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Aspen History: Big Sweet Pea Show

“The First Sweet Pea!” proclaimed a headline in the Aspen Democrat-Times on June 22, 1921. “Here we are with the first sweet pea on exhibition in our front window and the Sweet Pea Exhibition Committee awards the first prize to Mrs. H.I. Elrod, the lady who plucked the blossom this morning from her flower garden, 501 Mill Street. The committee, H.G. Koch, E.C. Groscurth and Julius Zupancis, has awarded Mrs. Elrod the first prize for producing the first sweet pea blossom and placing it on exhibition in the “Fair” window of the Democrat-Times. Now let’s keep things moving for the Big Sweet Pea Show to be held in Aspen late this summer.” This image shows a woman standing next to blooming sweet peas, 1908.

Follow the music for free ice cream on the Fourth of July in Snowmass Village

Aspen’s annual parade is canceled. Fireworks ain’t happening. And the legendary outdoor barbecue where I might tend bar for hours and serve 400-plus friends, acquaintances and smiling strangers is but a distant memory from more social times in 2019. Since most treasured opportunities for fun and revelry are on hold this summer in Aspen, I’m heading to Snowmass for the Fourth of July. At least there will be free ice cream!

On Saturday, July 4, Snowmass Tourism will launch the first-ever “Ice Cream Anti-Social,” a concept born in the spirit of American tradition while upholding social distancing orders due to the coronavirus pandemic. When our new reality made clear that a community concert and celebration in Base Village would not be possible due to restrictions on public gatherings, tourism director Rose Abello pivoted to an endeavor that will take merriment to the people instead: drive-by ice cream delivery.

“The easiest answer (would have been) to say it’s canceled,” Abello said of Independence Day festivities. “Instead we’re challenging ourselves and our event producer partners to see if we can figure it out.”

Abello’s team secured a refrigerated truck from Aspen Skiing Co., commissioned custom signage, and placed an order for 4,000 prepackaged ice cream treats from Clark’s Market. They acquired necessary PPE, signed on drivers, and mapped a route designed to hit every residence, hotel and rental property in Snowmass Village throughout the day. Now folks stuck mostly at home will have something to get excited about.

“My theme this summer: shift happens!” Abello says. “We thought: What parts of the Fourth of July community celebration can we embrace? What parts can still happen? Let’s give them dessert! This is a fun way to celebrate the Fourth of July in a crazy COVID era.”

The logistics of such a mission required some finagling. Most important, Abello says, was making sure that the operation would be inclusive. The team decided against publishing a time-specific route map; instead, approximate stop times are listed on the Snowmass Tourism website event page (see sidebar).

“I talked to some moms and the idea that we tell them, it’s a huge window (of time that) is a nightmare for children,” Abello says, with a laugh. “So, we’ll give guidance on neighborhoods, time blocks, and places to park that are centrally located.”

The truck’s 12-mile journey will span four or five hours. A patriotic playlist will pump from a speaker system mounted on the outside of the truck, which is wrapped in a cheeky illustration of Uncle Sam wearing a mask and holding a melting ice cream cone. (How one consumes an ice cream cone while wearing a mask remains unclear; however, those seeking ice cream must wear a mask to receive a freebie.)

Historically, Snowmass Tourism contracted with Aspen Skiing Co.’s catering and events department and The Sled, a mobile food truck that in wintertime is pulled via snowcat to various on-mountain locations at Snowmass. As the group is ever mindful of sharing space with area restaurants vying for holiday dollars (and the reason why it has opted against a public cookout in years past), The Sled offered free apple pie, strawberry shortcake, and ice cream bars for visitors to enjoy during DJ sets, concerts, and the fireworks display. Now, an ice cream truck crawling the streets of Snowmass dovetails smoothly with pressing concerns about customer contact and food contamination: individually wrapped ice cream snacks, doled out by a dude in a hazmat suit, seems air-tight in terms of safety.

On July 4, the Ice Cream Anti-Social truck will dispense four classic choices: Choco Tacos; red-white-and-blue Bomb Pops; chocolate ice cream sandwiches; and orange Push-Up Pops. These products hark to America’s original ice cream truck, invented in 1920 by Harry Burt, creator of the Good Humor brand. His motorized vehicle in Youngstown, Ohio, was the first to deliver ice cream, and soon, chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick (the Good Humor bar), which was easier and cleaner to sell (and eat) on-the-go.

Though many ice cream parlors were forced to close as “luxury” experiences were pushed off the table during the Great Depression, cheap-to-run ice cream trucks survived and even thrived. Post-World War II, ice cream companies boomed (both of my grandfathers were in the business of ice cream) and the ice cream truck as American icon gained even more traction.

Perhaps coolest for Snowmass: this Ice Cream Anti-Social represents the first crusade. Snowmass Town Clerk Rhonda Coxon confirms that Snowmass Village has never had a dedicated ice cream truck en route since the ski area opened in 1967 (and the town was incorporated in 1977). While many other Snowmass summer events remain in limbo, July 4 is a go: Listen for the music.

“We’re ice cream pioneers,” Abello quips, making crystal clear that optimism guides this novel operation, much like the familiar friendly jingle most of us have heard at some point during childhood. “Let’s keep this tradition of providing sweet treats alive…and keep your party at your house.”


An American Icon: Chateau Montelena

On the cusp of the Fourth of July, it is fitting to acknowledge a Napa Valley winery that is emblematic of the American Dream — one that maintains independence, crafts wines of quality, has a pedigree for past perfection and which, even in these uncertain times, is looking to the future with unbridled optimism.

Calistoga’s Chateau Montelena wears the above criteria like a red, white and blue badge of honor. A true icon, the winery has weathered recent challenges, including fires and a pandemic, with resiliency. And the Barrett family will soon celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first harvest at Chateau Montelena in 2022.

“I have to give the Fresno guy a little bit of credit,” Matt Crafton, Chateau Montelena’s winemaker, laughed when talking about his boss, CEO Bo Barrett, one of six family members who make up the ownership group of one the most coveted wineries in the world. Bo studied winemaking at Fresno State University while Crafton graduated at the top of his class at University of California Davis.

School ties aside, Crafton clearly reveres the role that Bo plays. “He has taken a somewhat Jedi master view of the world and is a mentor,” said the 39-year-old Crafton, who will be making his seventh vintage at Montelena this fall. “For someone so accomplished, someone who has every reason to look back at those accomplishments, he is one of the most forward-looking people I have ever met. He understands the future of this brand.”

I had called Crafton to discuss the current release, the 2016 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a lush, plush Calistoga baby that had paired perfectly with a Colorado grilled bone-in ribeye on a recent Sunday. As the conversation with Matt progressed, it was clear that this wine, as any great wine should, reflects a legacy of people and place.

In 1882, A.L. Tubbs, a San Francisco magnate, made a fortuitous purchase of 254 acres of prime vineyard land in the shadow of Mount St. Helena just north of Calistoga. He built an eponymous stone winery, planted the vineyards to cabernet sauvignon and hired a Frenchman as winemaker. Successful in his endeavors, the winery prospered until prohibition.

Ninety years later, after the winery had since been given its current moniker (a combination of mountain and St. Helena), it was purchased by a Los Angeles attorney, Jim Barrett. He became famous when the 1973 Montelena chardonnay defeated the best of the French white Burgundies in the American bicentennial year of 1976, at what would become known as the “Judgment of Paris.”

The accomplishment, and perhaps most importantly, the relationship between Jim and Bo, “père et fils” if you will, was memorialized in the film “Bottleshock.” While Jim passed in 2013, Bo has been involved at both a macro and micro level in every Montelena vintage since 1972.

Crafton notes that Chateau Montelena, which produces largely cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay (though they also make more limited quantities of zinfandel and riesling, among a few other passion projects) is philosophically a “vintage driven house.” While other Napa wineries may succeed with a consistent style, “we are hyper focused on what’s real and what’s important.”

To that end, Montelena is currently involved in their most elaborate replanting project since Jim Barrett first purchased the property. “We are looking at what farming will be like over the next 50 years here,” Crafton says with excitement. The effort calls for examination of new clones, rootstock, vine spacing, row orientation and a host of other factors. “The first cabernet vines in that project are literally going in as we speak. When all is said and done, we will be replanting about 70% of the cabernet over the next five to six years.”

And an ode to the past is in the works, as well. “To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Barrett’s ownership we will be sourcing fruit this year from the Bacigalupe vineyard (in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley), plus some fruit from our John Muir Hanna Vineyard (in the Oak Knoll appellation of Napa), and I will get to make a commemorative bottling from the vineyards used in the 1973 Chateau Montelena chardonnay,” Crafton said with obvious pride.

“I can tell you that I have never had the 1973 chardonnay. I have had every other wine from every other vintage of ours but that one. But I’m really excited to get to make this bottling.” There are likely less than two cases left of the original ’73, including one that sits in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

As would be expected of an American icon.

Asher on Aspen: Equestrian Therapy

There’s something about the mountains that command exploration from the back of a horse. Some girlfriends and I decided that horseback riding would be a fun and leisurely Sunday afternoon activity for us all to experience together. It felt like the perfect, unofficial way to kick off what is sure to be a very quiet and event-free summer in Aspen.

Upon arrival at T-Lazy-7 Ranch, we were each assigned a horse based on our prior equestrian experience. I was placed with a stallion named River, and we hit it off right away. He was an exceptionally beautiful horse with an immensely calm and peaceful demeanor. I immediately wanted to wrap my arms around him and give him an enormous hug. Two friendly and knowledgeable guides from the Maroon Creek Outfitters led us through the majestic Maroon Creek Valley on our ride. River was assigned to ride in the front of the group, following directly behind our fearless leader and guide, Greg.

My senses were overwhelmed from the minute we left the ranch. Set loose, we breezed across luscious meadows, sagebrush hillsides, and snow-capped peaks. Greg was “the fearless cowboy,” if you will. He was a strong and sturdy man who proudly voiced his knowledge and passion for riding horses and being a cowboy. “I wrecked more horses than cars,” Greg proclaimed when I inquired how many times he’s been bucked off. “And I was always alright with wrecking horses.”

The stories he shared throughout the trip had me on the edge of my saddle. His deep passion for horses was admirable. He would linger a moment in between stories and look back at me — almost as if to see if I was still interested — and indeed, I was. He had so many intriguing anecdotes, as I imagine one would if they had been around horses their whole life. While listening to his riding fails and triumphs, I went down a rabbit hole of deep thought. I started to reflect on just how wonderful it is for someone to be that passionate about something.

I think it’s so important for people to be passionate. It can be about anything — art, cars, skiing, fashion, ballet, football, cooking, video games or even horses. It can literally be anything, it just has to be something. It’s when someone isn’t passionate about anything that I get worried. What do they light up about? What are they excited to talk about when they come home from work? What keeps them up at night? To not get that spark of excitement when talking about your favorite thing is passionless and quite frankly, a little sad. That glint of passion, I believe, is precisely what gives us all a sense of purpose in this life.

Throughout our ride, we discussed and determined the various types of character roles each of our horses took on. My friend Emily’s horse, Hailey, was super sassy. If she had it her way, she would be lounging on the lawn drinking margaritas all day. Whereas my horse, I envisioned to be utterly cautious and wise. I imagined chit-chatting with him on a wrap-around porch drinking sweet tea as he gave me the most thought-provoking life advice. Just as I think every dog has their own voice and personality, I believe the same to be true about horses. I’d like to think that animals become so much more humanized when you determine what their personality is.

Good friends paired with great views is not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The rugged mountains and breathtaking views provided a horseback riding experience that is unrivaled anywhere in the world. We trekked across fields of avalanche damage, through groves of Aspen trees and past picturesque ponds. A flurry of John Denver songs played through my mind. The air smelled like pine needles, distant campfires and occasionally, River’s droppings along the trail.

Without any real warning, Greg started to pick up a trot and the horses followed behind, in a steady line through the pasture. I caught myself smiling from ear to ear the moment River began to pick up the pace. The unexpected joy that trotting brought me was second to none. “Sometimes your trot picks up, and that’s when the real fun starts,” Greg yelled back to the group.

Suddenly, we slowed down as we spotted an interesting scene playing out in the distance. I had my eyes peeled for wildlife throughout the ride, but I never expected we would find a shoeless man practicing guitar by himself in the middle of the woods. I couldn’t believe it. I chuckled to myself and wondered how he even found this little trail in the middle of nowhere. “You never know what you’re going to see out here,” Greg whispered back to me out of the right side of his mouth.

Our ride was a leisurely two-hour amble through the most luscious wide-open spaces. Two glorious hours and 15 glorious minutes was the amount of time we got to spend with the horses. We high-fived before dismounting, then staggered, groaning and bowlegged, as we meandered our way to the car. I walked away from the ranch with a smile and a more profound love for horses and for people who are passionate. Wouldn’t the world be so wonderful if it was filled with passionate people like Greg?

Virtual festival-hopping at Aspen Ideas and Jazz Aspen

After the cancellation of most all of Aspen’s summer culture season was complete and as plans for virtual replacements started coming to fruition this spring, a longtime Aspen arts leader told me, “It’s not going to be the same. But it’s what we have.”

Like many in similar positions, this leader recognized that the laptop or phone screen could not replace the in-person experience, but that doing something virtual was important to keep people connected and sane through the pandemic.

The big plus, of course, is that most of the virtual events are free. Aspen’s vaunted halls of high culture have been fully democratized by the coronavirus pandemic.

This week leading up to the Fourth of July is normally the busiest of the year for Aspen arts and culture. It’s often a strange and enthralling time to be on this beat, when I find myself zipping around town from interview to panel discussion to concert to art opening to stage play, seemingly from dawn until dusk.

Curious about whether I was exaggerating the vibrancy of this time of year in my memory, I pulled up my calendar from this week in 2019. It shows that a year ago this week I was covering major openings at the Aspen Art Museum and Baldwin Gallery and the convocation and opening concerts at the Aspen Music Festival, the culture tracks at Aspen Ideas Festival, the Jazz Aspen June Experience and the opening of the Theatre Aspen season. I was doing interviews for stories on the actress Rita Moreno, the rapper Common, the jazz band Orquesta Akokan, artists Sanford Biggers, Enrique Martinez Celaya and Rashid Johnson, bassist/composer Edgar Meyer, and the opening of the Durrance Archive at the Aspen Historical Society. A typically weird and wild week on the Aspen arts scene.

This year, of course, is much different.

From my couch over the weekend I hopped between the virtual Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience In-House and the Aspen Ideas Festival.

At Jazz Aspen, I caught Emmet Cohen performing piano ballads from home, a fun coordinated Zoom performance by Sammy Miller and the Congregation along with a few new songs and a promise to return next summer. And Jazz Aspen founder Jim Horowitz did a video interview with members of Take 6, the Grammy-winning a capella group that’s been a staple of Jazz Aspen’s festivals since 1992.

They told the story of paragliding off of Aspen Mountain before an early concert here — and nearly missing their show — and credited their longevity to something beyond their vocal talent and stage charisma.

“The sum of our parts is way bigger than any one of us,” said Take 6’s Joey Kibble. “This is not about any one of us. It’s about what we are sharing. Our theme, from the very get, has been to spread love. And that’s more important now than ever.”

Over at the opening night for virtual Ideas Fest — which hosted a jam-packed five-night program with 45 speakers — I caught Talking Heads founder David Byrne tackling similar ideas with Ford Foundation President Darren Walker.

“I often ask myself, ‘Can art make a difference?’” Byrne said. “Can it actually change minds?’ I know for example that music can unite people, it can make people feel they belong and that they’re not alone.”

That, of course, is truer now than ever and may be the best argument for why art matters in this time of crisis. As the Ideas event closed, Walker honored Byrne by paraphrasing Martin Luther King’s famous words of praise for singer Harry Belafonte, arguing that his work was indeed making a social impact even in this moment when Byrne cannot perform for crowds.

“America’s house is on fire, where are her firefighters?” Walker paraphrased King. “David Byrne: you are one of American’s firefighters.”


Food, wine, ice and Aspen expertise at Virtual Culinary Weekend

Well, we all knew that this year’s Food & Wine weekend in Aspen would be like none before. The cancellation of the 2020 Classic meant that we would not be seeing old friends, attending seminars or tasting through dozens of wines in the tents. Yes, all of that was deeply missed.

However, thanks to a series of Zoom and Facebook Live presentations by The Aspen Times, part of a “Virtual Culinary Weekend,” wine lovers were able to glean some great wine knowledge from local talent in the Roaring Fork Valley. The events also raised money for the Aspen Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Relief Program through donations and a virtual run.

But beyond the fundraising and edification, the live video elements (which you can still watch on The Aspen Times’ Facebook page) offered an homage to what is the foundation of the Classic: passionate professionals gathering to share knowledge, fine foods, great wines and personal stories.

Appropriately, the weekend kicked off on the terrace of the Little Nell’s Paepcke Suite at the base of Ajax with iconic gondola cars floating down the mountainside in the background. Matt Zubrod, culinary director at the Nell and his wine counterpart, Chris Dunaway, spoke nostalgically for those who would not be here in person this year, then gave a masterful seminar on pairing fish with a quartette of wines.

In honor of World Oceans Day, which promotes the sustainable utilization of seafood, Zubrod created dishes using a whole sea bream, a fish often overlooked in high-end kitchens.

Dunaway went with a Clos Cibonne Cuvée Tradition Tibouren 2017 Côtes de Provence, and no, I had never heard of the wine either. He explained the way in which this cuvée, a blend of 90% tibouren and 10% grenache, was made, and how the salinity of the wine complimented the fish. “When you pair wine with a crudo,” he noted, “you don’t want the wine to have too much exuberance.”

The story helped make this combination one you wanted to taste.

The same location was the scene as Johnny Ivansco of Sopris Liquors and Wines launched a seminar with Perrin Wolfe of The Old World Wine Co. on the differences between Old World and New World Wines. Ivansco told a tale of being in Burgundy during a freeze and seeing the entire commune come together to light fires and protect the vines.

We were again reminded of the tenor of the times on Saturday afternoon. Wendy Mitchell, owner of Meat & Cheese in Aspen, hosted a split Zoom seminar from her home, where she has been quarantined since coming in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. She is not ill — her upbeat positivity and demeanor was inspirational. And her cheese and wine pairings looked delicious.

Sitting on the very Parisian-looking patio in front of Meat & Cheese were Perrin Wolfe, making a second appearance, and Natural Wine Company’s Chris Schaetzle. The pair provided the perfect foil for Mitchell as they opened and explained the nuances of natural wines and the budding “Pet Nat” movement of slightly spritzy wines that are made using non-interventional ancient techniques.

As Chris popped the top on a crown-capped, non-disgorged Birichino Malvasia Bianca wine from Santa Cruz, California, Wendy sliced into a Los Cameros, mixed milk cheese (cow, goat and sheep) from Rioja, Spain.

“This is a sessionable cheese,” she laughed, parroting a phrase used by beer makers for an easy brew. It was a pure Food & Wine moment.

The weekend ended with magic from Aspen favorite Jimmy Yeager, who indulged in a private passion: making pristine ice spheres for cocktails from a massive block of frozen water. Measuring 2-by-2 inches, these spheres “are the sexiest ice there is and the process to make them is Zen-like,” says Jimmy. The Iceman clearly cometh.

Just four Zoom sessions, but it felt like we could have gone all weekend with the local talent found in this valley. Tune in. Maybe this could become a thing.

Writing Switch: From the screen to the scream

Coronavirus? More like NOronavirus. Canceled festivals and events haven’t completely put a damper on the summer season, and while hotels may not be at full capacity, if you peek through the windows of somebody’s swanky second home you might actually see a face staring back at you. Aspenites did a good job of doing our part and staying inside for two months, and now we have to pray it wasn’t all for nothing as the huddled masses descend upon our hamlet once again. This week, we celebrate the antics of our guests through two formats: a public access nature show and an online review.


SB: Here we have the confounding touristas oblivias prowling the pedestrian malls of Aspen in search of social sustenance, with her screen-dependant, disorderly obliviettes in tow. Having distracted her offspring temporarily with a frozen treat, mom now has her eyes — and camera lens — open for something that will elicit adoration and envy within her pack.

Brushing by flowing fountains and perfectly pruned fauna with not as much as a selfie, the hungry mother has only one goal in mind: Ursus americanus. Also known as the American bear or black bear, the unofficial mascot of Aspen has become the desire of cameras everywhere.

The mother knows rival touristas will be quick to dismiss wildlife encounters not captured and mock her with texts of “Pic or didn’t happen.” This time, though, she is determined in her quest to capture the elusive Instagramus superiorous.

Then she spots it. A herd of fellow touristas gathering around a tree, phones aimed skyward. She squeezes through the sweat-soaked bodies, obliviettes at her heels, in search of her prey.

As the mother approaches the tree the bruin has chosen for sanctuary, she spies two other limbs, slightly sagging. Could it be? Yes, through a bit of luck there are two ursus americanas cubs nestled in the branches.

The hard half day’s work is almost within the frame when suddenly the bear becomes spooked, shimmies down pine with her cubs and runs off. Undeterred, the touristas pursues her catch and snaps profusely, refusing to let Katie Anne and Mary Sue win again.

Unaware that bears are very protective of their cubs and could literally kill her and her entire family, the chase continues until the bear and her cubs enter brush too thick for the touristas’ Prada boots.

Thankfully for that third lens on the iPhone 11, the hunt was a success and her Instagramus was really superiorous. As for the bear and her cubs, they were later relocated and eventually euthanized.

Mother nature strikes back

BW: MOO! (I’m not really sure what noise a moose makes but I think it’s like this. Basically the human equivalent of yeehaw!) It’s birthin’ season up here in the typically tranquil North Star Nature Preserve, and I got me a litter of eight calves and their mamas to feed. Luckily, tourist migration is in full giddyup down by the river, so let’s see if we can get these hungry herbivores some much needed meat. I’m your horny host, Rack “That’s Not What Freudian Means” Hardprong, and welcome to another episode of “Deer/Hunter”!

We moose always got along with the rangers of the preserve, under the agreement we would only eat the tourists who went past Takeout Bridge. For years we coexisted, until the No Fun Allowed (NFA) goon squad intervened. First, they discouraged floaters on the Roaring Fork River by removin’ parking access and issuin’ tickets. They posted signs along the shore every hundred yards remindin’ “No fun allowed.” The last straw was when they cast a giant net at the pull out, and then took people’s temperatures to ensure they weren’t sufferin’ from any fun-havin’.

So now this summer we are forced to lie in wait until a tourist loses his or her watercraft. The winter snowmelt wasn’t as robust as last year’s, so fewer people are getting caught in that one rapid, or beaching on a bridge column and falling overboard. We are getting hungry, and since we moose consume 70 pounds of sustenance per day, we need a whole group of doughy flatlanders just to sustain us awhile.

Hey, look at that! I see a pair o’ sunglasses drifting through the water, then a bandana followed by a Truly can. A flip flop. Life jacket. Vape pen. All sure-as-sunset evidence of a full ducky capsizin’!

In this next scene as you watch me charge into the water and ravage these bodies limb from limb in order to provide for my brood, please keep in mind we kill only for food and never for sport, in accordance with NFA restrictions.

We moose often are misunderstood as a territorial, dangerous and suspicious breed. Naw, we just want to graze and mate and listen to the jam band playin’ on river runners’ speakers — not so different from humans. We’re so polite, we put the “ma’am” in “mammal,” and we appreciate nothing more than having a family dinner, preferably from Oklahoma or Texas.


SB: If anyone is looking to try an e-bike, don’t come here. … The service was awful. We arrived with like 10 people and the store made us wait behind a bunch of smaller groups just because they were there 1st even though we clearly were trying to spend more $.

And IDK what the issue was but the selection was HORRIBLE! The guy kept saying something about this isn’t an ebike rental shop but, hello, I just saw people riding those fat tire bikes out of your store.

We all had to get different colors and sizes … My bike was sooo slow. It was like when you go horseback riding and someone gets the donkey. I kept having to peddle. … I felt like a homeless person.

Also what is up with the people on these trails?!?!? When we finally made it to the top of the mountain and could go fast downhill, no one would get over even though they could clearly see us coming. I mean we were riding 5 wide, how can you not see us?

Gary’s Fat Bikes get a half a star only because my bike looked super cute in the pics we got at the top of the mountain. They wouldn’t even come pick the bikes up at our hotel. We had to tip the front desk to do it.

Also e-bikes SUCK! You should just rent those little scooters that everyone has.




BW: My wife and I drove our fifth-wheel up to Aspen to escape the outbreak in our city. We thought we could stay at the Brush Creek Park and Ride but it quickly became apparent the permanent residents of the lot were having too much fun, so we left. We found a shady two-hour spot on a corner in the east end to set up at for a few weeks. Best part is that it’s right in front of a fire hydrant, so we can attach that to our RV and have running water.

I soon found out that apparently wearing a mask was “mandatory” in the grocery store and I got yelled at and embarassed. But out here in Iowa we have a little thing called rights. Hell, we don’t even need seatbelt laws, and everyone knows your passenger can drink a beer in the car as long as they remain under .08 and you only have two children or less in the back seat. Requiring me to wear a mask is dehumanizing. I want everyone to see my SMILE! The best way to show my protest was to dangle my mask around my chin, so that you can’t lecture me because it’s obvious I know better by virtue of possessing one, but not wanting to be seen as a coward by applying it.

We had dinner on a downtown patio and some guy with jinglebell shoes and an NFA patch was counting the patrons and asking them to list any coronavirus symptoms into an app. I told him the concept was ridiculous, and the only things I record into my smartwatch are my calorie intake and these revenge reviews on any situation that mildly displeases me.

The next morning we wanted to go hiking, but many of the local trails were closed because of an aggressive moose. They’re more scared of us than we are of them, and I should be able to use any public land however I want. My tax dollars bought those lands!

It’s ironic because even though everyone was wearing a mask, my wife and I still tested positive when we got home! That proves viruses can still escape through fiber, and that COVID-19 is a hoax!

Honoring its original intention of serving ‘food to heal’ from Lao heritage recipes, Thai House Co. & Sushi evolves essentially

Recently, chef Arik Sananikone opened a box of ingredients sent to Thai House Co. & Sushi in El Jebel to find a case of Chinese fermented black bean paste he didn’t order. Instead of sending it back — “There are no mistakes!” he says, smirking from behind the sushi bar during dinner prep one Sunday— Sananikone set his chef sister, Stephanie, to task. She produced a Thai-style black bean sauce to accompany steamed snow crab, clams and mussels from the restaurant’s new showcase seafood bar.

“It’s good to challenge each other,” Stephanie explains, breaking into laughter about the absurd amount of stinky bean paste on a freezer shelf. “When stuff like that happens, we try to turn it around. I wanted to mellow the flavor…and I put in my mom’s curry. It was perfect.”

Momma Sang’s Curry is the reason why THC & Sushi exists in the first place, so it’s only natural that her concoction enhances this spontaneous sauce.

Arik relocated to Aspen after the Sananikone family’s 18-year-old Imperial Café in Corpus Christi, Texas, caught fire in May 2017, followed by renovation delays due to Hurricane Harvey, which hit that August. While working the sushi bar during Jing’s transformation from Asie Restaurant, Sananikone noticed the former Sushi Ya Go-Go space available in the El Jebel plaza. Meditating on how to best use the full kitchen included, his heart revealed: “Mom’s curry is gonna heal this valley,” he recalls.

In September 2019, Arik, Stephanie (who relocated from Washington, D.C.), and cousin Paul Sananikone (also a sushi chef during Jing’s rebrand) opened THC & Sushi and began packing 40 dining room seats almost immediately. Within the first week or two, they halted reservations in favor of walk-ins only. Word spread quickly about the trio’s creative, contemporary dinner fare: signature sushi rolls and sashimi “freestyles,” balanced by savory Thai tapas such as crispy rice lettuce wraps and fish nachos, plus noodles, stir-fries and, of course, that curry from a closely guarded recipe. (Stephanie will share one uncommon ingredient she stockpiles: kaffir lime leaves plucked from Sang’s garden in Texas.)

In those first months, a line formed frequently out the front door and eight sushi bar seats were best snagged early.

One initial wow moment: Stephanie’s salmon freestyle marinated in blue butterfly pea flower tea, which turned the fish purple and cut its oiliness alongside fresh mint. Arik topped a yuzu-soy escolar freestyle with crushed pistachios and interspersed a loaded sushi roll with strips of airy crisps that resembled twists of white tissue paper. (What happens when an artist accidentally drops a spring roll wrapper into a fryer then manipulates the shape to add sculptural texture to dishes.)

More recently, shiitake seabass arrives to the table with a side of aromatic broth speckled with chile flakes, ginger and fresh herbs. The warm liquid, poured tableside on the patio, reaches precisely the top edge of the aluminum takeout pan like the most delicious infinity pool. Crackly fried hamachi collar, sweet-and-sour-glazed baby octopus, and the dramatic “Bird’s Nest” tangle of crispy noodles topped with shrimp, chicken and vegetables are other showstoppers to seek out.

Clearly the food’s the easy part, grounded in traditional technique from two decades at Imperial Café yet veering into another dimension of modern surprise. (Stephanie, also an artist, began her culinary career as a 10-year-old dishwasher, then graduated at age 11 to sushi knife-work with her father’s guidance.)

An immigrant from Laos, mother Sang Sananikone studied under George-San at the four-star Murasaki Japanese Restaurant in Simsbury, Connecticut, ignoring her grandfather’s plea to never become a chef. (He catered to the crown in Laos; Stephanie, Arik and Paul’s great uncle was the last prime minister before the Royalist party lost control of the country in a coup by the Pathet Lao Communists.)

Meaning “service of the people,” the Sananikone name represents perseverance, now championed by this younger generation. Despite roadblocks, Sananikones adapt to nourish community.

“I know you remember the vibe (inside), we did create something special and with all the changes it’s been hard,” Stephanie says. “We’re evolving to a whole new operation, more take-out culture. The patio has been our saving grace during COVID-19. We live in a beautiful area…eat outside!”

Some 30 to 40 seats and sunset views dot the dining deck, which had been planned for a springtime launch anyway. Customers are ordering massive sushi boats for private parties and home entertaining, selecting a budget from $50 to $3,000 or more, specifying dietary preferences (gluten-free, vegetarian) and weaving in Thai snacks such as garlic-lemongrass chicken wings and crispy pork belly bites. Soon beverage coolers will display an expanded selection of grab-and-go beer, wine and saké.

Luckily, fluidity is in the Sananikone DNA.

“Each one of us has a different style,” shares Stephanie, who endured intense spring training with Sang at THC & Sushi to learn Thai specialties she remembers from childhood. “We express ourselves through our cuisine.”


Aspen officials attempt to do the public’s business in a virtual world

The mundane government meetings that civically minded Roaring Fork Valley residents had endured pre-pandemic have turned into a virtual buffet of technological and public comment challenges, and a glimpse into the personal spaces of public officials who have conducted business from their bedrooms, patios, living rooms, kitchens and even their treadmills for the past three months.

Welcome to the COVID-19 virtual meeting world, where the phrase “can you hear me now?” has been resurrected from its mobile phone advertising slogan days.

At virtually every government meeting throughout the Roaring Fork Valley that shifted to platforms like Zoom and Cisco WebEx in mid-March, participants have fumbled with their mute buttons, internet connections and hand-raising abilities, to name a few glitches.

Whether it’s elected officials, government staffers or presenters, it’s taken some time to get used to conducting public business from their private spaces.

At an April Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board meeting, an applicant for a hearing officer position hadn’t muted her computer and was heard shouting to her husband about whether he wanted soup for dinner.

And often elected officials forget to hit the mute button before taking a phone call so all participants hear the conversation.

There have been some light moments too, like when the Basalt mayor’s cat walks across his desk, or a staffer’s inquisitive youngsters check out the camera and the golden lab occasionally wanders into the room.

The virtual platform has made informal what is typically a formal government meeting. Take a recent Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board meeting in which City Councilwoman Rachel Richards, an alternate housing board member, laid in her bed during the session and City Councilman Skippy Mesirow, the voting board member, strolled on his treadmill on his outdoor porch while gazing at the sky. Meanwhile, government critic Lee Mulcahy — who is being evicted from his deed-restricted house in Burlingame Ranch — held a sign that said “APCHA you are killing us.”

All of it can be distracting, officials have acknowledged, but it is what it is in this COVID-19 world where public health orders forbid gatherings and mandate people stay 6 feet apart from one another to slow the spread of the virus.

“I don’t think our conversations are as efficient and effective,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper. “It takes a lot of energy to focus on the technology and everything so it’s pretty exhausting.

“I’m really looking forward to being in the same room again, social distancing, of course.”

When that will be depends on public health orders and each entity’s ability to open their buildings.

The town of Snowmass Village appears to be ahead of its governmental counterparts in that the mayor, one council member, the town attorney and manager, along with an Aspen Times reporter, have physically met in council chambers during virtual public meetings since March.

Aspen City Manager Sara Ott told City Council members at their June 23 meeting that she’d like to have a conversation about reopening City Hall and conducting meetings in a public space after July 1.

But because of constraints in City Hall, going back to in-person council meetings presents a challenge.

“We have some real limitations with council chambers,” Ott told The Aspen Times prior to the meeting. “We’re looking at alternative venues.”

Councilwoman Ann Mullins said she’d like to get back to City Hall and meet in person with her colleagues and citizens.

“It’s putting a big barrier between ourselves and the public,” she said. “Our conversation is not as dynamic; I like sitting down face to face.”

But just as others in her role, Mullins admits there are some upsides to meeting virtually.

“It can be extremely efficient,” she said. “I appreciate the fact that it’s controlled and contained.”

That has a lot to do with the facilitator, or the host of the meeting.

In the case of City Council, Mayor Torre fulfills that role.

He said with the help of the city’s IT department, he was able to figure out the technical aspects quite quickly, but moving the conversation has been challenging.

“When you are in the same room you have the eye contact and body language and conversant dialogue,” Torre said. “But one of the positives is it’s allowing people to participate without being there.”

There are fewer people making public comment, and the regular gadflies who would ceremoniously come down to City Hall to air their grievances and thoughts on particular issues are not showing up in the virtual realm.

The city takes public comment via phone or email. Participants are asked to provide notice 15 minutes prior to the meeting.

Those are the rules set by council March 12 when it amended regulations for meetings during times of an emergency, which had been declared days before when the first coronavirus outbreak occurred.

City Attorney Jim True said at first many officials around Colorado thought virtual meetings at today’s level couldn’t be done.

“The whole state was dealing with it and it was difficult,” he said. “But I do think it is going well … we haven’t had any significant complaints.”

Toni Kronberg, a longtime and well-known government critic who regularly attends council meetings, said she has had problems trying to make effective public comment.

She got cut off when presenting her aerial transit connection ideas at the Elected Officials Transportation Committee meeting in April because those in charge of the meeting counted time against her during her three-minute allotment.

She had planned it to just three minutes but because she didn’t have access to a computer with a camera, Kronberg said she was limited to reading her presentation on the phone and relying on a staffer to change slides on the screen at her prompting, which took longer.

“Next thing I was clicked off,” she said. “I was livid.”

She also has felt stifled in recent weeks when it comes to the city of Aspen’s new office building, the town of Snowmass’ review of the redevelopment of Snowmass Town Center and pool in the town of Basalt.

Kronberg said it’s difficult to interact with elected officials and make eye contact in order for her point to resonate with them.

“Public comment is pretty much shut down,” she said.

Aspen City Council members said they’ve heard plenty from Kronberg during the pandemic, both in emails and phone calls.

Public comment is not required under the Colorado Open Meetings law but most governing bodies deem it as a necessity and have tried to accommodate it in electronic meetings, according to Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.

He said that he has heard reports of people having difficulty making public comment in the virtual format.

“I hope once we are through this, an in-person meeting that is live streamed and archived is the best way to go,” Roberts said. “I don’t think there is anything that replaces a person addressing a governing body.”

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board meetings were not televised or regularly live streamed online prior to COVID-19 but because of the virtual platform, the public now has access to watch them in real time.

Torre said at the last council meeting that if anyone is having trouble or is feeling hesitant about making public comment they should reach out to a council member.

“We’ll make sure that we can take as much as public comment as we can here,” he said.

Virtual meetings also have allowed elected officials to not have to travel across the country to meet with congressional leaders in Washington, D.C.

Mullins, as a board member of RFTA, along with other transportation officials, were scheduled to travel to Washington earlier this month to lobby U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet and Congressman Scott Tipton on some transportation grants.

But they met virtually instead and “it might have been more effective,” Mullins said.

On a more local level, Mullins said there is nothing to replace looking people in the eyes and having a more impromptu conversation with fellow council members, staff and members of the public.

She added that she’s spending an inordinate amount of time on the computer as she represents the city in various board meetings — some days as much as eight hours.

“That’s a lot of computer screen time and you are on camera the whole time,” she said.

Torre estimated earlier this month that he has been in 150 virtual meetings since mid-March.

“With the crisis going on, the amount of meetings we have been having is a lot of communication with a lot of people,” he said. “As the world becomes more technological this is an evolution with meeting space, but I am looking forward to getting back in the same room with everyone.”


Jazz Aspen Snowmass to host live-streamed concerts

Of course, it’s not the same as the 17-artist lineup that was due to fill music venues and bars in downtown Aspen this weekend for the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience. But the virtual JAS In-House event will still give fans a taste of what was to be, and what’s to come in 2021.

Jazz Aspen Snowmass will host free nightly live streamed events June 26 to 28 in lieu of its June Experience, which was postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The lineup includes a capella group Take 6, Colorado funk band The Motet, jazz pianist Monty Alexander, piano virtuoso Emmet Cohen, drummer and vocalist Sammy Miller, JAS Academy alum Ulysses Owens Jr., Tel Aviv-born clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen with Trio Brasileiro and percussionist Badi Assad.

Broadcasts will start nightly at 7 p.m. and will include artist interviews and performances. All of the participating artists had been slated to perform at the festival before cancellation and have committed to perform in person in 2021.

The virtual festival also is expected to showcase local students who have been in JAS instruction through the stay-at-home and safer-at-home periods.

“It’s a fun way for listeners and viewers to get to know them each so much better,” Jazz Aspen President and CEO Jim Horowitz said of the interviews.

Most of the JAS In-House lineup artists have been through Aspen previously for shows and The Aspen Times has been there:


Take 6 began as just another of the countless college a capella groups in America. But over the past three decades, the group — formed at Alabama’s Oakwood College in 1980 — has redefined vocal music. Take 6 has played the White House and on “Saturday Night Live,” performed alongside legends such as Ray Charles and Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder and won 10 Grammy Awards along the way.

Claude McKnight started the group as a quartet while he was a freshman at Oakwood. Like a typical collegiate glee club, its membership changed with each fall semester until a six-man setup took shape that was clearly something special. They drove the 120 miles to Nashville for a music industry showcase after graduation.

“We literally got our record deal the next day,” McKnight told me before a 2016 Jazz Aspen set. “There was no planning, no idea of what we would do next. Suddenly we were in the music business, and we were making records literally 20 days after getting that deal signed.”


“The only constant in this band is change,” The Motet’s lead singer Lyle Divinsky told me last year.

Though the band has consistently sound-tracked dance parties in Denver and here in the mountains for two decades, the personnel has evolved often. Along with Divinsky, the saxophonist Drew Sayers and trumpeter Parris Fleming have joined the lineup in recent years.

Funk is the common ground among the seven-piece outfit, but Divinsky notes each member brings diverse influences and perspectives from roots reggae to jazz, hip-hop, blues, soul and psych rock.

“As you look at The Motet, there are so many genres that the band has passed through and so many different musics we’ve jumped in on.”


Born in Jamaica before heading to New York City in the ’60s and turning into a jazz pianist, Monty Alexander has returned, in part, to his roots, putting together the Harlem-Kingston Express, a show that featured two combos side by side — an acoustic jazz rhythm section, and an electric reggae band. He headlined Junefest here in 2011 the band and told the Times about how hearing jazz for the first time as a child changed his life: “When I heard it, the thing I instantly detected was the idea of making it up as you play. You put your heart and soul into the music and it could get exciting, take on a whole new life.”