Aspen Times Weekly: Skico gets hip

by Stewart Oksenhorn
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, led by singer-guitarist Nelson, closes the Aspen Skiing Company's 2013-'14 Hi-Fi Concert Series with a performance on March 29 in Snowmass Base Village.
Stewart Oksenhorn The Aspen Times |

On most days, Jeff Hanle’s two sons don’t think of their dad’s job as especially cool. Yes, Hanle works for the Aspen Skiing Co., which has a certain glamour factor. But as the director of public relations, Hanle deals in press releases, media spin and controversy control — not the stuff that gets two young men all too excited.

But at certain times, Hanle’s kids, 22 and 15, see the cool element of their dad’s position. And Hanle never seems cooler to his sons than at a Skico Bud Light Hi-Fi Concert, when several thousand fans, mostly young ones, gather to rage at the bottom of a ski hill for music that’s got some true cutting-edge appeal, and their dad is near the center of things.

“They go, ‘Dad, you’re pretty hip,’ Hanle said. “I’m like, ‘I am?’”

Such is the reflected glory of being part of an organization that has displayed a fairly adventurous approach to booking acts. For a corporation whose main job is to keep a bunch of lifts running on four mountains, from Thanksgiving Day (or earlier) through mid-April (or later), while turning a reasonable profit, the Skico’s Bud Light Hi-Fi Concert Series has built an impressive decade-long track record: Big Head Todd & the Monsters in downtown Aspen during a raging snowstorm over Thanksgiving Day weekend in 2004. Green Day, on the verge of blowing up into a huge act, littering its appearance with some daring lyrical phrases. And this past March, when a cancellation forced the last-minute assembling of a Los Angeles hard-rock supergroup, making most everyone in attendance forget who the scheduled act had been. (It was Grouplove, a Brooklyn indie-rock band, which was dealing with a family emergency.)

Hanle has his favorite moment, when Big Boi, half of the acclaimed hip-hop duo Outkast, played three winters ago at the base of Aspen Mountain. Hanle recalls being on stage (toward the back, he makes clear), and thinking about how the standard view of Aspen was being upended.

“It was the dichotomy — his music, and what we traditionally represent here,” Hanle said. “And the audience was eating it all up.” (Another vivid scene in his memory: watching a bunch of ski racers dancing by the front of the stage, the night before a World Cup race — possibly against coach’s orders.)

What Hanle likes best is how the Hi-Fi concerts give another face to the Aspen experience. In the early days, it came as a surprise to visitors, and probably locals as well — the Aspen Skiing Co. bringing in hard rock and hip-hop. But over time, the concerts have helped give the Skico and the town a genuine claim as an attraction for younger, hipper crowds.

“It’s brought another dimension, an added component to the ski/snowboard experience,” he said. “For us, the Hi-Fi concerts have brought another energy, an excitement. I remember the early years — people were so psyched by the opportunity to see music in town, on the streets, at the base of the mountain.”

Much as Hanle might want to extend his hipness, he gives credit for the booking of acts to Deric Gunshor, the Skico’s manager of event marketing.

“Deric, that’s his life,” Hanle said. “He lives music. He knows what’s going to be big, what’s coming up the charts. He tries hard to bring that kind of expertise to the bookings. For me, it’s, ‘Who?’ Then a year later, it’s ‘Oh yeah, those guys.’”

And Gunshor is quick to share the credit with Belly Up, which assists the Skico with booking the acts.

The Skico has announced most of the Hi-Fi acts for the 2013-’14 ski season. Here’s what will have Hanle looking cool (or slightly clueless) over the next few months.

Elephant Revival, Nov. 30, Aspen Gondola Plaza

Those on the watch for an act that is on the verge should probably keep their eye on Elephant Revival, an acoustic quintet based in Nederland that calls its style “transcendental folk.” The group gave a praise-worthy performance on the mainstage this past summer at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, with a tour of the U.K. scheduled for this winter, more steps toward becoming a major act.

“It’s a new dimension,” said Bridget Law, the band’s fiddler. “Everyone knows how to take this music off. It allows this big energetic experience to happen, with a lot of people in a room.”

Elephant Revival’s latest album, “These Changing Skies,” was released in September.

Savoy, Jan. 24, Aspen Gondola Plaza

The trio of Ben Eberdt, Gray Smith and Mike Kelly began life as Boulder students with a thing for jam bands and the harder sounds of Led Zeppelin. They have since moved locations, trading Boulder for Brooklyn, and evolved in sound, transforming into an electronic dance act, though still with a rock element in the mix. When Savoy has come through Colorado lately, their performances have been on the grand stage of Red Rocks (along with the occasional stop at Aspen’s Belly Up).

Black Uhuru, Feb. 15, Snowmass Base Village

Talk about roots reggae — Black Uhuru’s history goes back to the source, the early ’70s in Kingston, Jamaica. The group, still with founding member Duckie Simpson, has the distinction of winning the first Grammy for Reggae Album of the Year, for their 1984 recording, “Anthem.” Another album, 1989’s “Red,” was named one of the 100 Best Albums of the ’80s by Rolling Stone. And they have toured with the Rolling Stones — the band, that is.

Cash’d Out, March 14, Aspen Gondola Plaza

This San Diego-based act has brought their tribute to Johnny Cash to Belly Up numerous times.

Bud Light Core Party, March 21, corner of Cooper & Galena, downtown Aspen

No act has been announced yet for the annual Core Party. Two winters ago, the featured act was the jamming acoustic band Railroad Earth, who played a mighty set, then continued the party with a second show downstairs at Belly Up.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, March 29, Snowmass Base Village

Lukas Nelson comes with one might big credential — he is the son of country legend Willie Nelson. But the 25-year-old has also proved himself a magnetic performer regardless of the name, a superb guitarist and excellent songwriter with a charismatic stage presence.

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