Asher on Aspen: An evening with Gary Clark Jr.
Texas guitarist makes 10th appearance at Belly Up
Asher on Aspen
It’s a quarter past midnight, but Gary Clark Jr. wants to keep going.
The guitar-slinging blues-rocker is standing in the center of a darkened Belly Up stage on a recent Friday night in Aspen. Never wanting it to end, the crowded venue went wild for the encore. Clark strolled across the stage with his laid-back, stylish demeanor and wailing electric guitar. The audience couldn’t help but close their eyes and sway their hips to his melodic grooves while embracing the last few songs of the evening. Enamored by his presence, it felt like everyone was on the same page, and no one wanted it to end.
Originally from Austin, Texas, the 39-year-old headliner is celebrated for his style of fusing blues, rock, and soul while adding elements of hip hop. Many fans would consider him the closest thing we have to a modern-day Hendrix. Music enthusiasts consider him to be one of the last real rock gods, along with fellow master guitarists like Jack White, John Mayer, or the late, great Prince.
It’s pretty incredible that a musician of this magnitude is still playing an intimate, 450-person venue while he is simultaneously selling out stadiums and world tours. Just the other week, I had the privilege of seeing him at the Hollywood Bowl for Willie Nelson’s 90th birthday, where he performed with Leon Bridges to a crowd of 17,000.
Clearly, there’s something about Belly Up that has stuck with him. Maybe it’s the close connection with the crowd, the way the acoustics sound in that room, or maybe it’s the people he’s met in Aspen along the way. Regardless, it’s obvious he’s a fan of the venue. This show marked his 10th performance on the Belly Up stage, with his first show dating back to July 2014.
The audience was fired up from the start, and Clark wasted no time in giving the crowd exactly what they came for. For roughly the first five minutes of the show, the lights stayed low as he passionately poured his heart out into his guitar while making it look effortless.
He and his four-piece band took the stage and tore into what is considered his signature song, “Bright Lights,” with many in the crowd holding up their phones to capture the moment. This was followed by a couple rowdier crowd pleasers, “Keep it Up Now” and “Travis County Line.” As the set moved along, he shuffled around the stage, revealing his guitar skills and interacting with the fans. He and his band worked together like a well-oiled machine, and it was exciting to watch their chemistry onstage.
The venue’s cozy, intimate atmosphere prompted a moment of authenticity in the crowd. Clark spotted a woman on the dance floor and stared her up and down. With his left hand on his hip and a baffled face expression, he looked down and pointed at her T-shirt. “I’m going to show up the next time you’re fly fishing, and wear a shirt that says, ‘I’d rather be on stage right now,'” he said as he chuckled at his own joke. The audience broke out in laughter, and I think everyone appreciated the organic moment.
He broke from his possession, “How you feeling, Belly Up? It’s good to be here. It’s good to be back,” he said while casting a grin. It was at some point during the second half when he slowed the tempo for “I Walk Along,” from his 2019 album “This Land,” and the romantic slow jam “Our Love” soon followed. The deep-pitted, emotional soul-cleansing continued, and I never wanted it to end. He continued to impress the audience with “Church,” where he showcased his impressive vocal range. I slowly grew hypnotized by his falsetto. Looking around, I was relieved to see that it wasn’t just me. Everyone was completely transfixed by his talent. I put my hand to my chest and closed my eyes while moving back and forth with the vibrations.
Clark and his band were electric from the moment they hit the stage at 10:15 p.m. They delivered a lively, two-hour show that displayed the range of the native Austinite’s ample talents and his compelling presence as a live performer. While it was a gift seeing him perform at the Hollywood Bowl, watching him perform at Belly Up in a venue with such close proximity was a different experience entirely.