Aspen Times Weekly: Some summer events left to do

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, with singer Alex Ebert, plays in September at the Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival.
Stewart Oksenhorn The Aspen Times |

For those many of you feeling that summer is slipping away and it’s time to hit the panic button because you haven’t (take your pick here of as many as you want) seen a concert at the Music Tent, completed an ultra-marathon, dined on oysters and Champagne on the Ajax Tavern patio, run into Dwight Howard, brought a picnic to the Thursday night concert on Fanny Hill, or driven past the Roundabout, here’s a message: Chill.

The fact is, summer is only halfway over. (In fact, as of publication date, we’re two days beyond the midpoint, so panic if you must.) There are 11 days left in the Aspen Music Festival season; 10 for Theatre Aspen. There are two shows left on Fanny Hill (but hustle — one of them is Thursday, Aug. 8). The biggest weekend of the summer, Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Festival, is weeks away. The trails should be good for a couple of months, those al fresco dining spots aren’t closing anytime soon, Belly Up’s schedule is packed, and downvalley is open year-round these days (or so I’ve been told).

But, so you don’t find yourself flipping the calendar to September and wondering how exactly you frittered away the summer without hiking Cathedral Lake, seeing “Les Misérables,” catching a show in the JAS Café series in the Little Nell, etc., I’ve worked up a punch list of late-summer activities still to be caught.

Get moving.

Film: Warning — Aspen is about to lose a major portion of its cinema offerings, as the Wheeler Opera House shuts down for the fall, and the Wheeler Film Series disappears. In addition, this summer has been remarkably bleak for serious fans of serious movies, who instead have been offered a steady diet of horror, comic book heroes and shoot-‘em-ups and blow-‘em-ups. So mark this down carefully: Aug. 22-25. That’s when the Wheeler’s MountainSummit fills its screen with smart, moving documentaries, and it looks like the program might just be strong enough to get the doc-aholics through what are going to be some dark months ahead. Among the highlights: “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer,” about the group of Russian artists/activists jailed for a performance in a Moscow church; “Life According to Sam,” about an teenage boy facing extraordinary circumstances with extraordinary grace; “High and Hallowed,” about the first American ascent of Everest, in 1963; and a special event with filmmaker Tom Shadyac, with a screening of a surprise film.

Popular music: Once in a while, Aspen seems to miss out on a music act that seems likely to fit in well here. The rootsy Australian group the John Butler Trio emerged more than a decade ago, and despite being continuously active, have never played here. The streak ends in a big way, with a two-night stand, Aug. 15-16, at Belly Up. Or extend the stretch of Australian roots-rock to a three-day weekend, with Xavier Rudd’s show on Aug. 17.

Dining: A year ago, Michael Gurtman, an Aspenite with no restaurant experience, decided to get into the local dining business. His place opened a few months later than planned, in a spot with a recent history of high turn-over. And he gave it a name that was likely to turn away a decent percentage of diet-conscious eaters: the Meatball Shack. The Shack is not only still standing, but it is among the best recent additions to Aspen’s restaurant options. Not surprisingly, the balls — veal, chicken, spicy pork — are delicious. What is surprising is that even non-meat-eaters find a place called the Meatball Shack welcoming, with a quinoa bowl, watermelon and burrata salad, and Brussels sprouts, all delicious.

Classical music: Twenty years ago, Harris Hall opened, with fans hailing it as the Carnegie Hall of the Rockies — and neighborhood critics grumbling that the Aspen Music Festival had promised it would be used only as a rehearsal hall. The controversy faded away years ago and it seems unlikely there will be anything but a celebration when the 20th anniversary of Harris Hall is observed, Aug. 11, with a fantastically eclectic program (Vivaldi, Bach, Osvaldo Golijov, Philip Glass) and performers including violinist Robert McDuffie and guitarist Sharon Isbin.

Dance: The best — or at least the most emotional — is yet to come for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet company this season. The company, which had a hit with its early-summer program, returns to the Aspen District Theatre Aug. 24 with a whole different program. The focus, though will be less on the pieces and more on Katie Dehler, whose long tenure as a highly respected member of the troupe comes to a close. The evening comprises three works — Jorma Elo’s “Over Glow,” Nicolo Fonte’s “Where We Left Off” and Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Last” — that put Dehler in the spotlight.

TV: Despite the necessity to go out and do things, there is time for staying put on the couch. “Breaking Bad,” the standard-setting drama series about meth, Albuquerque and family, comes to a close with the final eight episodes. The stretch run begins Sunday, Aug. 11, and continues for seven more Sunday evenings. Count on the big showdown between Walt and Hank.

Visual art: A late addition to the Anderson Ranch Arts Center calendar is a significant one. Christo, the 78-year-old who makes environmental installations in public places, is set to speak on Aug. 23. Bound to dominate the conversation is the current project “Over the River,” which would drape fabric panels over the Arkansas River near Salida, on the other side of Independence Pass.

Festival: Jazz Aspen opened its season big, with a June Festival that featured the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Jackson Browne and the duo of Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite. For the Labor Day Festival (Aug. 30-Sept. 1, Snowmass Town Park), the series takes a big stylistic turn, toward pop and country; headliners include Keith Urban, Jason Mraz and Journey. Possibly the not-to-miss act: the hippie folk-rock of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Written word: Avid readers should get to know the work of Adam Haslett, who will be in residence in September with the Aspen Writers’ Foundation. The 42-year-old has just two books, and both are worthwhile. His 2002 short story collection, “You Are Not a Stranger Here” was a finalist for the National Book Award, and his 2010 novel “Union Atlantic” was translated into 12 languages.

Theater: Charlie Brown strikes out (of course) at the end of the musical “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” but it’s been a home-run season for Theatre Aspen. Most entertaining has been the one-man comedy “Fully Committed,” which, despite its wild pace and virtuoso performance by Matt Bailey, is also a portrait of the modern workplace that should ring true to anyone with a job.

Recording: Summer’s got weeks to go; Jerry Days — the days between the anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s birthday (Aug. 1) and his death (Aug. 9) — are just about to end. One way to celebrate is with “May 1977,” a lavish new package of five complete shows from that magnificent month in Grateful Dead history. Fourteen CDs from a one-week period might seem a lot, but many of the songs were still in the gestation period, and took on a different feel from night to night. And the 5/17 show, from the University of Alabama, is spectacular, topped by monumental versions of “Mississippi Halfstep Uptown Toodleoo” and “Good Lovin.’” On the other hand, this set probably doesn’t represent the best of that month; many Deadheads will argue that 5/8, from Cornell University, which is not included here, was as good as it ever got. And possibly the bigger news is that 8/27/72 from Veneta, Ore., another contender for greatest show ever played, is being released, on CD and as a DVD film, under the title “Sunshine Daydream.” Release date is mid-September.

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