Asher on Aspen: A love letter to Belly Up Aspen

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen
Gogol Bordello at Belly Up (Michael Goldberg/Courtesy photo)

It’s 3:30 p.m. on a Tuesday in the spring of 2019. I anxiously wait for the Goldbergs to enter the room. They shuffle in a few minutes late and request we get right down to it. Belly Up is preparing for its weekly booking meeting to rehash shows from the week before and discuss the ones to come. Any music lover would kill to be a fly on the wall as we confer about the highs and lows of live music. We touch on everything from production, hospitality, touring schedules, competing events, predicted audiences and even the artist’s entourage. Despite the intense pressure of these meetings, I always secretly look forward to them.

That was the intense and thrilling weekly scene at Belly Up when I worked in the booking department of the world-renowned Aspen music club. I’ve been thinking about those meetings a lot lately, with Belly Up closed due to the pandemic and with music buoying me through the challenges of the ongoing universal crisis.

It was here where my co-worker’s affinities for different genres of music would shine through. It was here where we decided if we would book a band again. And if we booked them again, would we raise the ticket prices? It was here where we uncovered holes in touring schedules to determine whether a band could make a detour to Aspen to squeeze in another show. It was here where we chatted covertly about the progress of booking enormous bands.

It was here where Belly Up history was made.

There was one meeting, in particular, that I will never forget. I almost cried when given the chance to share my opinion on The Head and the Heart’s performance in March 2019. The band’s music had reached into my soul and struck every emotional chord, revved me up in a reckless and refreshing way. It literally moved me to tears. It was a high that I had yet to come down from days later. The way their music, the way it hit my soul—well, let’s just say I’m still recovering. I tried to put that into words for the Belly Up team.

Working as the booking coordinator at Belly Up was the single most stressful, intense and demanding job I’ve ever had. Yet, it was also the most rewarding. The chaotic build-up of booking a show all proved to be worth it once I went downstairs at the end of the day to experience the emotional and physical rush that is live music. For me, music is like the center of everything. It’s something that binds people together through centuries. It has this remarkable ability to work wonders on mental health and, in some cases, I think it’s better than therapy.

When I first heard “The White Album” as a teenager, it was the best thing I had ever heard. And having done ballet all my life, I had listened to a lot of Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven. This album, to me as an adolescent, was on par with the greatest music in history. Upon discovering The Beatles, I began to understand what the word “timeless” meant. It meant that this same music could be dropped into the 24th Century and would still have the same, intoxicating effect on people.

There’s no denying that 2020 was a hard year. It was lonely, challenging and downright boring at times. Often, music is the only thing that got me through. Spotify recently created a playlist for me with my most listened to songs this past year – undoubtedly the songs that spoke to me the most. The playlist was chock full of timeless artists like Janis Joplin, The Band, Johnny Cash, Stevie Nicks, The Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt and Elvis Presley Newer artists like Tyler Childers, Lukas Nelson, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Rüfüs Du Sol, and Paul Cauthen were on there as well.

My closest friends are beautiful music freaks with incredible taste. I tend to befriend people who introduce me to good music. The kind of music that transforms my day from mindlessly melancholy to terrifyingly riveting. That leaves me awe-struck and ridiculously inspired, time and time again. Friends reveal their true colors when they share a song with me that moves them. I get to peek inside their mind, for a moment, and experience what they’re feeling without them having to say a word. Deeper and more intense, that friend now has a lot more to say. I connect with people on a much deeper and profound level when we bond over lyrics and melodies.

I know we all miss live music and Belly Up a little extra right now. But what if we used this time to appreciate and discover the musicians who have gone before us? The greats. The original influencers. The legends. What if we challenged ourselves to listen to music outside of Top 40 radio? To admire the sensuous stride of Etta James, the keening metal sound of Muddy Water’s slide guitar, and the serene loneliness of Frank Sinatra’s voice. The next time you find yourself in a heated debate about what is considered good music—have something to say. Seeing as how we all have a little extra time right now, why not use this time to acknowledge the music that galvanized the musicians of our generation?

The music that saved me this year is a mix tape of eternal classics. The tunes that take me to a different place, sometimes a different world—that put me under a spell, a trance, a high, whatever you want to call it, is what gets me through the highs and lows and the ebbs and flows of life. Being under the influence of good music is what gets me through the good and the bad times. We all need good music more than ever right now to prove that we’re not alone in this crazy world.

I can live without a lot of things, but music most certainly is not one of them.