Aspen entertainment scene jam-packed |

Aspen entertainment scene jam-packed

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times WeeklyAspen, CO Colorado
Contributed photoComedian Bobby Slayton performs Friday, Feb. 22 in the Wheeler OperaHouse's Aspen Laff Festival.

ASPEN – The days are getting longer. The snowpack is getting (ever so slightly) deeper and the surface is softer. The lifts are running later. But the season isn’t getting any longer, so naturally you’re feeling the squeeze to get in your ski runs while the gettin’s good.And while you’re putting in extra time on the slopes, don’t neglect the off-mountain activities. There’s a whole lot of culture to fit in before Aspen shuts down for the spring offseason.Laughs: Despite the rumors, and the apparent ongoing efforts, the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival isn’t coming back to Aspen, at least not this year. While we wait and hope, the Wheeler Opera House’s Aspen Laff Festival (Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 21-23) does an admirable job of ensuring we are not deprived of the best medicine (and pointing out the humorous side of Aspen’s altitude and shortage of black people). The third annual festival closes with the return of Christopher Titus, whose stand-up show, “Neverlution,” was a throwback to the U.S. Comedy Arts Fest years. Leading up to Titus are Colin Quinn, Bobby Slayton, Jake Johanssen and panel shows on elective surgery and Congress and Lady Parts.Dramatic journey: Director Lon Winston leads Thunder River Theatre into the classic Eugene O’Neill landscape of alcohol, dysfunction and the agonies of the Tyrone family of Connecticut, with a staging of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” O’Neill’s autobiographical, Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. The production opens Friday, Feb. 22, with dates through March 9 at Carbondale’s Thunder River Theatre.Flashback: Want to be taken back to the era of classic rock? Or prog-rock, soft-rock? ZOSO promises “the ultimate Led Zeppelin experience” (Sunday, Feb. 24, Belly Up Aspen). English prog-rock pioneers YES, with three original members, play three of their classic albums in their entirety in their Aspen debut, a rare club appearance (March 12, Belly Up). Another group of U.K. origin, America, brings its soft-rock songs (“Ventura Highway,” “Sister Golden Hair”) to town (March 15, Belly Up). Beatles fans have two chances to twist and shout: Doctor Robert, from Crested Butte, plays a free aprs-ski set, Sunday, Feb. 24, at Ajax Tavern, while Beatlemania NOW is featured in a benefit for the Aspen Camp for the Deaf (March 9).Documentary: “Under African Skies” (Wednesday, Feb. 27, Wheeler) is an examination of the politics behind Paul Simon’s 1985 album “Graceland,” which earned criticism for Simon’s apparent breach of the boycott of South Africa. On a more exhilarating note, the film brings back to life the music of “Graceland,” sounding as brilliant as ever.Play Dead: Deadheads have two reasons to bust out the tie-dye. The Mickey Hart Band, led by the former Grateful Dead drummer, plays an up-to-date brand of fusion/funk (March 2. Belly Up). Dark Star Orchestra has done its ultra-faithful recreation of Dead shows past numerous times in the area, but their next appearance here is a nice twist – an all-acoustic show in a theater setting (March 29, Wheeler).Do good: Vital, a nonprofit founded by part-time Aspenite Yvonne Neuman, is launching its local presence with a concert (March 2, Wheeler) by dm Gyrgy, a Hungarian pianist who has made multiple appearances at Carnegie Hall.Kids stuff: Aspen High School takes on the musical “In the Heights” (March 8-10, Aspen District Theatre), an affectionate look at a Dominican-American neighborhood in New York City. The 2008 production took several Tony Awards, including for best musical.Classical music: Conrad Tao (March 16, Wheeler) first came to Aspen as a 10-year-old violin student. How things have changed. Tao has switched instruments, to piano; added composing to his pursuits; and is all grown up (19, actually). And he’s become a classical music star: His compositions have been commissioned by the Hong Kong Philharmonic and Dallas Symphony; Forbes included him in its list of “30 Under 30” young people making an impact on the world; and he was featured in last summer’s season-opening Aspen Music Festival concert. This recital has Tao playing Chopin, Prokofiev, Meredith Monk and Tao’s own “vestiges.”Read: Karen Russell’s “Swamplandia!” tells of the Bigtrees, a family of island-dwelling Florida alligator wrestlers, adapting to changing times. It was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Russell speaks with fellow novelist Elissa Schappell on March 4 in an Aspen Writers’ Foundation Winter Words event at Paepcke Auditorium.Discover: Making their local debuts: Big Easy funk group the New Orleans Suspects (March 6, PAC3, Carbondale); Hammond B3 organist Tony Monaco (March 15-16, JAS Caf Downstairs@the Nell); Andy Grammer (March 27, Wheeler); Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith’s side project, Bombastic Meatbats (March 30, Belly Up); experimental rockers Minus the Bear (April 3, Belly Up); hard rockers Great White (April 5, PAC3); and ’90s hitmakers Soul Asylum (April 12, Belly Up).Drink: The tradition of the end-of-ski-day beer gets elevated with a new event, the Aprs-Ski Cocktail Festival (March 14-17, Snowmass Village). Cocktail gal Kim Haasarud, who has written recipe books on mojitos, margaritas and more, along with other drink experts, lead sippers on a tour of gins, cognacs and single-malt scotches. Also on the menu are fondues, pre-ski fruit smoothies and warm beverages, including hot chocolate that is not necessarily for kids.Leap in: The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet company, already heralded around the world, may just be hitting its stride. It makes its debut in Russia, the motherland of classical dance, next week. Last week, it gave performances in its Aspen hometown that had audiences searching for superlatives. It repeats that program (March 16, Aspen District Theatre) in an evening that might have even more emotional resonance: Sam Chittenden, a company star for 15 years, takes his final bow from the ASFB.Pick: Icons from different ends of the acoustic spectrum – the traditionalist Del McCoury and the envelope-pushing Sam Bush – team up as a duo (March 21, Wheeler).Spring fling: Brett Dennen, the California redhead with a superior batch of songs and an endearingly goofy stage presence, launches springtime in the Rockies with a free outdoor show (March 22, Snowmass Base Village).Flick: Former University of Colorado film student Derek Cianfrance announced himself with 2010’s edgy “Blue Valentine.” He returns with “The Place Beyond the Pines” (released nationally March 29), a hit at the Telluride Film Festival. The film reunites Cianfrance with “Blue Valentine”‘s Ryan Gosling, who plays a motorcycle stunt rider on a collision course with the law. Co-stars include Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes.Jazzed: The buzz is big on Pedrito Martinez (March 29-30, JAS Caf), a Cuban-born percussionist and singer whose regular shows at a New York nightclub have drawn raves. The buzz is also growing on Jazz Aspen’s series of jazz shows at The Little Nell. Rock out: Put the name Robert Earl Keen (March 30, PAC3, Carbondale) on a marquee in this valley, and watch the fans line up for a night of rowdy, Texas-style folk-rock. The 57-year-old singer-songwriter isn’t coasting; his last album, 2011’s “Ready for Confetti,” is on a par with older classics like “Gringo Honeymoon.”Download: John Denver might not have been the epitome of cool while he was alive. But 16 years after his death, his cool factor is about to get a boost. The tribute album “The Music Is You” (April 2 release date) lines up 16 artists with plenty of hip cred: Lucinda Williams, Brett Dennen, Train, Dave Matthews. The album opens with My Morning Jacket doing a stirring version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and closes with Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros’ trippy take on “Wooden Indian.”

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