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Aspen Laugh Fest: Jo Koy on parenting, skiing and upcoming specials (podcast)

Comedian Jo Koy can't go more than a few days without doing stand-up. When he does, withdrawal sets in.

"When I take a week off I look like a crackhead in the corner of the house, like, 'Man, I need to tell a joke! Where's the stage at?'" Koy, who headlines the Aspen Laugh Festival on Saturday night, said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. "I go crazy. I talk to myself. I think of jokes and try to work them out of my head."

He learned on a recent trip to Hawaii that he can't even take a vacation without a stand-up outlet.

"I was in Maui for three weeks and I went to an open mic bar," Koy, 47, recalled with a laugh. "I was like, 'Oh, I've just got to go up!' The next thing I knew the whole island was at this bar because Jo Koy was there. I had to do it."

Koy, who last year was awarded the Stand-Up Comedian of the Year prize at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, may be the hardest-working man in comedy right now. His two sets at the Wheeler Opera House this weekend come in the midst of his "Break the Mold" world tour, which follows his recent taping of a new hourlong special for Netflix premiering in April. He is due to tape yet another hour of new material in June.

Koy plans to showcase new stuff from both upcoming specials in Aspen and, as always, do some improvising onstage. He also remains a regular on Adam Carolla's popular podcast and hosts his own, "The Koy Pond," weekly while he's also developing a new animated series.

Arts & Culture Podcast – Comedian Jo Koy Episode

"I love to improvise," he said. "I think that's the gift that God gave me, so I'm exercising that muscle. I love going up and riffing in front of the crowd. If I can walk away from an hour set and say, 'Alright, I got one new joke,' I'm happy."

Koy retires jokes after he puts them in a special, which has kept him generating new material and new stories constantly in recent years. But it breaks his heart, he said, when he has to retire a good joke.

"I look forward to them introducing me because I know that I'm going to hit that joke that night — I can't wait because I know I'm going to crush it," he said. "I can feel the energy of the room. I love that feeling. I can't even explain that energy, but it sucks when the special hits and I'm like, 'They're gone.'"

His most recent special, 2017's "Live from Seattle," focused largely on his upbringing — he is the son of a Filipino immigrant mother and an American military man who left the family when Koy was a boy — and on raising his own young son. He riffs on childbirth, compares his son's privileged life to his tougher early days, and mines his son's bad hygiene and adolescent hijinks for laughs.

His son, now 16, is still providing ample fodder for Koy's act.

"I'm dealing with a teenager," he said with a laugh. "I'm living with a dude now. He thinks he's cool, but I think he's just a dirty-ass roommate and I've got way too many stories about him."

So far, his son has been alright with his dad mining their relationship for stand-up material. Though, as teen angst has set in, Koy has learned to be sensitive to the kid's feelings. He said he makes sure to turn punch-lines back on himself, rather than just making fun of his boy.

"I always put my son's feelings first," he said. "If he doesn't want me to talk about it, I won't. But for the most part he's cool with it."

And, he noted, dad's comedy is what keeps him in a good private school and cool toys — his last special has an inspired bit about yearning to get him a hoverboard — and he occasionally has to remind his son: "Your stupidity gets us good s—, Joe!"

Koy is a magnetic storyteller, vividly and hilariously portraying his mom and his son and his sisters with the help of some chaotic physical comedy and goofy impressions. Unsurprisingly, he grew up loving storytelling comics like Dennis Wolfberg, Richard Jenny, Eddie Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg.

"I couldn't stop watching that," he recalled. "I loved the characters and relating to the stories. It was just a natural thing for me to do that onstage when I started doing stand-up. I had to talk about my mom, my son, my sisters."

The advent of the podcast era has given Koy both a new outlet and a new workshop for developing material. He grew his international fan base through his regular guest spots on Carolla's show and spun off with his own weekly comedians' group chat in March 2016 on "The Koy Pond."

"It's the best hour and a half of my life," Koy said. "We go in there with nothing and we try to build something. … It's freestyle talking, it's joke-writing, it's exercising that improv muscle. It's great."

But his most personal project these days, and the one he's most excited about (based on the enthusiastic "Yes!" he bellowed when asked about it) is "This Functional Family." Koy has been working for seven years on this autobiographical animated series and recently signed with TruTV to bring it to the screen.

"That thing is my baby," he said. "It's my life and it's cool to see TruTV support it and understand it and get my story out there."

In preparation for his Aspen debut this weekend, Koy has been teaching himself to ski this winter at Lee Canyon outside Las Vegas, enthusiastically — perhaps over-enthusiastically — jumping into the downhill skiing with some comical results.

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"No instructor, no nothing," Koy said of his foray into snow sports. "Just 'f— it, full-force down the mountain into a tree, flat on my face. I even slid down the mountain backwards with my head facing the bottom of the mountain. Do you know how embarrassing that is?"

Koy is bringing along his son and other family members for the Aspen Laugh Fest to test his burgeoning skills on some bigger hills, though he'll be sticking to the greens and blues.

"I see people go down the black diamonds and I don't know how you stop!" he said. "I watch people go down the black diamonds and I'm like, 'Well, that guy is going to die.'"

atravers@aspentimes.com

Drew Emmitt looks back on thirty years of Leftover Salmon

As Leftover Salmon celebrates its 30th anniversary, music luminaries have been toasting the legendary Colorado band and a historian has devoted a new book to the titanic influence it's had on bluegrass and jam music.

But in the beginning, all this scrappy Boulder-based outfit aimed to do was barnstorm Colorado's ski towns with their freewheeling take on string music.

"We just wanted a way that we could go play ski towns in the wintertime," founding member Drew Emmitt recalled in a recent phone interview from home in Crested Butte. "Our original fan base was the ski towns — Aspen, Vail, Steamboat, Crested Butte, Durango, Telluride. … That was our original circuit. We enjoyed playing Boulder and Denver, but what this band was really about was the ski towns."

Ironically, focusing early efforts on the small but lively venues of hard-partying ski towns helped raise Leftover Salmon's national profile before they began hitting the festival scene in the 1990s.

"So many people come through ski towns from all over the country," Emmitt said. "It was a great way to get our name out."

The band was birthed in 1989 with the merger of the Salmon Heads and the Left Hand String Band at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Leftover Salmon has been a staple in Aspen since the beginning, playing regular shows at the Double Diamond and later the Belly Up and the Wheeler Opera House, where the band returns for an anniversary show Thursday.

"The Wheeler might be my favorite venue in Colorado in terms of acoustics and ambiance," Emmitt said. "I love playing there."

Billed as "Stories from the Living Room," the performance is a more austere, sit-down show that's focused on storytelling.

"This band has a story to tell," Emmitt said. "Coming up on 30 years as a band, people can finally see what we've done and that we were trailblazers. We were on the road in a school bus — a bunch of kids not knowing what we were doing and playing music and this is what's happened. So it's a good feeling. It's definitely a milestone for us."

In the "Living Room" shows they're mostly leaving behind the rollicking and unhinged sets that have epitomized Leftover Salmon, with Emmitt mostly playing mandolin, keys player Erik Deutsch on grand piano and Greg Garrison on an upright bass. The band is bringing along some homey furnishings and personal knick-knacks to decorate the stage and set an intimate mood.

"It's created some different directions for us," Emmitt said of the tour. "The stories just spontaneously emerge while we're doing the show. It's really, really fun, it's intimate and it's a way to connect with an audience. We're having a blast. It's something completely different for us, so we're really enjoying it."

Arts & Culture Podcast: Leftover Salmon

The "Living Room" tour also will make stops at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek and Washington's in Fort Collins before it goes on a national run through spring.

The tour coincides with the release of music historian Tim Newby's extensively researched new book "Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival," published last week by Rowman & Littlefield.

"With the book coming out, it's a great way to talk about that and tell some stories and sit there in the living room," Emmitt said.

The book is a meticulous piece of reporting — undergirded by interviews with current and former band members — and a well-argued piece of long-form music criticism that delineates the band's widespread influence on a generation of bluegrass, acoustic and jam bands.

It is narrated in chapters separated out by band member, with Newby tracking how each contributed to Leftover Salmon's groundbreaking sound and musical language.

"It's pretty trippy that somebody would want to write a book about us," Emmitt said, admitting he hadn't read it yet.

The first chapter is devoted to Emmitt and tracks the origins of what would become Leftover Salmon to a series of mandolin lessons Emmitt took in 1980 from Hot Rize's Tim O'Brien, who recalls Emmitt's revolutionary approach to bluegrass and nimble, high-speed picking style as already being fully formed.

"Drew could make a pretty good sound," O'Brien says in the book, "but in a lot of ways he was already onto a style of his own, a style he still plays."

Newby places Leftover Salmon in a lineage that began with Bill Monroe, evolved with the Grateful Dead, Hot Rize and New Grass Revival. His book details how the band's progressive bluegrass style added (gasp!) drums to traditional bluegrass instrumentation and tossed in elements of Cajun, rock and whatever sounded right to them. The genre-bending result made them a staple of the jam band scene and pioneers of what became known as "jamgrass."

"Leftover Salmon has been a crucial link in keeping alive the traditional music of the past while at the same time pushing the music forward with their own weirdly unique style," Newby writes.

He also tracks the band through the untimely death of founding banjoist Mark Vann — killed by cancer at 39 in 2002 — and Leftover Salmon's struggles in the years that followed.

The final chapter is written in the style of an oral history, with testimonials by musicians — from Sam Bush to Dave Watts and Railroad Earth to Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, moe., Widespread Panic and others — about Leftover Salmon's legacy in bluegrass, jam music, songwriting and in establishing the national profile of Colorado's adventurous music scene.

Emmitt said he hopes the legacy of Leftover Salmon is in emboldening musicians to challenge orthodoxy and taboos and keep making it new.

"I hope we can inspire other bands to do the same," Emmitt said. "The music business is very competitive, it's very uncertain. But if you follow your dream and keep at it, you can make it happen. And this band has proven that."

He points to the work of Greensky Bluegrass, the Infamous Stringdusters, Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers as proof that there's still new ground to be broken in string music.

"All these bands that are coming up today are really busting things wide open in their own ways," he said.

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But, of course, Leftover Salmon is no nostalgia act. Emmitt and company are not done making new music and experimenting with new sounds, as evidenced on last year's album "Something Higher."

The genre-hopping record, Emmitt said, has translated well into the laid-back "Living Room" shows. It also includes one of the band's most overtly political songs, inspired by President Donald Trump and written in the early days of his administration by Vince Herman. Its chorus goes: "This is now who we are / Love is gonna win again."

"We're all pretty politically aware — especially Vince and I are political junkies — and if you are paying attention, probably you're pretty outraged about what's going on in our country," Emmitt said. "And we were able to put it in a song. … We're all hoping to get out of this with our democracy intact. It's pretty scary."

And, yes, with this week's hotly anticipated show falling on Valentine's Day, expect some make-out songs like "Lovin' in My Baby's Eyes" on Thursday.

"We'll have to play some good couples-focused songs," Emmitt said. "We've got a few up our sleeves."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Playwright Craig Lucas on his Broadway career and mentoring the next generation

The Pulitzer- and Tony-nominated playwright Craig Lucas is in Aspen this weekend mentoring the next generation of writers at Theater Masters' annual "Take Ten" festival, working with graduate students and local high-schoolers on their 10-minute plays.

When Lucas was in their position, moving to New York in the 1970s to launch a career as an actor, he proudly admits, he was clueless.

"I didn't know what the hell I was doing," Lucas said with a laugh. "I went to college to learn to be an actor because I thought the life of an actor would be easy. I don't know where I got that idea, and it turned out very quickly not to be the case."

But he had generous mentors who guided him through the often-cruel world of American theater, as he picked up roles performing in Broadway musicals and then picked up a pen and began writing the works that have made him a legend of the American stage.

"I feel like what was given to me is really what I owe the world back," he said of teaching and mentoring. "If only to bring myself into parity with the universe."

Lucas is best known for the modern classic "Prelude to a Kiss," which debuted on Broadway in 1990 and which he adapted two years later into an Alec Baldwin-starring film.

His diverse body of work in the decades since also includes Broadway musicals such as "The Light in the Piazza" and "An American in Paris," opera libretti, screenplays like his 1995 adaptation of his play "Reckless" and going behind the camera as a director of the motion pictures "The Dying Gaul" and "Birds of America."

After his initial success in plays, Lucas concluded that he would have to stretch himself in order to stay creatively alive.

"Some part of me knew that if I had success with something it would be a prison to try and re-create that," he said.

That's made him a fearless writer, still experimenting today: Lucas recently finished writing a new play in iambic pentameter.

"What's the worst that can happen? They'll laugh at me?" he asked. "Well, they did that all throughout my childhood. I'm used to that."

His newest play to reach the stage was the groundbreaking and acclaimed "I Was Most Alive With You," which was written for a cast of deaf actors and performed in American Sign Language. The fall 2018 Playwrights Horizons production was double-cast with speaking actors performing simultaneously alongside deaf ones, for audiences of both the deaf and hearing. Lucas is now adapting it into both a film and a television series.

Lucas will give a free public talk about his creative process Saturday at Explore Booksellers. He'll be working with the "Take Ten" playwrights through Tuesday, as their short plays get staged readings at the Black Box Theatre and The Temporary (see related story, Weekend section page B5).

Arts & Culture Podcast – Craig Lucas

"He loves working with students," said Theater Masters executive artistic director Daisy Walker. "He's that great combination of being talented in his own right but also generous."

Lucas said he was very impressed with the caliber of the "Take Ten" plays and the talent of the graduate students he will be working with in Aspen.

"These are young adults who have been writing and it shows in the subject matter that they are wise to what's happening around them," he said. "That makes it fun."

As a teacher and mentor, Lucas said, he starts by asking students what they need and what their intentions are, so that he can focus on their concerns.

"I'm not there to impose anything on them or tell them what to do," he explained.

At 67, he said, he's had to remain teachable himself while working with the rising generation of theater professionals, adapting to practices like asking what their preferred pronouns are and attempting to understand the phenomena of "trigger warnings."

"It's very interesting and humbling to see the change," he said. "I'm the one who has to learn how to navigate their world."

And with his own salad days in mind, the playwright is attuned to the sensitivity of young artists. He doles out any criticism with a dose kindness.

"I learned, through living, that you don't tell people the truth unless they want to hear it," he said. "You don't know what people are prepared to hear, want to hear, need to hear — so I don't think it's wise to go in guns blazing with writers who are just beginning their journey."

atravers@aspentimes.com

X Games Aspen: Louis the Child

Robby Hauldren and Freddy Kennett began making music together when they were barely teenagers. The Chicago-based duo started posting remixes and original EDM tracks on Soundcloud, and built some underground buzz around the city. Their 2015 breakout hit as Louis the Child, "It's Strange," came out when Hauldren was a freshman at the University of Southern California and Kennett was still in high school.

A few years later, they're one of the hottest acts in pop music, riding on the success of last year's EP "Kids at Play," and headlining X Games Aspen this weekend before heading overseas on their second European tour.

The duo's sunny, uplifting sound was born out of teenage angst. But rather than wallow in the darkness, Hauldren and Kennett sought to find light and hope in their genre-hopping style.

"A lot of the music I was making then was stress relief and healing for myself," Kennett, 21, explained of those early days in a recent phone interview. "And then that helped to reach people, because they felt that healing."

The duo has built on that idea to form a community around their sound and their visually spectacular shows.

Arts & Culture Podcast: Louis The Child

"It's turned into more than ourselves — trying to connect people, create happy moments, make it not about me and Robby but about what kinds of connections we can make with other people," Kennett added, "and how we can help them realize what is making them happy and what is making them sad."

Their melodic signature is a bright, distorted synthesizer sound that they harness to uplifting effect, making feel-good music that rejects the aggressive strand of EDM that was dominating the genre until the relatively recent emergence of tropical house and more cheerful Generation Z producers like Hauldren and Kennett.

The duo will headline a sold-out show at the X Games outdoor venue at Buttermilk Ski Area on Saturday afternoon, followed by a concert at Belly Up Aspen on Sunday night. It's the duo's first time playing Aspen, though they've already played Denver, Boulder and last summer sold out Red Rocks Amphitheatre (they'll return there July 11).

One testament to their soaring popularity: Saturday's show marks the first time that X Games has sold out an afternoon show in its five years of concerts at the Buttermilk venue (a slot previously filled by the likes of Method Man & Redman, Anderson .Paak and Snoop Dogg).

"They embody the spirit and mentality of this young X Games crowd," ESPN's music host Hannah Rad said on the X Games preview show. "They cater to the college audience, to a young, athletic, nimbly minded digital-age kind of kid."

The pair grew up watching X Games on TV as kids. Kennett was a skater who was glued to the summertime X Games competitions. Hauldren, 22, is also a lifetime fan.

"It's always so much fun to watch. These guys are so talented."

Louis the Child is coming off of an explosive 2018 that included the release of the nine-song EP "Kids at Play" and saw their "Better Not" collaboration with the vocalist Wafia become one of the biggest hits of the year. The track has racked up more than 86 million streams on Spotify, and seven other songs from the record have stream totals in the tens of millions.

"It feels wild," "Hauldren said of their stratospheric ascent in pop music. "We've accomplished a lot of things we've dreamt of accomplishing. At the same time, we understand that this is another building block to getting where we want to be. … It's really awesome, but we're everyday grinding to make better music and keep delivering on that level."

They're still growing and learning as musicians.

"We want to keep making new stuff and keep doing instruments and keep adding new flavors," Kennett said. "To keep doing what we're doing and to expand on it."

Hauldren and Kennett have a gift for wrapping their multi-layered productions around a diverse array of vocalists and styles, whether it's collaborating with the rapper Joey Purp ("Shake Something") or with singers like K.Flay ("It's Strange") and Wafia ("Better Not") or Boulder's own Big Gigantic with NoMBe ("Save Me From Myself').

"We like to work with people where you listen to it and you feel that you've known them for your whole life," Hauldren said.

Kennett said he's recently been digging back into indie rock bands he listened to as a kid like Modest Mouse, Radiohead and the Postal Service, which has him working on new tracks in what he called an "indie/pretty vibe."

Their next big goal is to make a full-length album, on which they're planning to sing their own vocals on more tracks, while infusing yet more genres into their work.

Both members of Louis the Child have chops as musicians outside of the digital realm — as kids they trained in jazz and classical and between them learned guitar, drums and piano. They're now aiming to make more jazz- and rock-based songs, melding them with the sounds of future bass and house.

"There are so many cool types of music that you can really make mixes of all of them," Kennett said. "Like a jazz-house song, an indie-house song. … We get tired of doing the same thing over and over again. Every time we try something new that we've never tried before, something new ends up coming out of it."

Saturday's sell-out X Games crowd should expect to hear a lot of new Louis the Child material. Hauldren and Kennett, while preparing for the Aspen shows and the overseas tour, dug through their catalog of unreleased tracks and song ideas and drops and they prepared them for live performance.

"The show has a lot of new stuff that people have never heard," Hauldren said. "We remixed a few songs that people have never heard. And it's more Louis the Child music than we've ever played before in our shows."

Other than just a few remixes of other artists' songs, the set is all originals. The pair calls it the purest version of Louis the Child they've brought to the stage.

"It feels the most like us and what we want to represent as us to people," Hauldren said.

They've also recently polished new video content and a fresh visual scheme for their Aspen shows, which they create out of a collaborative process with a team of filmmakers and designers.

For Sunday's performance at Belly Up, they're preparing a completely different set to match the downtown club's intimate vibe.

"I'm really excited to play Belly Up, in a smaller room, on the Sunday of X Games when people are just going to go and have fun," Hauldren said. "I'm excited to play two totally different shows in two totally different environments on back-to-back days."

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Louis the Child is on the X Games bill with Lil Wayne, The Chainsmokers and Kygo. They've shared festival stages with Kygo and have toured with The Chainsmokers. But the legend of Lil Wayne is looming over everyone this weekend.

"It's crazy for me to be on the same bill as Lil Wayne," Hauldren said. "I remember being in middle school, listening to 'Tha Carter 3.'"

They played another festival with him last summer, which left Louis the Child uncharacteristically awed.

"I remember him walking off stage. It was the most star-struck I've been in like three years," Hauldren added with a laugh. "I was like, 'Holy s—, that's Lil Wayne!'"

atravers@aspentimes.com

Aspen Film Academy Screenings: Writer-director Peter Hedges on making ‘Ben is Back’ (Podcast)

Filmmaker Peter Hedges wants only to make movies that matter — to tell stories that might improve lives, impact society and reveal new truths.

In the writer-director's vital new film "Ben is Back," which closes Aspen Film's Academy Screenings on Sunday, he stares down the ongoing American opioid crisis and aims to place viewers in the anxious, panicked world of a family racked by an addiction.

The Oscar-nominated Hedges has been inspired by the darkness and seeming hopelessness of America in the early Donald Trump era to craft stories that feel necessary in this moment.

"I knew after the election that I wanted to commit the rest of my time to making the most impactful and meaningful work that I could," he explained in a recent phone interview. "I knew that I wanted to make something useful that would not only help me navigate the world, but maybe help others do the same."

The result of this new mission is the harrowing "Ben is Back," which takes place over an intense 24-hour period as the young addict Ben (Lucas Hedges) comes home from rehab for a surprise Christmas visit to his family's home. They're skeptical of him, his sobriety and whether he's capable of being honest. The film plays out like a taut thriller, as Ben takes his mother (Julia Roberts) on a shocking tour of the wreckage of his past and the horrific underbelly of the drug world in their quiet suburban town.

"I wanted the film to feel real," Hedges explained. "I wanted (it) to feel like you were peeking in on a life. … These families are experiencing concern, panic, nervousness, worry, fear every moment of the day. There's no rest because every time the phone rings they may be getting bad news."

Arts & Culture Podcast – Filmmaker Peter Hedges

The title role is played by Hedges' son, the Oscar-nominated 22-year-old who has solidified his place as a generational talent in the past two yeas with revelatory turns in "Manchester by the Sea," "Lady Bird" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" (and the new "Boy Erased," which plays Saturday at Academy Screenings and for which the young actor has been nominated for a Golden Globe).

The director did not expect to cast his son in the lead. The pair had resolved not to collaborate after Lucas had a small part as a boy in his dad's 2007 film "Dan in Real Life."

"I took him at his word when he said he didn't want to do a film of mine," Hedges recalled. "We would joke about it. But he would say, 'I want you to be my dad.'"

But when Roberts got on board for the film, she pushed for Lucas to play Ben. He read the script and, eventually, signed on. They filmed in upstate New York, immediately after Lucas wrapped "Boy Erased."

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to work together with one of the greatest movie stars of all time," Peter Hedges said. "Because the story was so personal for me, because of my own upbringing and my relationship to addiction, that was very meaningful to me. He gave me a great gift by coming and doing the film. He certainly deserved a vacation."

Hedges wanted to get back to the original storytelling as writer and director that made his name in Hollywood, from his landmark Oscar-nominated screenwriting debut "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" to his Oscar-nominated directorial debut "Pieces of April" a decade later. After a bout of writer's block, he sought to tap into what inspired him in those films to tell vital stories.

"At their core they are very human stories about broken families," he said of "Gilbert Grape" and "Pieces." "I like writing about broken families. … Hopefully, the work would be deeper and bolder because I've learned a lot in the intervening years."

So he stared down the dire — and worsening — American opioid crisis, which had impacted him personally. He had lost a close friend to an overdose and had mourned his favorite actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. A niece had overdosed and nearly died. He'd grown up with an alcoholic mother, so he knew intimately the corrosive effect of addiction on a family. Out of his grief and powerlessness, he sought to make a film that would humanize families battling addiction and reflect their experiences back to them.

"You'd have to be head-deep in the sand not to know that we're in the middle of an epidemic," Hedges said, pointing to the estimated 70,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2018 and the expected rise in that number in the new year.

He knows that no movie will solve the crisis. But he believes art can make a difference.

"We have a lot of shame and secrecy about the epidemic," he said. "One of the things that cinema can do better than most any art form is shine a light on areas in our lives that need light. So that's what I tried to do."

Roberts uses her thousand-watt star power to magnificent effect in the film. With all of her charm and grace, this iconic American movie star — as Holly — is desperate but unable to save her son. She rages against a doctor and a pharmacist, against dealers and addicts, against family members who've lost hope in Ben — at one point she literally curses a pain pill itself. In one heart-wrenching scene, Holly drags Ben to the local cemetery and pleads: "Just tell me, son, where you want me to bury you." Audiences know and love Roberts and here she is an avatar for the frustration that millions of Americans are feeling right now as this epidemic spins out of control and wreaks havoc on communities and families.

Hedges was acutely aware of the unique power Roberts could bring to the role.

"Other actors cry and you're watching an actor cry," he said. "Julia Roberts cries and the world weeps. … It's something about her, she is bigger than life in many ways and yet is so disarming. She is so ferocious, so fragile in this part, so complex and multi-layered and real."

The performance has landed Roberts vocal support in the Best Actress Oscar race.

"If it can happen to Julia Roberts playing Holly Burns, then it can happen to all of us," Hedges said. "So what kind of people are we going to be when it does happen? Are we going to be Holly Burns or are we going to be the person that gives up on our kid? I hope more of us are like Holly."

Guiding his son through a performance as a tormented son with a tortured parental relationship translates onto the screen in an empathetic portrait of an unquestionably dangerous young man with an arguably pure heart, who appears possessed by the demon of addiction. But during the hard work of filmmaking, Hedges said, he could forget that this talented collaborator was his own flesh and blood.

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"I was reminded in casual moments when I'd look up and go, 'Oh, I'm his father,'" he recalled.

But everyone making the film was passionate about telling this story.

"It's a very personal film and it was personal for everyone who was making it," Hedges said. "Everyone with their own relationship to the epidemic or their families or their broken relationships that need to be healed."

As Hedges navigates the media storm of awards season with "Ben Is Back," he is nearing completion on a new script. He said it brings him to another timely social issue and continues his new mission as an artist.

"We need all hands on deck right now," he said. "Teachers need to teach at the highest level, writers need to write at their highest level, reporters need to report at the highest level — we need to love as fully as we can and be active and activated as much as we can. I'm just trying to do that in my writing now. I'm not thinking about money or acclaim. I feel completely liberated. I just want to be a part of stories that feel necessary."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Funk band Dirty Revival to ring in the New Year at The Temporary (Podcast)

The hard-touring funk band Dirty Revival is making its third trip through the Roaring Fork Valley in 2018 to ring in the New Year at The Temporary at Willits.

The big New Year's show follows the Portland-based band's February show at the midvalley club and a July set at Belly Up Aspen. With a reputation for electrifying live sets, the band has found a loyal following in the ski country and around the U.S.

"We were totally blown away by the number of people that came out to support our band wearing T-shirts and hats," the band's singer Sarah Clarke recalled of the summer concert in a recent phone interview. "We had no idea."

The seven-piece band plays a fiery, brass-infused and road-tested dance rock that seems custom-made for New Year's Eve. It's a result of both talent and tight, creative relationships. Clarke and two of her bandmates have been friends since high school.

"We are insanely close friends," she said. "It's more of a family dynamic in so many ways than it is a working relationship."

While Dirty Revival has earned a reputation as a fantastic live band, Clarke said 2019 is going to bring a new focus on putting more recorded music into the world.

The band's been touring for five years and has released two exuberant and soulful studio records — a self-titled 2015 full-length and the 2018 seven-inch EP "So Cold" — but has spent a lot more time on stage than in the studio.

"One thing we're just in the throes of understanding is the importance of music production and balancing that with an active tour schedule," she said. "We got so gung-ho about being on the road and doing that. … We have to also make sure we're creating more music to share with people."

Arts & Culture Podcast – New Year’s Eve Roundup

The band's drummer, Terry Drysdale, recently tallied 20 songs that Dirt Revival has written and put into their live rotation. The band is now at work making recorded versions.

Their live sets are focused on their original music, but Dirty Revival peppers their sets with some brilliant and unconventional covers. They play ingenious soul rock arrangements of hard rock songs like Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" and Rage Against the Machine's "Wake Up."

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The band often weaves some activism and power-to-the people messaging into their performances — check out their YouTube for a powerful, brass-scored speech from Clarke before playing Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" at a recent festival — but she said they dial that back a bit for a party-centric New Year's show.

"We're not a political band by any means but we want people to be nice to each other and care about each other in the world," she said. "The goal of the New Year's show is mostly to get people on the dance floor and celebrating the year that we just had and the next one that's coming."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Vaud and the Villains promise a New Year’s Eve spectacle (Podcast)

Vaud and the Villains has more members in its ranks than some theater companies. The Los Angeles-based band's live show is a rock concert with touches of cabaret, vaudeville, church revival, circus and medicine show. It's a spectacle.

"There's not a lot of bands going out with 15 people and dancers," said bandleader Andy Comeau, who performs as Vaud Overstreet. "So we have that either on our side or going against us in some ways. People don't know what they're in for. And it's fun to see people go, 'Wow!' It's just a winning night."

This diverse crew of musicians and dancers will headline the Wheeler Opera House on New Year's Eve, returning to the historic theater after playing one of the first concerts at the Wheeler Opera House's "On the Rise" series in 2016, which blew away an autumn offseason crowd with its all-out assault of sights and sounds. Wheeler executive director Gena Buhler knew she had a winning New Year's act on her hands.

"Immediately after the show, on the side of the stage, Gena was asking us about playing New Year's," Overstreet recalled. "It was in all of our minds that this would be a good fit for that night."

Founded by the husband-and-wife musical team of Comeau and Dawn Lewis, whose stage name is Peaches Mahoney, the unconventional jazz orchestra has its origins in Bruce Springsteen's 2006 album "We Shall Overcome," on which The Boss paid tribute to the American activist folk tradition with his one-off 13-member Seeger Sessions band.

Arts & Culture Podcast – New Year’s Eve Roundup

Comeau had been playing in a traditional blues band when he and Lewis got into the record. The Seeger Sessions Band compelled them to try to re-create that wild old-time sound with a massive ensemble of musicians. They put an ad on Craigslist looking for musicians who were into that kind of thing.

"We wanted to emulate the sound of it somehow," Lewis recalled. "Everyone wants to be near some magic like that. I'm thankful it originated with that idea in mind."

The dancers and more theatrical elements of the show had a simpler origin.

"We got drunk one night and we said, 'We're going to have this band and were going to have dancers!'" Lewis recalled with a laugh.

The band squeezes into the studio to write and record its original music. In May, Vaud and the Villains released the genre-hopping album "Bigger Than It Looks." It's filled with intricate danceable compositions that put a contemporary spin on old-time folk and rock traditions.

Vaud and the Villains rehearse in a converted garage in Los Angeles — Lewis described these sessions as "complete and utter chaos" — where they work out the meticulous songs in various combinations of singers, instrumentalists and dancers. They put it all together for stage spectacles like the one coming to Aspen.

Asked if they were working on anything special planned for the New Year's Eve show, Comeau quipped: "One of the band members is not really a human. They're stuffed with confetti. At some point we're going to beat the s— out of them with a bat and throw the confetti out to the people."

The show won't get quite that surreal, but it does promises something new.

"What we bring is showmanship — a bunch of hams onstage — and it's a contagious thing," Comeau said. "Anybody who comes can see how much fun we're having."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Justice’s Xavier de Rosnay on ‘Woman Worldwide,’ DJ sets and playing New Year’s Eve in Aspen (Podcast)

What do you do at the end of a year when you release a definitive career-encompassing album, launch one of the most popular EDM tours of the summer and get nominated for a Best Dance Album Grammy at the onset of winter?

If you're Justice in 2018, the genre-defining and -defying French DJ duo, you come to Aspen for New Year's Eve.

The band is in town for a two-night run at Belly Up Aspen with a sold-out Dec. 30 show and a masquerade-themed New Year's Eve DJ set.

Justice is best-known for working on a massive canvas. They play arenas. They headline the biggest festivals in the world to literally some of the largest concert crowds ever assembled, with numbers topping 100,000.

The pair almost never gets to play a space as intimate as Belly Up for a crowd limited to under 500. That, Justice's Xavier de Rosnay said, is what drew the EDM giants here for New Year's and a rare DJ set.

"That's one of the reasons why we decided to go and play there," de Rosnay said in a recent phone interview from Paris. "When we DJ — and we don't DJ a lot — the smallness of a club can sometimes be amazing. … We play a different kind of music in smaller spaces."

Arts & Culture Podcast – New Year’s Eve Roundup

It's the duo's first time in Aspen. Their hotly anticipated Belly Up shows come amid a downright astounding two-week run of world-class electronic shows at the Galena Street club that's included superstars like NGHTMRE, Dillion Francis and Cedric Gervais and continues with performances by Diplo (Dec. 29), Emancipator (Jan. 1), Above & Beyond (Jan. 2) and Steve Aoki (Jan. 5).

The Grammy-nominated "Woman Worldwide," released in August, offers a snapshot of Justice's best and latest live interpretations of the their original tracks — a definitive statement about the Justice sound in 2018. It reaches back to the duo's monumental self-titled 2007 debut, covers the scope of its discography and includes pristine live-created versions of their biggest hits like the club perennial "D.A.N.C.E." and head-banging harder tracks like "Stress." They stopped touring on the material in early November and are ready to let it keep evolving.

"If we were doing 'Woman Worldwide' right now it would be different," de Rosnay explained. "Every time you play live you find new ways of doing things, ways that things can be improved. When we get used to things we change them. ('Woman Worldwide') captured the best things we could do at the moment. But these things are meant to be changed."

Playing a New Year's Eve show is a completely different job than the kinds of concerts captured on that record, de Rosnay said. The New Year's crowd in Aspen is probably not going to be their most hardcore fans. It's not a night for artistic experimentation, not the time to premiere new tracks or dust off deep cuts. It's about providing a soundtrack for a party.

"I just speak for myself, but if I go out on New Year's Eve I want to hear classics. I want to hear pop music, I want to hear music I can dance to with my girlfriend," de Rosnay said. "So we're going to play music that makes girls want to dance, so that the boys join them."

So, yes, expect to hear the duo spin their most party-friendly tracks like "Love S.O.S.," "Waters of Nazareth" and "D.A.N.C.E." But also prepare to hear a mix of new pop hits — de Rosnay said they've particularly been loving Ariana Grande's latest record — and a genre-hopping mix from Justice's notoriously wide-reaching crate-diving tastes: plucking from throwback disco and funk, prog rock and metal and psychadelia, along with favorite tracks from fellow EDM producers.

"I find that pop music, when it's really good, it's really inspiring," de Rosnay said.

Since the beginning, Justice's dramatic stage imagery and graphic design has been as much a part of the duo's identity as the music. The name is always written in its distinctly painted font and always printed with letters placed symmetrically around a crucifix "T" at the center. For years, that crucifix was also a signature part of the stage show, along with meticulous lighting schemes. In recent years, though, de Rosnay and his creative partner Gaspard Augé have moved toward a more elegant stage setup, using monochromatic lights and a spartan stage set-up that places them standing across from one another at a custom DJ setup (rather than behind the standard console).

They haven't much used the typical EDM video screen visuals, never went in for flame-throwers and pyrotechnics and fireworks.

"We've never been big fans of video screens," de Rosnay explained. "We prefer when it's more minimal, with a bit more muscle."

In the studio from the start 15 years ago, Justice's sonic palette on original tracks has included a miraculously cohesive mix of hard-charging heavy metal-influenced compositions and infectious disco and funk-oriented dance tracks. But the duo has grown increasingly interested in capturing live interpretations on records rather than studio-perfected ones. They released live albums in 2008, 2013 and 2018 that infuse a vibrant humanity into their well-established sound.

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"The ingredients have always been the same, but maybe the way we use them and the way we digest them and the way we regenerate them is different," de Rosnay explained.

As for their offstage plans in Aspen, don't expect to see Justice on the hill. The Frenchmen skied often as kids, but have given it up in adulthood. Still, de Rosnay said, they love the mountains.

"Now, when I go back to ski it's too much for me," he said. "What I like about being in the mountains is eating fondue and walking in the snow."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Dillon Francis on new album ‘Wut Wut,’ new series ‘Like & Subscribe’ and returning to Belly Up Aspen (podcast)

After releasing a full-length album, creating and starring in a new TV series and launching the bizarre social experiment of an "influencer-only" mural in Los Angeles, Dillon Francis is capping a creatively fertile 2018 with a trip to Aspen and a hotly anticipated show at Belly Up.

While so many DJ's have doubled-down on self-seriousness and aggressive assaults of sound, Francis has developed a signature moombahton sound that's focused on fun and peppered with the sharp sense of irony that infuses everything he does.

"From the beginning I've always wanted people to feel like when they go to my shows it's like a house party — fun and happy," Francis, who will headline the club on Friday, said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. "And I play everything because I make everything and have horrible A.D.D."

The Aspen show comes amid a year-end run of high-grade electronic shows at Belly Up that began Wednesday with NGHTMRE and that includes some of the most popular DJs of the moment including Cedric Gervais (Sunday), Diplo (Dec. 29), Justice (Dec. 30 and 31), Emancipator (Jan. 1), Above & Beyond (Jan. 2) and Steve Aoki (Jan. 5). Yes, Belly Up's lineup over the next two weeks stacks up against just about any EDM club on Earth.

Why? Well, as Francis put it: "Aspen is just the best."

Francis, the producer behind stratospheric hits like "Get Low" with G-Eazy and "Coming Over" with Kygo and James Hersey, made his local debut a few days before New Year's Eve 2017. His visit last year overlapped with a Diplo show at Belly Up, and the DJ pair went snowboarding and hit the town together.

"It was probably one of the most memorable trips," Francis said.

Arts & Culture Podcast – Dillon Francis

It reminded Francis of his boyhood family snowboarding vacations in Mammoth and Vail, he said. So this time around, he brought his parents and brother along and is spending a few days on the mountain with them before Friday's set.

But don't expect to see his folks in the club.

"I'm sending them home before the show because who knows what debauchery will ensue," Francis said with a laugh, "and I don't want my parents to see that."

The big Aspen show — and rare family-time break from the road and the studio — comes on the heels of Francis releasing the Latin pop-inflected album "Wut Wut" in September and the hilarious Funny Or Die web series "Like and Subscribe" last month.

Francis' comedic chops and brilliant self-parody are familiar to anybody who's seen his videos like "Need You" and his spots on "What Would Diplo Do." But "Like and Subscribe" — a seven-episode satire about content creators — is a new creative turn, with Francis playing the ludicrous Hollywood manager Skyy Goldwynne. His inane character locks four of his clients — caricatures of clueless web-famous rappers, DJs, YouTubers and teen pop stars — in what Goldwynne calls a "social media half-way house."

"A lot of people didn't realize I can actually act," Francis said of the project.

Francis developed "Like and Subscribe" with the writer-directors Brandon Dermer (who co-created the goofy EDM send-up YouTube series "DJ World" with Francis) and Jack Wagner (who has made Francis music videos including "Need You").

They wanted to build on the over-the-top satire of "DJ World" and turn their keen eye for the absurd toward the wide — and widely ridiculous — world of social media influencers and YouTube stars.

In a bizarre meta turn, Francis and the "Like and Subscribe" team put up a mural inside a tent on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles this summer, announcing they would exclude anyone from taking photos in front of it unless they were verified on social media and had over 20,000 followers. Its existence drew online outrage — and attracted the blue-check crowd — until Francis and the team revealed it as a hoax.

But, Francis noted, the weird and often morally obscene reality of Instagram influencers is almost beyond parody. For example, in the days before "Like and Subscribe" premiered, its creators marveled at how L.A.'s more clueless social media climbers responded to the horrific Woolsey Fire as it raged across Malibu — posing with the flames in promotional posts.

"They were really bad," Francis said. "It was, like, people in some weird photo shoot flexing their abs and saying 'So sorry about Malibu, these fires are such a bummer' and all these hashtags."

(In another on-brand turn of real events, the platform for which Dillon and crew developed the show — Verizon's go90 — failed and shuttered before the show's premiere, leaving "Like and Subscribe" homeless and unseen for a few months until Funny or Die picked it up and released it.)

Francis is hoping to make a second season of "Like and Subscribe" and aiming to do more comedic work on-screen.

"It's so much fun," he said. "It's just a whole different outlet that I can do beyond making music. But it all kind of comes from the same creative part of me. … I've always loved making people laugh and being in front of people."

Back in DJ world, "Wut Wut" is a mostly Spanish-language record of Francis collaborations with some of his favorite Latin pop vocalists and full of the Latin fusion moombahton sound that Francis built his career on.

"I listen to all this stuff and see if I can bring them into my world, and vice versa," he said of his Latin pop collaborators on "Wut Wut." "So, it doesn't feel too much like theirs and it doesn't feel too much like mine and both fans can listen to it."

Francis spent two years working on the album with recording sessions in Mexico City, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

"It just took a long time to get all the right pieces and to be able to connect with certain people," he said.

It's just his second full-length album after his 2014 breakthrough "Money Sucks, Friends Rule," though Francis regularly rolls out one-off collaborations, singles and remixes. For "Wut Wut" he hand-picked vocalists to showcase like Arcángel (on "Ven," of which Francis said: "I wanted to make something that would be super-hyped and "Get Low"-ish, but in Spanish), Lao Ra (on the infectious "White Boi," which Francis unabashedly describes as "cheesy") and Young Ash (on the propulsive "BaBaBa," which Francis said has been a high point of recent live shows).

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While he was working on the project, Latin pop exploded in the U.S. with songs like J Balvin and Willy Willaims' "Mi Gente" and Lusi Fonsi' and Daddy Yankee's "Despactio" planting the genre squarely into the mainstream — becoming the biggest hits of 2017 in the U.S. and racking up nearly 8 billion YouTube views between them.

But Francis isn't hopping on a Latin crossover bandwagon — he made his name on a sound that fused reggaeton and house music, collaborating with Spanish-language vocalists over the last eight years. "Wut Wut" was aimed at introducing his audience to some singers and producers they probably haven't heard yet.

"I've always been a huge fan of Latin culture and reggaeton," Francis said. "I've been making that music since 2011. So, I always wanted to give back in some way and help these artists I really believe in."

Despite his increasing forays into acting and other media, Francis won't be walking away from music anytime soon. He recently announced a 2019 tour with Alison Wonderland and said he's already been back in the studio working on new bilingual records as he plots his 2019.

"I definitely will always be making music," he said. "I try to do like 75 percent music and the rest I like divide among other stuff I'm lucky to be able to do."

atravers@aspentimes.com

Wood Brothers bring ‘Truth’ to Belly Up Aspen (podcast)

The Wood Brothers are living the dream.

The rootsy folk-blues trio had long fantasized about what they might do if they could write and record music on their own terms, Oliver Wood said in a recent phone interview. They found out on their latest album "One Drop of Truth."

The Woods made the record without a record label, produced it themselves and recorded it over the course of a year in independent Nashville studios. They funded it on their own with touring income. The result is what the band has described as its "free-est" songs and its "most fun" recording experience.

"We were not beholden to anyone financially or creatively and we just did it ourselves," Oliver Wood said. "That was very liberating. It just felt like, 'This is us.' We're having a great time doing it, so there's no pressure. It's just fun and this is how we sound when we do that."

The trio will play a sold-out show at Belly Up Aspen on Sunday night, capping a four-date run through Colorado and Utah on their North American tour for "One Drop of Truth," released in February.

Arts & Culture Podcast: The Wood Brothers

The freedom of the recording process on their sixth album translates into a diverse group of songs that retain the Woods' well-established rustic folk sound, but with a jolt of sonic and stylistic playfulness. There's the upbeat and peppy "Happiness Jones" laced with a subversive social commentary. There's a sweet and stripped-down folk number "Strange as it Seems," which stands alongside classic bare-bones Woods Brothers songs like "Postcards from Hell" and "Luckiest Man." And there are boot-stomping Southern rock sing-alongs like "This Is It," which promise to be high points of the Woods' dance-friendly live show.

Rather than writing songs for an extended period and then squeezing the recording process into a week or two in a studio, the trio went into the studio over the course of a year and recorded whenever a song was ready.

"We've always fantasized about making albums a song at a time," Wood said. "Write a song you're excited about, record it, then move on to the next song."

Though it was made in creative spurts, some themes emerge here that reflect our stormy times. There is, for example, quite a lot of apocalyptic weather in these new songs — a broken levee, stormy seas, hurricanes.

"Often that's subconscious," Wood said. "It's the coolest thing about artists: sometimes you create something and you don't know where you got it from until you look back in retrospect and you're like, 'Oh, man, that was during the election or that's when somebody dumped me or somebody died."

Formed 12 years ago after the brothers Chris and Oliver each had separate, successful bands — bass player Chris with Medeski, Martin & Wood; guitarist Oliver as frontman for King Johnson — the Wood Brothers are round out by multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix. They've become a staple at big summer festivals, with a devoted nationwide following and a reputation as a must-see live act.

The Woods have made regular appearances at Belly Up in recent years, playing the club at least annually. But their Aspen connection goes back long before they were selling out the club every winter. Oliver and Chris spent boyhood summers in Aspen, when their father — a microbiologist — worked on textbooks with a locally based editor. Those days included classical music concerts at the Benedict tent and selling The Aspen Times on the streets. The family later moved to Boulder, where the Woods spent their high school years.

"I have super fond memories of those places," Wood said. "I love coming back there."

The Woods plan to keep making records the way they made "One Drop of Truth" and have now obtained their own studio space to do it. There, he said, they plan to keep experimenting and relishing their creative freedom.

"We're going to do things that we haven't done before and avoid things we have done in the past — try something new," Wood said. "We aren't sure what it is yet, but we know what it isn't."

atravers@aspentimes.com