imposed, 26-year boycott of the state (in 2015) in protest of Colorado’s Amendment 2 passage in 1993.

“After being away for a long time, I try to come back every year,” she said. “I love playing Colorado, the landscape there. I’ve played everywhere around the area. Especially Belly Up, with 400 people standing up in front of me. It’s a sweaty, hot rock and roll night. And, we’re going to turn it up!”

Melissa Etheridge plays Belly Up Aug. 17.
Elizabeth Miranda

Dipping into a seemingly endless well of enthusiasm, Etheridge breezed through our tight 15-minute phone call, one of many on her schedule that day.

When asked about how she keeps it up after all this time, she said, “Because I don’t ever think of it as hard. I don’t ever say that. I’m very grateful. I know that I’m doing things that 99.9% of people don’t get to do, and I’ve learned a lot. I have learned about life, I’ve learned about health, and one of the strongest lessons I have learned is that I will be what I think I am. I wanted this to be an amazing journey that’s constantly challenging and constantly rewarding. And, it is.”

It’s a challenge not to get swept up in her overwhelming positivity, but that positivity does strike a balance with a wisdom built from years of success and struggles — both in and out of the spotlight.

“I’ve climbed that mountain; I’ve made it,” she said. “I want to say, ‘You can do this, let’s not make ourselves small anymore.’ Let’s inspire each other.”

Melissa Etheridge inspires audiences with her messages through music.
Elizabeth Miranda

Graceful Grit

The press release came to my inbox with the headline: “Two ski town rivals come together through dance,” which nailed the truth of the Vail Dance Festival: It’s all about collaboration. Any “rivalry” between the two towns is completely set aside as dancers create together, learn and inspire each other to take dance to its highest level.

And that’s exactly what DanceAspen accomplished Sunday night at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek. The newly formed company, founded in 2021 after the devastation of the pandemic led the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet to disband its professional performing company, embodies the spirit of resilience, passion and immense talent. As Vail Dance Festival artistic director Damian Woetzel pointed out, DanceAspen is “reinventing how ballet companies can work and prioritize dancers … with a small but mighty company.”

Though just nine dancers make up DanceAspen, their evening performance was full and rich, embodying the ideal beauty, grace and strength of dance.

“DanceAspen speaks to everything we’re about (as a festival). It’s enterprising, dynamic and creative. It’s fearless — it will not say no,” Woetzel said. “Just as the Aspen community has embraced the newly born company, so, too, has the community in Vail.”

Sunday’s performance started with the aptly named “Begin Again,” as shadow and light emphasized the muscular control the choreography — built upon repeating arm patterns, undulations and gorgeous, extended holds and lifts — demanded. As the piece evolved, an innovatively shaped trio formed and morphed. Choreographed (and danced) by Matthew Gilmore, DanceAspen artist and Julliard alumnus, the piece showcased Gilmore’s, Sammy Altenau’s and Katherine Bolaños’ technical skills and grace.

DanceAspen opened Sunday night at the Vilar Performing Arts Center with ‘Begin Again.’
Christopher Duggan

While also beautiful, “Next To” could have benefitted from a bit more precise unison between the two dancers.

Kaya Wolsey and Myles Woolstenhulme were stunning and moving in the duet, “For Pixie,” which captured the dramatic emotion of love relationships with Wolsey’s staccato arms racing, as well as the duo’s extended, romantic flow.

After just a half hour of dance, intermission came too soon, but the evening ramped up again with “Press Play,” which DanceAspen also performed at the festival’s opening night, July 29.

Caili Quan originally created the piece for BalletX as a Zoom film during the pandemic, to portray the “feeling of coming together to dance the night away,” she said on opening night. It depicts initial loneliness, as a solo dancer in black undulates her body alone, in silence, punctuating the control and balance the difficult movements require. Then, suddenly — “right about now” (as the funky lyrics rang in) — a second dancer in white joins in precise and innovative choreography. The four outstanding dancers — Altenau, Wolsey, Madeleine Scott and Marian Faustino — transported the audience to a festive place, where it’s fun to be alive and groove to the beat — together. It’s no wonder the piece elicited intense applause and cheering from the audience.

Violinist Min Tze Wu accompanied Bolaños and Blake Krapels on stage for Gilmore’s choreographed work, “in the end.” As Bolaños’ retirement performance after dancing with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet for 18 years and becoming the founding artist of DanceAspen, she masterfully highlighted the beauty, intimacy and technical prowess of two bodies intertwining, moving viscerally as one in this stirring piece.

Katherine Bolaños and Blake Krapels of DanceAspen performing ‘in the end.’
Christopher Duggan

It may have seemed more natural for DanceAspen to screen its short film, which introduced the company and underscored the dancers’ determination to stay in Aspen after Aspen Santa Fe Ballet restructured, at the beginning of the evening, to introduce the audience to the company, which debuted at the Wheeler Opera House on Sept. 17, 2021. The film seemed to interrupt the mesmerizing trance the dancers brought us into, but listening to the passionate artists was still enjoyable and informative.

After a bit of an awkward pause, two small spotlights searched the closed curtain in a circus-esque fashion, until its opening revealed six dancers, slumped in a group. The last piece of the evening, “Everyone’s in St. Barth’s,” highlighted the humor the dancers share, in addition to their resilience and determination. The spoof on social media lifestyles was hilarious, as each character stepped forward, introducing themselves by their social name (“@Live_Your_Best_Life” or “@Me_Myself_Mine”) while simultaneously slumping over in complete exhaustion, as a result of responding to everyone, all the time, because “people need to know (their) every thought.”

DanceAspen in ‘Everyone’s in St.Barth’s’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan

The unique choreography ranged from uniform, puppet-like movements with spots of zany individualism to lyrical duets and visually pleasing group shapes and forms. The piece ended with a big group sigh — and a hearty, well-deserved standing ovation by the audience.

The performance proved that, just as DanceAspen executive director Laurel Winton intends, the company is delivering works “that push the boundaries of the physical and artistic standards of dance today.”

Upcoming DanceAspen Performances

Aug. 14: The Theatre Aspen Summer Cabaret Series, ‘Oh What a Night: Broadway Celebrates the 60s, with guest performance by DanceAspen’ at Hotel Jerome. theatreaspen.org

Sept. 23-24: New Horizons
With three new works by Danielle Rowe, Matthew Gilmore and Kaya Wolsey, DanceAspen brings the next generation of contemporary dance to the Wheeler Opera House.

March 17-18, 2023: Winter Program
An evening of dance with innovative choreography, featuring a new creation by world-renowned choreographer Yin Yue.
Tickets ($35-$65) on sale now. More info: danceaspen.org

Asher on Aspen: Three Chords and the Truth – a country run at Belly Up

Country music, or “hillbilly music” as it used to be called, is the sound of the working class. It celebrates a simpler and slower way of life, saluting America’s rural storytelling. A fundamental component to country music is this sense of home and belonging. I have my small-town Iowa roots to thank for my unwavering bias toward this kind of music. It’s what I grew up with, and at the end of the day, it’s the sound I crave the most.

This past week was a rather lively one for country music lovers in Aspen. The Belly Up brought three incredible country acts to the stage within a five-day period. Monday was Steve Earle; Tuesday was Charley Crockett; and Friday was Paul Cauthen. Having never seen any of these musicians before, I was especially excited for this lineup of shows.

What I appreciate the most about Belly Up is its widely diverse booking calendar. The talent buyers are intentional about catering to every music lover, no matter what style of music they prefer. They acknowledge every genre of music, which in turn, acknowledges every walk of life. It’s pretty incredible that Aspenites can attend a boisterous rock band one night, followed by an electric duo the next, followed by a honky-tonk country act the next night. Belly Up sure has a sweet way of making our small corner of the world feel big.

The week started off with country music trailblazer Steve Earle, who is known for hits like “Copperhead Road” and “Galway Girl.” The 67-year-old singer-songwriter captivated one highly excited audience as he performed hits, from “Jerry Jeff,” his new tribute album, to ’70s Texas legend Jerry Jeff Walker, while sprinkling in solemn moments of storytelling. I love when musicians take a moment in-between songs to share a little bit about their story. It humanizes the musician and makes them more relatable to the everyday concertgoer. In this case, he paid tribute to the “Mr. Bojangles” songwriter and revealed why he felt compelled to make a fourth tribute album. His encore included two staple singalongs, including Grateful Dead’s “Casey Jones” and The Band’s “Rag Mama Rag.”

Steve Earle
Michael Goldberg/Courtesy photo

The next night, I witnessed the incredible charm of the ’60s country-music enthusiast Charley Crockett. On the day of a concert, I always like to “study” the music beforehand and listen to everything I can so that I feel prepared for the show. After all, you never know when you might get pulled on stage to sing with the artist. Listening to Charley Crockett on Spotify, however, is only half of his mystique. His live performance is where things really get interesting. He exudes a cool, coy presence that commands everyone’s attention, while he produces an amusing level of twain and Elvis-like dance moves. Popular for hits like “I Am Not Afraid” and “Jamestown Ferry,” his performance style is unassuming and unapologetic.

It was somehow already Friday and time to see Paul Cauthen — someone who I’ve had my ears on for a while now. I first discovered him in December of 2018, and I remember being instantly enthralled by the sound of his voice. A mix between Texas country, Memphis soul and gospel funk, the industry has had a hard time trying to pigeonhole him into one specific genre. While his vocals certainly resemble Johnny Cash, his persona and stage presence are completely one-of-a-kind. My personal favorite and lesser-known hit, “Hanging Out on the Line,” has felt like my life anthem for the past year. It has a weird, therapeutic way of speaking directly to my soul. Of course, many know him now for his top-charting hits like “Cocaine Country Dancing” and “Holy Ghost Fire,” which both hold an energy that are equally as contagious.

The ripple effect that live music has on people is pretty extraordinary. The music not only boosts your mood and serotonin levels, but it also allows you to discover new music and uncover old music. Rediscovering songs that you haven’t heard in many moons is so special and nostalgic, and these songs will likely spark a memory or two. I can still vividly recall an old boyfriend’s voice singing “Rag Mama Rag” by The Band. My concert high typically lasts about two to three days following a show, but this whirlwind of a country music saga has done me in. It’s safe to say I’ll be riding this one for a while.

Songwriter Harlan Howard famously described it as, “three chords and the truth.” These are the simple necessary ingredients for country and western music. Now, ain’t that the truth?

Snowmass author and former cult member encourages readers to live life to the fullest

Renee Linnell aims to transform people’s lives by taking them from ho-hum to fulfillment.

And, she certainly hasn’t lived an average life. In 2018, she published “The Burn Zone,” a memoir about getting ordained as a Buddhist monk in 2010, then being brainwashed by a Buddhist cult — after graduating magna cum laude with a double degree from New York University; at age 33, she joined the cult, burned almost everything she owned and, after nearly seven years in the cult and breaking away, became suicidal.

Her new memoir, “Still on Fire,” Linnell recounts her hard-learned lessons from years of bad choices and crushing blows. Through it, she hopes to help others find, and live, their passion.

Her overarching message: “Stop making excuses for why mediocrity is okay for you and take the leap into a life that you love,” she said.

Her story speaks to all kinds of people and experiences, from those suffering from illness or loss to those struggling with financial hardship, overwork or fatigue from the pandemic and other recent tragedies.

Linnell draws from 49 years of experience, encouraging readers to trust their instincts, as well as the Divine, and follow their heart by finding gratitude and joy in the present moment. Her definition of happiness involves being present in, and appreciating, “all the tiny moments that we miss right now when we’re continuously looking forward to living a happy life.” 

In addition to breaking free from a cult, Linnell understands loss; her father died on Thanksgiving Day when she was 15. Then, after more than 12 years of conflict and estrangement, her mother disappeared; days later, Linnell discovered her mother had drowned in a hotel bathtub. Linnell also knows about financial loss; she lost hundreds of thousands of dollars after a nasty lawsuit with a business partner she met in a karate dojo.

After carrying around shame for years, she made peace with her flaws and failures and focused on living life to the fullest. 

“We shouldn’t be afraid of our stories,” she said. “And we shouldn’t see anything that happened to us as ‘wrong.’ We are in these human bodies for such a brief period of time. Why hide who we are?”

“Still on Fire” reflects on the decisions she made, what it takes to open up to love, pleasure and even mystical possibilities and how to be whole and free. It reviews the pointlessness of trying to get others to see our point of view; why people attract others who treat them poorly and how to stop abandoning ourselves to please others; and how life is an ongoing adventure, in which none of us are alone, but rather, backed by “something bigger than ourselves.”

She talks about how most people are afraid of the unknown, so they create “safe,” or familiar, environments as adults, which can ultimately trap them in unfulfilling lives.

“What we don’t realize is that the deep soul pain that comes with ‘being stuck’ is much more painful than whatever we would experience if we jumped into the unknown,” she said. 

She views her trials and tribulations as rites of passage, which taught her that she can handle whatever life brings. Through her healing, she has learned to stay present to the gifts each moment offers.

“The empowering realization that I can survive whatever life throws my way helps me relax into the present more often — and the present is where all the power and magic lies,” she said.

She also touches upon how quantum physics “is finally confirming what saints and shamans have been saying for thousands of years: our thoughts create our reality,” which is why she believes it’s useless to try to force others to see our point of view.

Renee Linnell’s new memoir, ‘Still on Fire.’
Courtesy photo

“Most people are too afraid and are only able to see through a new point of view after life has come along and smashed them around a little. Words don’t teach, only life experience teaches,” she said. “It is so much easier, kinder and more efficient to allow people their point of view and to use our energy instead to be a living example of the ways we wish to teach.” 

She encourages the subtle art of self-love: “making healthy, self-loving, self-nurturing choices in every moment. It’s as subtle as leaving 15 minutes early so we’re not stressed and angry in traffic, or checking in with our body when it’s time to choose food to see what our body really wants as nourishment. It’s not criticizing inside our mind, when we look in the mirror, when we make a mistake. Self-love takes constant vigilance and practice. It’s treating the child inside of us the way we wish a parent, friend, co-worker, the world or a lover would treat her/him.”

That said, she doesn’t believe we’re supposed to be happy all the time, because we wouldn’t know pleasure if we didn’t know pain. Rather than avoiding pain and clinging to pleasure, she advocates learning “to be in awe of the human experience,” and even noticing glimmers of joy and peace during despair.

“If we could see lows and painful moments of our lives as necessary parts of our Divine Plan, we could surrender into them and allow the pain to cut through us, hollowing out more space to eventually hold more light, remembering that this too shall pass,” she said.

She says it’s healthy, and makes sense, to believe in divine intervention and instructs people to start by being present.

If you go…

What: Author Renee Linnell’s ‘Still on Fire: A Memoir’ release event, in collaboration with Explore Booksellers

When: 5:30-7:30 p.m. Aug. 16

Where: The Aspen Hive, 429 E. Cooper Ave.

“When we pay attention to what is unfolding in front of us in each moment, we don’t miss the rainbow or the butterfly or the string of green traffic lights just when we need them most. We notice the lyrics that we most need to hear in the song playing in the store we just entered,” she said. “The more we notice, the more they will appear — the same way when we decide to buy a certain car or pair of shoes, we start to see them everywhere.”

Overall, she encourages people to turn pain into purpose, partially by luxuriating in everything that you might miss on earth if this was your last day. In addition to savoring the little (and big) things in life:

“All we can do is take the next step that feels right, that feels thrilling,” she said. “And trust.”      

‘Don Giovanni’

Based on the legend of Don Juan, and directed by Chía Patiño, this comedy and morality tale “tells the story of an irresistible yet irredeemable playboy whose escapades lead him along a path to his own destruction,” according to the AMFS website. The opera was selected by Renée Fleming and Patrick Summers, as were the student artists of AOTVA.

Recently, Jane Glover sat down for an interview with the AMFS president and CEO, Alan Fletcher, for a recording of the program “High Notes,” in partnership with Aspen Public Radio, to talk about the opera and the famous story within it.

“The subject is appalling,” Glover said. “It’s about ‘Me Too,’ isn’t it? It’s about the way horrible men treat women. It’s about a murder and all sorts of harassment and mental problems, as well. And yet, it is billed as a comedy.”

The opera was considered modern when it was written. Glovers said that, historically, operas were based on history or Greek and Roman plays. What Mozart and his contemporary Da Ponte did, as outsiders, according to Glover, was unite in their ability to view society and analyze human behavior and hold up a mirror to the audience. “Don Giovanni” is an example of this exploration.

“Absolutely everybody who comes under the influence of Don Giovanni is damaged by this man, who is still somehow made to feel incredibly attractive. This makes (the narrative) a problem in whichever age you set it,” she said.

The irony of the challenging subject matter alongside a masterpiece is not lost on Glover.

“As with all Mozarts, the music is phenomenal. Every line is genius; it’s like Shakespeare,” she said. “That’s what art can do for you.”

No stranger to high art forms, Glover has conducted all the major symphony and chamber orchestras in Britain, as well as orchestras in Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia.

If you go …

What: ‘Don Giovanni,’ conducted by Jane Glover, featuring singers of the Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS program (AOTVA)

When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18

Where: Benedict Music Tent

Tickets: $50 and $85

More info: aspenmusicfestival.com

Also in demand on the international opera stage, Glover has appeared with numerous companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden and English National Opera, among many others.

A Mozart specialist, she has conducted Mozart operas all over the world regularly since she first performed them at Glyndebourne in the 1980s, and her core operatic repertoire includes Monteverdi, Handel and Britten.

“Jane is special in that she has both style and musical intelligence in her conducting,” said Patrick Chamberlain, AMFS vice president for artistic administration. “The chance for our singers to learn from a true scholar and teacher is so important, as is what she brings to the full performance. She brings such authority and humor and wisdom to the music of Mozart. It’s going to be a great night.”

Another inspiring summer of dance: DanceAspen closes out Vail Dance Festival in style

The 2022 Vail Dance Festival came to a close Tuesday night at the Ford Amphitheater, but the experiences continue to echo — both in the community and nationwide — through the dancers themselves.

Known for its artist collaboration and its ability to wow audiences with some of the best dancers and companies in the nation, this summer’s dance festival presented innovative choreography, three dance companies new to Vail and a host of inspirational events and performances during its 12-day stint.

Artist-in-residence and New York City Ballet soloist Roman Mejia talked about how he learned to pace himself and get through “a lot of hard dance” during the festival, at Dance for $20.22 Tuesday night. At 22, he’s the festival’s youngest artist-in-residence.

He excelled at George Balanchine’s “Tarantella” there same night, delivering a stronger performance than his part in “Other Dances” on Opening Night. He fully danced “Tarantella” with control, power, ease and joy, as if it were choreographed just for him.

Meanwhile, Tiler Peck showcased the exact kind of lightness, grace and strength that makes people fall in love with ballet. The pair was brilliant in the invigorating ballet piece.

Roman Mejia and Tiler Peck in George Balanchine’s ‘Tarantella’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust.
Christopher Duggan

Even before “Tarantella,” Dance for $20.22 had audience members on their feet. The night opened with fellow artist-in-residence Caili Quan’s “Press Play,” which she originally choreographed for BalletX as a Zoom film during the pandemic, to portray the “feeling of coming together to dance the night away.”

Four artists from DanceAspen, a company barely a year old created by former dancers of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performing company (after its restructuring, due to challenges the pandemic brought) showed just how technically and artistically skilled they are through the fun piece. Though they had already performed it during Opening Night and Sunday at the Vilar, it just never gets old. Between Quan’s innovative choreography and the dancer’s skill (which, right from the start caused one man next to me to audibly exclaim “wow” over a dancer’s balanced control), “Press Play” set the tone for a night of amazing artistry.

Similar to their great offering of “Piéce d’Occasion” on Opening Night, Robbie Fairchild, former principal at the New York City Ballet, joined Dorrance Dance company member Byron Tittle in a spectacular tap piece, punctuated by Fairchild’s soaring leaps. Each presented an entertaining style that brought plenty of audience members to their feet.

An excerpt from “Underscored” hardly looked like it was “in process,” as three dancers from Ephrat Asherie Dance and guest artist Dario Natarelli crushed it with a blend of tap, African-American and Latinx street and social dance. Natarelli’s mad skills tapping complemented his graceful side, which often made it look like he was effortlessly gilding (or skating) across the stage.

Natarelli, who was born in Vail, talked about his rich experience at the festival in a casual conversation after the show.


“I learned a lot (from the festival), especially this year,” he said, adding that Ephrat Asherie Dance opened up a new world to him in terms of sharing house dance. “It was like being an artist-in-residence.”

Just before “Tarantella,” DanceAspen gave another stellar showing, this time through the gorgeous and intricate intertwining of “in the end.” Set as Katherine Bolaños’ retirement performance after dancing with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet for 18 years, she and partner Blake Krapels danced it with the expertise and grace of the seasoned professionals they are. Violinist Min Tze Wu accompanied the pair on stage in the viscerally moving piece.

Tuesday’s audience received quite a treat for their affordable ticket not only before intermission, but also after, when festival dancers offered their world premiere, “I Made This for You.”

Chris Thile and festival dancers in ‘I Made This for You’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan

Choreographed by Justin Peck, various dancers from different companies intermingled in a fascinating blend of house, ballet, contemporary and more. As dancers transitioned in and out of solos, trios and group formations, the seamless movements imparted a communal feeling and flow.

Bluegrass musician Chris Thile of Punch Brothers joined the dancers on stage and often took center stage, giving the audience a special concert, belting out vocals and masterfully playing the mandolin like no one’s business.

Thile ended with a wonderful version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”; and, even though the festival sadly came to an end, it was all right because the fulfilling evening promised another great summer to come in 2023.

Justin Peck and Patricia Delgado in ‘I Made This For You’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan
Tiler Peck in George Balanchine’s Tarantella at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust.
Christopher Duggan

Sophisticated wonder

Anke Schofield generates a world of limitless imagination.

Relying on her early training as a photographer, she embarks upon a scavenger hunt to capture the perfect images, which she incorporates into her mixed-media paintings. An idea pops into her head, perhaps one of a woman wearing a bouquet in place of a hat or hairdo, and, from there, she layers paint and photos, creating multidimensional artwork.

“When people look at it, they often say, ‘Is this a photograph, or is this a painting?’” Schofield said. “It’s both. I always use a photograph, and I always use paint.”

While photos help inspire the work, it is the paint that allows Schofield to enter a realm where there are no boundaries — where butterflies flutter among deer antlers or a small house sits on a dog’s back.

Anke Schofield’s ‘Botanica.’
Courtesy Aspen Grove Fine Art

“My paintings are based on a childlike dream of: What would it be if you were dreaming larger than life,” she said. “Things that aren’t possible in real life, I can make real in the paintings. I like to paint things that are not possible. I don’t feel like a painting is successful unless I’ve achieved that.”

Her pieces depict a sense of childhood wonder, unbound by convention and societal norms.

“Your imagination was free and open, and everything was new to you,” she said of childhood. “You lived more in the dream state. I try to pursue that in my art.”

She draws viewers into her paintings by leaving much open to interpretation.

“I want the viewer to see what they see in it,” she said.

In keeping with youthful freshness, she changes up her color palette with the seasons and design trends, though she does favor neutral backgrounds, which make her sensational images stand out.

Her current exhibition at Aspen Grove Fine Art features about a dozen new, large-scale paintings, 60 x 60 and larger.

“This show is about transformation and evolving and growth (and) coming out on the other side,” said Chris Moore, the gallery’s marketing and advertising director. “This applies to the ‘diva’ paintings, as well as some of the paintings incorporating wildlife or butterflies that take on this same concept.

“Her work is unique, not only in Aspen, but also in contemporary work, because it is playful, yet sophisticated in style — and isn’t that what Aspen is all about?”

If you go …

What: Anke Schofield exhibition, ‘Evolution of the Diva’

When: Today through Aug. 12, opening reception with artist: 4-8 p.m. both days

Where: Aspen Grove Fine Art

More info: aspengrovefineart.com

‘Wild West’
WILDWEST

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.