The Salon at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House Sunday |

The Salon at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House Sunday

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times

A.J. Finney says he became a comedian because therapy was expensive and open-mics were free.

“But the sound of laughter and that magical moment when everyone’s so engulfed in the performance that it relieves us from our daily worries, that’s why I keep doing it,” Finney writes in his artist bio.

The Midwestern stand-up comedian, along with an eclectic group of artists from the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond, will star on the stage of the Wheeler Opera House Sunday as part of the fifth-annual local Salon production.

Modeled after the 19th-century European salons, The Salon is an award-winning performance that started in Philadelphia more than 30 years ago.

Andrea Clearfield, a renowned composer and Aspen Music Festival and School alum, founded the original Salon series in 1986.

Alongside local artist Alya Howe, the two are co-curating The Salon series to perform onstage at the Wheeler.

“The Salon is an intimate forum (for artists) to share something (they) are passionate, knowledge and skillful about,” Howe explained, “and then invite the audience to hear your form of expression in a new way.”

The curators each selected three artists to participate in The Salon, with Clearfield finding performers from all over and Howe dipping into a local pool of talent.

“We have incredible artists in the valley that I have been mining,” Howe said, noting the number of local musicians who are asked more often to play cover material than perform their own.

“I ask them, ‘Do you have original work that’s not marketable in hotel lobbies or weddings?’” Howe said. “(The Salon) is an invitation to play or let the artist in you speak about what’s important to you right now.”

At The Salon, each artist has 15 minutes of stage time to discuss or perform his or her art. Sunday’s performance at the Wheeler will feature singing, storytelling, stand-up comedy, poetry, the harp, piano and more.

“Andrea’s Salon is 30 years old, it’s an institution,” Howe raved of her co-curator, adding that her success within a “male-dominated world” of music writing makes it all the more impressive.

The local Salon rendition started five years ago under the direction of Justice Snow’s proprietress Michele Kiley.

Howe, who helped curate the series alongside Kiley, said the idea was to offer the community a “more local, fringe-y and affordable arts programming.”

“It’s bringing something to the valley that doesn’t often occur,” said Snowmass native and poet Elissa Rodman, who will read her work at Sunday’s Salon. “Having venue for a wide variety or artists to come together is really something I’m excited to be apart of.

“It’s a beautiful thing because it’s more vulnerable to be on the stage reading your work, rather than someone reading it on the page.”

After performing inside Justice Snow’s for more than four years, The Salon relocated to the Wheeler Opera House’s lobby bar, where its most recent show occurred.

But for The Salon’s fifth anniversary, Howe said, “We wanted to do something more special and put everyone on stage.

“It’s hard to explain that there’s nothing like a Salon,” she said. “But there is just something so magical about it.”