Spring Flurries: Notes from an entertaining winter
It begins in November with little more than hope and man-made snow and visions of powder days dancing in heads. It ends in a blur of costumes and DJs at Aspen Highlands closing day.
In between, the Aspen ski season is like one long festival — every day when the lifts stop spinning, the stage lights go on and so does the off-snow show. Entertainment-wise, Aspen’s winter of 2015-16 never let up. These notes are the highs and the lows, the odds and the ends, from the arts beat.
e As recent tradition dictates, it started with all of us standing in the snow on a bitter cold night at the opening Hi-Fi concert at the base of Ajax during Thanksgiving weekend. Jamestown Revival complained about the temperature throughout, but put on an energetic show and played one of my favorite covers of the season: John Prine’s “Paradise.”
e Pity the Wheeler Opera House. The renovated concert hall had a rough unveiling — delaying the reopening due to construction delays, moving shows to Harris Hall, then having the great Kevin Smith cancel his show due to snowed-out flights. Its luck improved come January when “One Man Star Wars” left kids of all ages beaming.
e Speaking of which: ski country is nerd country! Those of us who doubted the national fervor for the return of “Star Wars” would be lost on our hip mountain enclave were proven indisputably wrong as costumed, lightsaber-wielding crowds descended on the Isis and sold out all the “The Force Awakens” screenings in its four theaters on opening night.
e The National played the best rock show I saw this winter at Belly Up on Dec. 30, the second concert of the band’s two-night stand, running through the hits, previewing some new material and their upcoming Grateful Dead tribute record. Yet they still managed to disappoint by not bringing Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler onstage and leaving him standing in the crowd. Butler did perform a post-show “DJ set,” playing songs off of his iPhone into the early morning, but if you wanted to see him and The National’s Matt Berninger perform together, you had to buck up for the tony Artists for Peace and Justice Fundraiser at the St. Regis on New Year’s Eve.
e Walking into Betty Weiss’s studio at the Red Brick’s First Thursday event a few days after the painter’s death and seeing her works in progress there was a bittersweet moment. But seeing the arts community come together to remember her suggested her legacy will live on in Aspen for a long time.
e Watching U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera read and speak at Winter Words was a night to remember for anybody in the house, but for the grade-schooler who he brought up on stage to talk poetry, it may have been life-altering.
e Twenty One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun deserved a medal for their extreme feats of stagecraft at the duo’s sold-out X Games concert — backflips and all. In its second year back at Buttermilk, the X Games music festival hit its stride with crowd-pleasing headlining sets from Twenty One Pilots, Nas and a blizzard-blinded Deadmau5 (though I’m still bitter the crowds didn’t show up early for Run the Jewels).
e How’s that for a homecoming encore? After Beth Malone and Alison Bechdel’s funny, incisive talk on the process of bringing “Fun Home” from page to Broadway, Malone brought local piano man David Dyer onstage for a gorgeous take on the show’s “Telephone Wire” at Paepcke Auditorium.
e The Broncos won the Super Bowl while the Aspen Music Festival won some pulled pork and a boost of pride. The Music Fest’s board won a barbecue dinner from the Brevard Music Festival in North Carolina in their public wager on the big game against the Panthers.
e What to do when your lead vocalist falls ill right before a sold-out two-night run in Aspen? Railroad Earth did what they do best: they improvised. The beloved string band enlisted the help of Greensky Bluegrass for a combined lineup that gave their faithful fans two nights of singular shows.
e Not only did Seal make a pilgrimage to Cloud Nine, but the Grammy-winning singer got on a table at the Aspen Highlands champagne-spraying cathedral of excess and conspicuous consumption to lead the reveling crowd in a sing-along of “Kiss From a Rose.” A classic pics-or-it-didn’t-happen moment, video proof of this historic occasion went viral on social media.
e As news of David Bowie’s death shocked and surprised fans across the world, the Flaming Lips mourned with a set-long tribute of Bowie covers at Belly Up.
e Gilbert Gottfried may have bombed at the Aspen Laff Fest, but that hour of mostly cringing silence was worth it for his extended mocking Bill Cosby impression.
e Local author Mark Tompkins got a proper Aspen send-off before his book tour for his debut novel, “The Last Days of Magic,” as the valley’s literary community packed Explore Booksellers for his book release party.
e Cayetano Soto’s gleeful “Huma Rojo” was the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet crowd-pleaser of the season, but the innovative stop-motion lighting in Fernando Melo’s resonant “Re:Play” may help redefine the form.
e At a Nahko and Medicine for the People show you expect some danceable rock, some talk of civil rights and environmentalism and an entertaining concert. You do not expect a cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggety.” But that’s what the enthusiastic crowd got as fans filled Base Village for an afternoon spring Hi-FI concert and joined Nahko for a call and response on the 20-year-old R&B hit.
e We all know Theatre Aspen’s Paige Price for her work behind the scenes and for bringing Broadway to the tent in Rio Grande Park every summer. But the girl can also sing, we learned, as Broadway great — and Price’s former “Beauty and the Beast” castmate — Susan Egan headlined the Wheeler and brought Price out for a duet on a tune from “Wicked.”
e Can we make Corey Simpson and Bob Moore pair up every theater season? After giving us some community theater comedy magic three years ago in “The Producers,” the pair brought a comparable chemistry to drama in Thunder River Theatre’s “Freud’s Last Session” in Carbondale.
e The ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro is a one-man show no more. But any concern that adding a bass player might soften the impact of his virtuosic performances were quickly dashed in his return to Belly Up as his mind-boggling interpretation of “Low Rider” made genius use of the low end sound.
e The Judith Scott retrospective at the Aspen Art Museum — the late artist’s first — is going to be in art history books 100 years from now. If you haven’t seen it since it opened, get there before it closes July 10.
e The latest chapter in the strange and terrible saga of the Gonzo Gallery came to a close, as its brief run on the 600 block of Hyman Ave. ended. The final winter exhibitions helped the gallery go out with a bang, though, including the fantastic otherworldly sculptures of Ajax Axe, new work by Paul Pascarella and shotgun art show by William S. Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson.
e Glenn Smith may have taught you to fly fish or to cook a souffle in some of his numerous day jobs, but as an artist he just might teach you to see the junk around you with new eyes. His “Mechanical Love Stories” solo exhibition at the Art Base Annex in Basalt showcased Smith’s inimitable creative vision.
e Local photographer and filmmaker Pete McBride’s presentation at the 5Point Film Festival about his ongoing project chronicling a walk across the length of the Grand Canyon was a fascinating look at little-known stretches of landscape and environmental threats to the canyon. But, Pete, did we really need the photo of the infected blister on your heel blown up on a movie theater screen? Keep up the great work, but please keep that one out of you National Geographic story.
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