Bobby Mason invites Aspen family (that means you) to the Wheeler
Bobby Mason has played more Aspen gigs than you can count. His wife recently designed mock tour T-shirts that include the names of 58 different Aspen bars — most of them long gone — where Mason has played since he arrived in this mountain town from California in 1969 for a two-week stint at the Aspen Inn and decided to stick around.
But on Saturday, Mason headlines the Wheeler Opera House — which he calls “as big as it gets in Aspen” — for just the second time in his 45 years here.
The occasion is a show Mason is calling his “Aspen Family Reunion.” It’s a retrospective of Mason’s long songwriting career, and it will be unlike any of his frequent gigs around the valley, he said.
“This is not something you’ve heard me do before,” Mason explained over lunch at El Rincon this week. “Most of this is stuff you’ve never heard me do.”
Last year, Mason sold out the Wheeler for his “Bobby Mason Alive Concert,” a celebration of his recovery from open heart surgery. This year’s show is a toast to the family of friends that’s grown around him through the decades here.
“I thought (the ‘family reunion’ title) was clever until people started saying, ‘So, you’re bringing your family?’ And I say, ‘No, no. You are my family. I’ve been here since ’69,’” he said with a laugh.
He’s dug back into his catalog and resurrected songs he wrote as far back as 1964, when he was performing folk music in southern California and finding his first commercial success with surf bands like The Illusions and The Happy Medium.
His solo compositions from that period, like “How Lucky Can a Poor Boy Be,” have taken on new meaning for Mason as he looks back.
“I look at them and go, ‘Wow, I wrote that for right now,’” he said. “‘How Lucky Can a Poor Boy Be’ is about me and my friends getting old. People are going away, which I get to do someday, but until then I’m not going to sit around thinking about it. … I’m more excited about my songs than at any time in my life.”
He’s rearranged some of the early material, and found a wisdom in songs like “Ballad of a Loser” that he didn’t know was there in his hard-partying youth.
“I was heavily sedated, but I can’t disqualify what I did,” he said. “That’s just the way the music business was then. It’s part of me. So I won’t move it aside, because that’s what I went through.”
At 70, Mason is a jolly figure, a local icon with a Shrek-like stature and rock ’n’ roll still in his blood. He has long served as the de facto musical mayor of Aspen, collaborating with local musicians and popping up with his guitar at benefits and community gatherings.
“People say, ‘You know everybody,’ and I say, ‘Yeah, and I know their dogs, and I played their grandma’s prom,’” he said. “This is a thank-you for them. I’m doing songs I haven’t done, some of them, since the ’60s and the ’70s.”
Best known outside Aspen for his run with the rock band Starwood, which reunited this summer, Mason has been looking back on highlights like playing Starwood’s “One Time Band” with John Denver on “The Merv Griffin Show,” recording “Ballad of a Loser” with Dolly Parton in Nashville, Tennessee, and playing iconic venues like Red Rocks Ampitheatre, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and opening for Eddie Money and Santana at the Cow Palace near San Francisco.
He’s planning to include a handful of Starwood songs and favored covers in the “Family Reunion” show, along with his career-spanning solo material.
“I want to put it all out there this weekend,” he said. “It’s amazing to be at this point in my life where I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I’m old. Isn’t that cool?’ That’s not where I was going 50 years ago. I was going to die at 25.”
Mason put together a seven-man band and three backup singers to perform with him on Saturday. The band, which rehearsed this week at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale, includes prominent local musicians like keyboardists J.D. Martin and Vid Weatherwax, guitarists Hap Harriman and Mack Bailey and jazz zinger Roberta Lewis.
“These aren’t some of the best musicians in the valley,” Mason said. “They’re some of the best musicians in the country and the world.”
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