Liz Vice headlines new Wheeler Opera House music series
If You Go …
Who: Liz Vice
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Saturday, Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $25
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; www.aspenshowtix.com
More info: Wheeler’s inaugural On the Rise series closes on Saturday, Nov. 12 with Penny & Sparrow.
The Wheeler Opera House is hoping that its new On the Rise music series will become an Aspen fall offseason tradition, alongside ski swaps and cut-rate dinner specials.
The showcase for buzzworthy national music acts opened Oct. 1 with a steampunk spectacle by Vaud and the Villains — a highly touted 19-piece collective from Portland, Oregon — that drew nearly 300 curious listeners to the downtown theater. The inaugural On the Rise series continues Saturday with singer Liz Vice and closes Nov. 12 with the folk duo Penny & Sparrow.
The Vaud and the Villains show went well enough that Wheeler Executive Director Gena Buhler is looking to bring the big band back to the venue during a future winter high season.
“It was the perfect way to kick off the series because people were like, ‘OK, we get it — we just have to trust you,’” Buhler said. “I think we’re off to something really special with this new fall series.”
While booking the initial series, Buhler sought advice from locals and from bookers around the U.S. and listened to a whole lot of new music. The Wheeler isn’t pegging the series to a particular genre or style — the only criteria are that it’s new and it’s good. Liz Vice fits that bill.
“Liz Vice will open up a different way of listening to R&B and soul — she meshes everything together and she’s so sweet and so beautiful,” Buhler said.
Vice, also from Portland, burst onto the scene last year with her debut album “There’s a Light.” The collection of vintage soul and gospel songs bring a Motown sound into the 21st century, powered by Vice’s powerful voice and endearing storytelling. The backbone of her moving style is Vice’s faith and her harrowing survival of a childhood illness (she received a life-saving kidney transplant at age 22 in 2005). “There’s a Light” made it as high as No. 6 and No. 13, respectively, on Billboard’s gospel and R&B charts.
Along with the timeless, soul-shaking original songs like “Empty Me Out” and “All Must Be Well,” Vice has peppered her live shows with some unexpected covers. Her appearance on NPR’s “Mountain Stage,” for instance, opened with a haunting take on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” layering Vice’s voice over a loungey piano and drum combo.
The On the Rise initiative aims to make the Wheeler more than a simple venue of brick and mortar, but also to showcase the city-owned organization’s taste and perspective and to turn local audiences on to some exciting new musicians. Launching the series in the fall gives these up-and-coming artists something like a captive audience (there isn’t a ton of live entertainment to choose from in Aspen in October and November here) and to give locals something to get excited about. The initial idea, Buhler said, came from locals calling for more offseason programming at the Wheeler.
“I was afraid that if we launched On the Rise any time other than the fall, it would get lost in the chaos of everything,” she explained. “And I wanted to do something in the fall because I hate it when it feels like, ‘Oh great, the tourists aren’t here so there’s nothing for us to do.’”
Filling the house for bands without name recognition is still no easy task. Of course, booking excellent artists like Vice is the most important part of the series. But Buhler and her team also are using some creative ways to keep the conversation about these rising artists going, including edited broadcasts of the On the Rise concerts on KSNO with interviews and features on the artists and — eventually, Buhler said — a Wheeler podcast digging deeper into the On the Rise acts.
If audiences continue to respond positively, Buhler is eyeing the possibility of expanding On the Rise to five concerts in October and November or perhaps to an every-other-Saturday schedule through the fall offseason.
“I don’t want to go too big too fast, but I also want to make it easy and consistent,” she said. “The fall allows us to grow it and figure it out.”
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