2007: A year in flux for local music scene?
January 5, 2007
With the Belly Up about to enter its third year, Wheeler Opera House director Gram Slaton in his second year, Jazz Aspen Snowmass well established, and Snowmass Village firm in its commitment to be a summer destination for concertgoers, things should be pretty well settled on the local music scene.And yet, as we exit a mostly satisfying 2006, questions abound. At Belly Up, Steve Weiss, who has served as the booking agent pretty much since the clubs opening, has departed. Booking responsibilities are, for the moment, in the hands of club owner Michael Goldberg, assisted by the booker for the Belly Up in Solana Beach, which is owned by Goldbergs brother. How many of the big-name acts appearing at Aspens Belly Up Govt Mule, Seal, B.B. King, Joe Cocker in the last few months alone are attributable to the contacts and savvy Weiss built up in his 20-year career? We may soon find out.Jazz Aspen is coming off a topsy-turvy summer. Its June Festival, generally a calm, sit-down affair aimed toward an older audience, rocked, opening with a surprise hit set by British singer Jamie Cullum, and closing with a monstrous set by former Phish frontman Trey Anastasio. The good times continued through Jazz Aspens CrescentCitySwing benefit, highlighted by New Orleans icon Allen Toussaint. But the summer ended on a low note, with the Labor Day Festival, whose diverse parts country singer LeAnn Rimes, hip-hopper Kanye West didnt quite work. How Jazz Aspen responds will be interesting to see.While the Wheeler aims to pack its calendar with live acts, the widespread appeal of those artists is sometimes questionable, and attendance has been up-and-down.And, as always, the X Games concert lineup is a big, fat question mark. If the organizers follow form, it will remain that way until perhaps a week before the concert, a free one set for Jan. 27 in Wagner Park.Heres what we do know.
Belly Up: If Steve Weiss departure is to have a major effect, it probably wont be evident for a month or more. The clubs schedule is reasonably filled out through mid-February, with the usual combination of promising new names, reliable regulars and a smattering of the truly tantalizing.Among the newcomers are the Beatnuts, the duo of New York hip-hop survivors Psycho Les and Juju, whose recordings dated back to the early 90s (Jan. 11); Rev. Peytons Big Damn Band, a family trio specializing in prewar, Southern blues (Jan. 15); Philadelphia jam-band the Brakes (Jan. 19, opening for Big Head Todd and the Monsters); and Brett Dennen, a promising singer-songwriter whose 2006 debut, So Much More, puts him in the upper tier of acoustic songmakers (March 4, opening for the English Beat).A new face on the Belly Up stage, but hardly a stranger to the valley, is Bla Fleck, the banjo master who leads his quartet, the Flecktones, to two shows on Feb. 8.Making encore appearances at the club are singer-songwriter William Topley (Friday, Jan. 12); all-female AC/DC cover band Hells Belles (Jan. 25); rising bluegrass band the Avett Brothers (Feb. 7); Martin Sexton (Feb. 9); and blues-rockers North Mississippi Allstars (March 5-6). And what would a season be without two-night stands from the Wailers (Jan. 31-Feb. 1) and Neil Diamond tribute act, Super Diamond (Feb. 2-3). Jazz Aspen: If Jazz Aspen retreats after last years Labor Day Festival, it will have to wait till summer. Their Winter Jazz series, in association with the Wheeler, is as strong as its ever been.The series opens with singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli playing his Dear Mr. Sinatra tribute, Jan. 24. Twenty-something vocalist Jane Monheit follows on Feb. 15, and the jazz winds down on a high note, as guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau, touring behind their debut as a recording duo, Metheny Mehldau, land at the Wheeler March 16. Wheeler: Gram Slaton has taken the restraints off dancing at the Wheeler, which should come in handy on Thursday, Jan. 12, when Robert Earl Keen comes to town. Keen is grouped with fellow Texas songwriters as Lyle Lovett and Guy Clark, but as he proved in last years Wheeler gig, Keen cranks up the volume more than the rest.String ace John McEuen is a core member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band family, having worked his way in and out of the Dirt Band for nearly four decades. In his return to the Wheeler (Jan. 20), he comes with a different family, his own. E=mc3 features McEuen and his two sons, Nathan and Jonathan.Saxophonist Karl Denson, who has played Aspen with as a member of the Greyboy Allstars and with his Tiny Universe, arrives with a smaller entourage this time (Feb. 5). His KD3, a trio with keyboard and drums, is as funky as his past groups, but also emphasizes small-group jazz interplay.The Wheeler calendar also features the return of two popular acts: Hitmaker Marc Cohn (Walking in Memphis), on Feb. 9, and singer Kathy Mattea on March 23. New to the area is the Ski Tour, a Honda-sponsored event that brings a combination of downhilling, concerts and commercialism through the Rockies. The Aspen leg of the tour shows at Belly Up (funk pioneers George Clinton & the P-Funk Allstars, with reggae singer Elan opening on Feb. 23, and British jammers Gomez, who made their Aspen debut this past fall, on Feb. 24); at the Sky Bar (DJ Logic on Feb. 23 and model/musician Jillian Ann on Feb. 24); and at the Aspen Recreation Center (reggae singer Sean Paul, Feb. 24).One last question: Why does Breckenridges Ski Tour get Michael Franti & Spearhead (Feb. 3, at BaseCamp Pavilion) and we dont?Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is email@example.com