Starwood plays wedding bells for Mason and LaBelle

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Starwood, Mason (front row, left), and LaBelle (front row, center) in Paepcke Park, 1977.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go…

Aspen Deaf Camp Picnic

Base Village, Snowmass Village

Friday, July 18

5 p.m. Rich Ganson

6 p.m. John Denver Tribute

7:30 p.m. The Freddy Jones Band

Saturday, July 19

4 p.m. Red Molly

5:30 p.m. Starwood

7 p.m. Aspen Camp Campers

7:30 p.m. John Denver Tribute

Bobby Mason is 70, but the local music icon is nearly skipping around town like a 17-year-old in love these days.

A few weeks ago, he and fiancee Jane LaBelle got wedding-ring tattoos at Spyder Rose in Glenwood Springs, and this weekend they’ll make it official in an onstage ceremony during a reunion performance of Mason’s band, Starwood, at the Aspen Deaf Camp Picnic.

“I feel wonderful,” a glowing Mason said on a recent afternoon, brandishing his ink ring alongside LaBelle’s. “I’ve had two knees put in, a hip put in, a heart attack on top of that, a new stent. … But I’m just loving my life. She’s wonderful, and I get to play music.”

The pair first met 40 years ago, when Mason was playing with Starwood and LaBelle was designing clothes and working at the local recording studio of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band manager Bill McEuen. She made clothes for Starwood back then, when they were making albums for Columbia Records and touring the country.

These days, Mason is still playing music and LaBelle is still making clothes with Labelle Wear.

They reconnected last summer, when Mason played LaBelle’s daughter’s wedding with fellow Starwood members Haden Gregg and Bryan Savage. (Her ex-husband, Dirt Band engineer Richie Cicero, had seen them playing at L’Hostaria last summer and asked them to play the ceremony — coincidentally, Starwood also played Cicero and LaBelle’s wedding.)

LaBelle and Mason hadn’t caught up in 30 years but got to talking about the old days at the wedding.

“Then I said, ‘Can I kiss you?’ and she said, ‘Yeah,’ and we both went, ‘All right!’” Mason recalled. “And then I kissed her again. The second kiss, I went, ‘OK, I want to get to know this girl.’”

For their first date, they went to the Guitar Town festival at Copper Mountain. As they recalled it, Mason’s invitation and LaBelle’s response solidified their musical bond.

“Do you mind three days of guitar music? You sure you want to listen to that?” Mason asked.

“Are you kidding me!?” LaBelle shot back, adding an expletive for emphasis.

“I said, ‘I love this girl,’” Mason recalled.

Over the past year, they’ve spent a lot of time traveling the country, visiting their friends and their children (Mason has three, LaBelle five, and both have been married twice previously).

In December, during the winter solstice, Mason asked her to marry him.

Now they’re planning a mid-set ceremony during Starwood’s show Saturday in Snowmass.

The plan is to play Starwood’s “Wedding Song” and then for LaBellle and the Rev. Gregg Anderson to join the band onstage for a brief ceremony, with local pedal-steel player Larry Gottlieb as Mason’s best man. After the vows, Savage will go into the flute solo that kicks off Starwood’s classic “Tortuga,” and the show will go on.

That’s the plan, anyway.

“This is rock ’n’ roll, so who knows?” LaBelle added.

Starwood broke up in 1978, as disco took over the music scene in Aspen and elsewhere. It reunited at last year’s picnic. And members Mason, Gregg and Savage still play together regularly in the valley, including regular sets at Heather’s in Basalt. Mason also plays a weekly gig at the St. Regis.

“All of a sudden at this point in my life, it all makes sense. I’m like, ‘Wow, I didn’t pick the wrong job,’” Mason said. “It’s hard to make ends meet sometimes, but I’m with someone who loves what I do, and I love what I do.”

The reunion includes original members Mason on guitars and vocals, Gregg on guitar, Savage on saxophone, drummer Michael Buono, who now lives in Hawaii, and Bernie Mysior on bass. Fellow Aspen music veteran J.D. Martin will fill in for Bob Carpenter on keyboards, as Carpenter is on the road with the Dirt Band.

All of Starwood’s members have continued to work in music since they split up, except Mysior, who works as a home appraiser in Denver. The members have been looking at old YouTube clips, Mason said, to relearn their songs and will only take a few days of rehearsal to get their mojo back.

“Music is still our business,” Mason said. “So we want to do a good job.”

Starwood’s sweet bluesy rock has aged well and has resurfaced in some unexpected places — the flute track on “Tortuga,” for instance, is sampled throughout Eminem’s “Keep Talkin’.” When she and Mason started dating, LaBelle dug up a demo tape she’d saved of a Starwood recording session in the mid-’70s and played it for Mason.

“We were both like, ‘Damn, they were good!’” she recalled.

Starwood rounds out an Aspen Deaf Camp Picnic lineup that includes musicians who played the original run of picnics alongside newer bands. The two-day festival includes Rich Ganson, The Freddy Jones Band and Red Molly. Mac Bailey and members of John Denver’s band will perform a tribute to Denver both today and Saturday.

The picnic’s performances in the 1970s and ’80s — including sets with the likes of Denver, Jimmy Buffett, Ricky Skaggs and members of the Eagles sharing the stage with Starwood — are the stuff of local legend. Organizers brought it back last year after a 16-year hiatus that followed Denver’s death.

A fundraiser for the Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Base Village event is free, though donations are encouraged, and a silent auction supporting the camp will run throughout the shows.

“The wedding is a big thing in my life, but supporting the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is huge,” Mason said. “It’s really going to be fun.”