To many more: The Arts Campus at Willits celebrates first anniversary |

To many more: The Arts Campus at Willits celebrates first anniversary

The night closes out with a main stage performance by funk/soul/jazz/rock-fusion band The Motet at 8 p.m.

Ray K. Erku
Special to The Aspen Times
Dave Watts of The Motet performing at Red Rocks on June 4, 2021. The band plays TACAW Saturday.

Having live performances so close to home gives Roaring Fork Valley swashbucklers like Jason Hughes an easy reason to simply hop a 20-minute bus ride up valley.

In early June, the Glenwood Springs resident headed with his wife to The Arts Campus at Willits to catch a live performance by Aspen rock band Opera House Arson. 

The two would rendezvous with friends at nearby Wienerstube Restaurant, Jason would quaff authentic German lager out of a gigantic Das Boot stein, and then they’d go boogie down on the dance floor.

Dancing at night at TACAW.
Courtesy tacaw

“We continued the fun at TACAW,” he said. “TACAW is a great venue for live music, very intimate and plenty of room to cut a rug.”

More than 13,000 patrons — including Hughes — have attended shows at TACAW since the Willits performance hall opened in 2021. This also encompasses, as of last week, 106 live events and dozens of additional educational arts events catering to nearly 1,000 kids.

Drone view of patrons at TACAW.
Courtesy tacaw

TACAW celebrates this nascent success via its very first anniversary this weekend. This means hosting an all-day Saturday bash made up of live performances, cocktails and locally sourced fare.

TABL Cafe is open 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Out on the Listing Lawn comes a children’s performance, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” at 1 p.m. followed by musicians performing live 3-5 p.m. The night closes out with a main stage performance by funk/soul/jazz/rock-fusion band The Motet at 8 p.m.

Several reasons perhaps explain why the auspicious TACAW has seen such early paydirt. Some say it deviates from the hustle and bustle of Aspen, where venues like the famous Wheeler Opera House and big-time-artist-ridden Belly Up usually absorb all the socialites. One of them was longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident Johanna Payne. She remembers watching B.B. King pluck his unforgettably bluesy twang live at Belly Up. Back then, tickets were $20 a pop.

But like the once ubiquitous ski bum crushing après Pabst Blue Ribbon on Hopkins Avenue, those days have since melted away. Ticket prices have risen with mountain resort inflation. Space for parking in Aspen has also turned into a bit of a fender bender.

“Now that the traffic is so bad,” Payne said, “we rather go to TACAW.” 

The very idea of opening a new venue down valley came in 2001, TACAW Executive Director Ryan Honey said. It came directly out of the mind of architect Michael Lipkin. Lipkin is essentially the prime creator of Willits, a relatively young subsection of commerce and condos in Basalt. Honey said Lipkin intentionally set aside and reserved a parcel of land for a performing arts center.

Front of TACAW building.
Architectural Photography Aspen, Colorado, Interiors Photography, Hospitality

“He had pretty incredible foresight to do that,” Honey said of Lipkin.

Not until 2017 did the parcel’s first venue — The Temporary — open. Honey said it would operate on a “proof of concept” capacity to show prospective stakeholders it could be successful.

After two years of operation, however, nonprofit stakeholders and venue officials accumulated enough donations to eventually open the permanent brick-and-mortar venue standing before us today. For a price tag of $8 million, it turned into a 10,000-square-foot structure featuring a hall that can hold 400 attendees for standing room only or 240 when it’s only sitting.

A show at TACAW.
Courtesy tacaw

TACAW organizers also obtained a Randy Udall Energy (TRUE) Pioneer Grant to build a 64-kilowatt solar array on its roof, thus making it the nation’s first net-zero performance center, Honey said. By the way, Gov. Jared Polis proclaimed TACW’s Sept. 24 birthday as an official Colorado holiday. 

“The future is bright,” Honey said. “We’re really lucky to have a great community of patrons and great support of donations. We ask everybody to continue that support.”

Patsy Palaia, one of TACAW’s founding members, said opening the venue was a bit hard to do during COVID-19, and understandably. But, the 20-or-so founders of course did, and, right now, it’s giving the former longtime Aspen resident a great option to enjoy anything from Latinx drag shows to live plays.

“I’m familiar with the Wheeler Opera House because I’ve lived up there for 35 years and enjoyed the diversity of the shows they had up there,” she said. “They’re doing the same thing here.”

TACAW itself relies 60% on donations, which keep ticket prices lower than normal Aspen standards. Depending on the performance, the highest price point doesn’t even eclipse $55. Saturday night’s show, in fact, costs $20 to see a band that has graced the stage at Red Rocks Amphitheater.

For people like Roaring Fork’s Joani Leavenworth, TACAW is filling a huge void nobody has really done mid-valley, and, because of this, the place is likely to explode in popularity.

“Aside from the fact that they did a great job with the building, this part of the valley is just growing and growing,” she said. “People want to eat and see a show mid-valley instead of going to Aspen.”

A Voices performance at TACAW.
Courtesy tacaw
Whiffenpoofs at TACAW.
Courtesy tacaw
TACAW’s lobby.
Courtesy tacaw
Activities & Events

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