Sound Tribe Sector 9 playing unprecedented four-night concert run at Belly Up Aspen
IF YOU GO …
What: Sound Tribe Sector 9
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, Feb. 14 through Monday, Feb. 17, 9 p.m.
How much: $95-$145
Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
What: STS9 art collaboration
Where: Skye Gallery
When: Friday, Feb. 14 through Monday, Feb. 17; opening reception Friday, 6-8 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: skyegalleryaspen.com
The experimental jamtronica band Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) may be from Atlanta, but Colorado is the epicenter of their fandom.
Their annual run of Belly Up Aspen shows has become a bucket list item for the band’s devout followers, turning into a multi-day happening not only at the music club but across town in official and unofficial pre- and post-show parties and art happenings.
For 2020, Belly Up has expanded the STS9 run to four nights — an unprecedented scheduling move for the club, which regularly hosts two- and three-night series from major artist but never in its 15 years four nights. For the second year in the row, the band also is collaborating with Skye Gallery for an exhibition of its visual art that will run Feb. 14 through 17.
These are rare small-club gigs for the band, which fills theaters and headlines to the largest of festival crowds, making the Belly Up shows a destination for the national fan-base.
“The crowd is closer to you than any other venue, so there is this primal rawness, this in-your-face thing,” STS9 drummer Zach Velmer said during last year’s Aspen run. “I look down and literally 3 feet away from me is a person staring at me.”
The four nights in Aspen are the only STS9 tour dates announced for 2020, other than the band’s new Hotel Elsewhere festival in Florida this May and shows at Summer Camp in Chicago.
Along with the Aspen tradition, STS9’s Red Rocks shows are legendary and its Denver New Year’s Eve shows are major events (though this year STS9 went home to Atlanta for a five-night New Year’s experience).
“It’s such an honor to have that kind of loyalty and consistency when we go to Colorado,” Velmer said.
STS9 fans follow and study the band’s intricate, cross-genre performances with scholarly dedication, tracking and cataloging set lists with a devotion reserved for only a handful of artists in the post-Dead era.
Velmer and his bandmates — over the past two decades — have responded with thoughtful fan service, packing sets with brain candy for their hardcore fan base.
“We want our fans to have a special and unique experience,” Velmer said. “We look at sets, look at what we played last time — there is so much energy and thought that goes into creating these experiences for our fans.”
The band meticulously plans out set lists, mapping overall themes and minute details down to small nuggets to treat superfans, while always leaving open spaces for improvisation and surprise.
Knowing that fans are paying such close attention, of course, poses a challenge to STS9 to reinvent the wheel every night. But they try to challenge the fans as well, messing with them and pushing their boundaries.
“It’s a symbiotic experience for the fans and the artists — it’s cool and it’s very real-time,” he said. “We can see it in the crowd — we can see people losing their shit and freaking out like, ‘Oh my God, this is what we’re doing?’”
They’ll dust off rarities and mash them up with fan favorites, playfully fishing to see if fans will recognize lesser-known compositions. And yes, bandmembers follow the very active fan message boards that track set list intricacies. Velmer will chat with fans online about details of specific live versions of songs and what pieces came from where.
“It’s like a map and a puzzle,” he said. “When you really start digging and diving into the magic of that, you see these things blossom that you didn’t even know were there.”