Another side of Eric Johnson at Belly Up Aspen
The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
Who: Eric Johnson
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Monday, July 16, 9:30 p.m.
How much: $30-$50
Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
The guitar virtuoso Eric Johnson is bringing a quieter side of himself to the stage at Belly Up.
Frequently called one of the greatest living guitarists, the Texan is on a 10-stop tour of small venues, where he’ll play acoustic guitar and piano. He comes to Aspen on Monday, July 16.
The short run of rare acoustic shows will road-test new acoustic songs by Johnson, stripped-down versions of his familiar electric repertoire and they will offer fans a chance to see him play piano, which he rarely does live.
“I’m trying to bring out stuff that’s a little bit more personal and more fitting to be recorded as an acoustic performance,” Johnson says. “There’s a challenge to that, because you are out there by yourself.”
Early this year, Johnson staged a tour revisiting his Grammy-winning 1990 classic album “Ah Via Musicom” with his band from the original “Musicom” sessions. A February performance at Belly Up was canceled due to weather.
Leading up to making the album three decades ago, the Warner Bros. label dropped him and he decided to defy the dominant sentiment of the record industry to follow his vision for what would become “Ah Via Musicom.”
“I’d been told over and over, ‘Don’t do instrumental music,’ ‘If you’re going to do the guitar thing, then you’ve got to do heavy metal,’ ‘You can’t do what you’re trying to do,’” he told The Aspen Times in February. “I never believed in any of that.”
Instead, he forged ahead with largely instrumental guitar-driven songs like “Cliffs of Dover” and “Trademark.”
“It’s great to work with producers, but all the time everybody was trying to change it,” he added. “So I just made my own record and did it the way I believed. I thought, ‘If I do that, then I’ve got to do the best I can.’”
Until last winter’s tour, Johnson hadn’t previously gotten on board with the recent trend of artists revisiting classic albums and taking them on the road. But last year, he polled his fans on social media and got an overwhelming response that they wanted to see “Ah Via Musicom” in full.
Johnson’s most recent album is last year’s “Collage,” which includes reinterpretations of the surf-rock band The Chantays’ “Pipeline,” B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” and songs by The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder. Choosing covers, Johnson said, is about finding something new to say.
“If it speaks to you in a way that’s harmonically universal and that resonates with you, I enjoy doing a different version of them,” Johnson said. “The original versions are always my favorite, so there’s no reason to do it note for note.”
Before that, in 2016, he released his first all-acoustic album, “EJ,” which included nine originals and four cover songs.
But the always prolific Johnson is always overflowing with new ideas. When he came through Aspen in February, Johnson said that he had an entire volume of acoustic songs ready to record along with an album’s-worth of new electric songs.
“The most important thing for me is to grow musically and make a more expansive and meaningful artistic statement with every new project,” he says.
The new material he’s testing out on this acoustic tour aims to heal, he says, aims to heal and inspire.
“Some artists inspire us to wake up and get back to the clarity of consciousness,” he says. “With this record, I’m trying to do that, too, because I appreciate it so much in other people.”
“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.