Spring Flurries: Odds and ends from an entertaining Aspen winter | AspenTimes.com

Spring Flurries: Odds and ends from an entertaining Aspen winter

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Chromeo at the X Games music festival.
Aspen Times file |

Winter in Aspen is a runaway train that doesn’t stop for the five months between opening day on the slopes and the 5Point Film Festival. As the welcome quiet of mud season sets in, and the rush of art openings, events, concerts and festivals abruptly halts, it’s an opportunity for a look back (in this case, a subjective, somewhat random look back from one reporter) at the highs and lows of the winter season that was.


■ • The rowdiest concert crowd of the season may have been the first, as Chicago rap duo Flosstadaumus’s devoted, flag-waving, pot-vaping fan base descended on Belly Up the Saturday night after Aspen Mountain opened early for the season.

■ • Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr set a high bar for Belly Up concerts over Thanksgiving weekend, hitting fans in the feels with “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “How Soon is Now” but brandishing his immortal showmanship with a show-stopping cover of Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life.”

■ • If you didn’t spend time in the Aspen Art Museum this winter, you missed out on the playful streak and sense of humor that’s accompanied many of its exhibitions, like sculptor Lutz Bacher’s phallic gourds and Robert Cuoghi’s mad scientist sculptural creations.


■ • Jess Walter’s self-deprecating talk on writing and the 15-year slog of finishing “Beautiful Ruins” at Winter Words could lift the spirits of anybody who puts pen to paper.

■ • Trary Madalone’s sly, stand-out performance as the cunning Eleanor in Thunder River Theatre’s “The Lion in Winter” was a high point in the company’s 20th anniversary season and winter in the valley, along with David Pulliam’s shape-shifting Hamlet.

■ • Jazz Aspen Snowmass opened its 25th anniversary season with its founder, Jim Horowitz, playing piano with Stacey Kent and friends at the JAS Café. We don’t hear him do it often, but the guy can play.

■ • Any winter where the Dirty Dozen Brass Band comes to town twice is a good winter. The New Orleans legends sold out the Wheeler on New Year’s Eve and returned for a free Hi-Fi Concert in Snowmass on a sunny Saturday in March,


■ • Justice Snow’s may be on City Hall’s shit list for its disappearing $10 burger and increasing menu prices, but the bar and restaurant’s programming continues to impress. This winter, Justice Snow’s hosted Trevor Wilson as its inaugural composer–in-residence, and he wrote a suite of songs about Colorado while he was here (the Justice Snow’s “Salon” series continues Sunday at 5 p.m.).

■ • Credit is due to the new Brumby-Ute for bringing something completely fresh to the saturated Aspen gallery scene: indigenous Australian art and a symposium on its history.

■ • I bumped into Perry Farrell in town a few times this winter, but — as far as I know — he never got on-stage here. I was hoping for an impromptu performance, a la his free Satellite Party show at Ink! eight years back, but to no avail.

■ • Snoop Dogg performed snippets of his own songs and covered Akon, House of Pain, Joan Jett (!) and Katy Perry (!?) in a karaoke-style set at X Games (before playing Belly Up and DJ-ing a late-night pot party at the Crystal Palace). Despite Snoop giving us less than a full effort, the new X Games music festival set-up was the best new addition to the arts lineup this winter. With A-list talent (Snoop, Skrillex, Chromeo, Wiz Khalifa) and an easy to navigate venue at the base of Buttermilk, here’s hoping the festival is in for the long haul along with X Games.

■ • As for Chromeo, can we all just agree these guys are playing Hall and Oates covers with a vocoder?


■ • And speaking of John Oates … He’s in the midst of the best second-act in rock today and we’ve got a front row seat, as evidenced in his solo show at the Wheeler in February.

■ • After Laff Fest headliner Jim Breuer’s last-minute cancelation, the festival and its comics scrambled to pull off a fantastic (and free) night of short sets by the rest of the festival’s comedians.

■ • Les Claypool’s Duo De Twang shows dependably serve up a slap-bass-driven theater of the absurd, but his February show at Belly Up was next-level bizarre: Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith hopped on stage and banged (brilliantly) on a plastic bucket during a cover of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”

■ • The Headhunters began a February set at the JAS Café with what seemed like a wild, experimental, free jazz freakout. It was clear something else was up when saxophonist Donald Harrison stepped off stage to take a brief nap from the sloppy opening. Turns out, something was up: percussionist Bill Summers told the crowd the New Orleans band had been partaking of (and maybe over-indulging with) the locally legal marijuana edibles.

■ • Cracker playing “March of the Billionaires” at the base of Aspen Mountain at its Hi-Fi Concert was either the definition of irony or the opposite of it, depending on your perspective. The punk mock-anthem of the billionaire played out to an audience that probably included some, as the crowd looked past the stage to the homes on Red Mountain.

■ • Screenwriter and longtime Aspenite Lorenzo Semple got his due on the Academy Awards’ broadcast during the “In Memoriam” tribute. When his face came up on the screen, a cheer went up from the crowd at Aspen Film’s viewing party at the Caribou Club.


■ • Comedian Daniel Tosh announced two mid-March shows at the Wheeler, two weeks beforehand, which immediately sold out and became the hottest ticket of the winter.

■ • So, Aspen International Fashion Week didn’t happen this March. Did anybody notice? No, me neither.

■ • When jazz pianist Justin Kauflin ran a minute over his set time at the Wheeler, his seeing-eye dog, Candy, let him know. After spending the evening under his bench, she stood up and began wagging her tail and nuzzling him to indicate it was time to take a bow.

■ • Did anybody count how many times “Flash Boys” author Michael Lewis referenced “Talladega Nights” to illustrate his points at his Winter Words event? (His affinity for the Will Farrell comedy made some sense, as “Talladega” director Adam McKay is adapting Lewis’ “The Big Short” for the big screen. But still.)

■ • Abraham Lincoln, in a Spider-man costume, got in a fistfight with two poodles in American flag spandex on-stage at Belly Up. After that, it got a little weird. Such was the experience of seeing Of Montreal’s hallucinatory musical theater experience.

■ • Johnny McGuire’s closing party in its parking lot — an old-fashioned ski town throwdown with local bands — offered proof that there’s still some funky ski bum spirit left kicking in Aspen. The sub shop’s VW pickle beetle may be retired, but let’s make sure its attitude endures.

■ • Hopefully the standing ovation and sizeable crowd for the one-night encore of Aspen Fringe Fest’s “Venus in Fur” at the Wheeler will encourage it to book more theater productions there in winters to come.


■ • Two new musical combinations rolled into town for memorable Belly Up shows that brought out legions of hardcore fans and the best “Down By the River” sing-along I’ve witnessed: the John Scofield/Gov’t Mule mash-up Sco-Mule and the North Mississippi All-Stars/Anders Osbourne project.

■ • A bit of movie magic happened live at the Wheeler as my crosstown rival Christine Benedetti and her fiancé, David Cook, got called on stage for the interactive {The And} Game’s uncomfortable questions during Shortsfest, followed by their future mothers-in-law, who had just met.

■ • The filmmaker tributes to retiring Aspen Film co-directors Laura Thielen and George Eldred at the closing of Shortsfest underscored the impact the pair had on launching countless careers over the past two decades and how much they’ll be missed at the organization’s helm.

■ • Kudos to Belly Up this winter for booking A-list bands (Tenacious D) and some of the hottest newer acts (Odesza) in the basement club. But there’s one lineup choice this reporter cannot support: dropping the barbecue chicken pizza from the menu. Maybe nobody goes there for the food, but that delicious item was part of my pre-concert ritual.