Aspen Times Weekly cover story: What the hell is going on (this winter)? |

Aspen Times Weekly cover story: What the hell is going on (this winter)?

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times WeeklyAspen, CO Colorado


ASPEN – Remember when the Aspen winter was all about skiing, and culture was something you had to wait till summer for?That line has been greatly blurred (though there still isn’t much skiing in August). Arts and culture of all kinds are abundant this upcoming winter – enough so that there seems to be little consensus on what the season highlights are. The Aspen Times asked a handful of knowledgeable insiders to hand-pick upcoming events, and they couldn’t agree on anything. Their picks ranged from intimate jazz shows to the big Belly Up gigs, small galleries to long-standing community traditions, dance, literary events, comedy, Carbondale’s new bread oven – and repetition was basically nonexistent.Which is another way of saying there’s a lot to choose from.Here’s what the experts (and I) have their eyes on, between now and the end of ski season.

MOMIX, “Botanica” (Jan. 21, Aspen District Theatre, presented by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet). Of all the culture I attend in Aspen, nothing consistently wows me like the ballet. The mix of music, movement and humbling athleticism leaves me bowled over every time. Last summer’s performance by the Brazilian company Cisne Negro was one of the most artistically fascinating spectacles I’ve witnessed in my life. I anticipate something similar from MOMIX – which refers to its dancers as “dancer-illusionists” – when it performs “Botanica.” Set to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and incorporating flora-inspired props, the work suggests the potential of being at once beautiful and surreal. That’s precisely the description of the art I like.Conspirator (Feb. 4, PAC3). Most of us flirting with 40 (OK, so I’ve consummated my relationship) are only vaguely aware that the Roaring Fork Valley is home to a boatload of electronica fans. As it turns out, I’m one of them, despite being a little long in the tooth and having only a few experiences of seeing the music live. Conspirator’s show at Carbondale’s PAC3 will serve as a way to acquaint myself further with the genre as well as with the valley’s newest music venue and a bunch of hip Carbondalians. From what I’ve gathered online, Conspirator creates the expansive sonic landscapes electronica is known for, but via musicians playing live instruments as much they use pre-recorded music. Curtis Stigers (Feb. 10-11, JAS Caf Downstairs @ The Nell. YouTube this cat. Watch him cover John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” or Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.” Then check out his bluesy “This Life,” the theme song to the TV show “Sons of Anarchy.” Stigers plays guitar and saxophone, cycles through jazz, blues, and country/rock as a singer, rolls with whatever genre he wants. The JAS Caf series has for the past two years given Aspen something town has been lacking: a cool, adult jazz scene. But this show also has the potential to rock, making the small-venue experience all the more memorable. Widespread Panic (Feb. 17-19, Belly Up). I’m not a Panic-head, or whatever the band’s fans call themselves, but I can grasp their over-the-moon enthusiasm for seeing their normally big-venue band in the intimate confines of Belly Up. It would be for me as if the Grateful Dead played there in 1987. So while I don’t have a ticket for any of the three shows, I plan to wander by as one of them lets out. Por qu? Because it will offer the biggest opportunity – even more so than a powder day – of seeing people exiting an experience en masse with joy plastered all over their faces. You don’t get to see that every day.

Jane’s Addiction (Dec. 30-31, Belly Up). Even though I’d consider myself a fan, I’ve only seen them once, way back at the very first Lollapalooza. From where I was standing, the stage seemed to be in the next county, and it was still an awesome show. I would imagine that being a bit closer, and 20 years later, would only make it better.The Crystal Palace and Glenwood Vaudeville Revue (Dec. 26, Wheeler Opera House). I lived in Aspen way too long before I saw my first Crystal Palace show. I was avoiding it because I assumed that it was a “tourist” show – kinda safe, middling, generic and milquetoast. Something designed to not ruffle the kinds of people who choose to vacation in Aspen. I was so wrong. It was edgy, brilliant and hilarious, and performed by an incredibly talented cast. I went to every season after that and continued to be impressed. They are missed. Glad they’re coming back to Aspen, if only for a night.Aspen Laff Fest (Feb. 22-25, Wheeler). Hey, who doesn’t love to laff, right? My all-time favorite Aspen event, the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, is long gone, and the Laff Fest is poised to be its successor. Constant thanks to the Wheeler for bringing in up-and-coming comedians from around the country, all in one laff-packed multi-day event.A Nugget Gallery opening. The Nugget Gallery is a little hidden gem of art on the Hymen Avenue Mall. The brainchild of talented local photographer Ross Kribbs, this hallway-turned-gallery is a great showcase for mostly, though not exclusively, photographs. The current show of Roaring Fork Valley photogs opened on 11/11/11, so that’s pretty cool, right? The next one doesn’t seem to be scheduled yet, so you’ll just have to sign up for their mailing list ( to be in the loop.

Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings (Dec. 21-Jan. 1, Harris Hall). I’m a huge fan of a good story, and while I am partial to reading a book, the Academy Screenings provide the opportunity for me to experience a good story through film. I can’t wait to see “Like Crazy” (Dec. 27), and the movie of one of my favorite books by Jonathan Safran Foer, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (Dec. 27).Winterskl (Jan. 11-15). Filling up on hot soups creatively crafted by favorite local restaurants, stepping between giant, ornately sculptured figures of snow, watching the winding river of lights that flows down Ajax, and feeling the deafening booms of champagne fireworks are all activities that define the spirit of an Aspen winter for me – and I love it!March Fourth Marching Band (Jan. 20, Belly Up). To experience this show is to leap into a vaudeville play, complete with stilts, costumes, and high energy marching-band music. Don’t be fooled – the act is beyond entertaining and even those most conservative audience members will find themselves opening up, dancing to the bass drum’s beat, the tri-toms rhythmic groove, and the melodic syncopation of brass. This festive performance is one that cannot be missed.Summit for Life (Saturday, Dec. 10) Every year I look forward to climbing beneath the stars in memory of my Aunt Darby and raising awareness for tissue donation. It’s a wonderful event that enables me to celebrate my health and bear witness to the power of our community coming together to promote a cause and help those less fortunate.

Anderson Ranch Holiday Open House & Open Studios (Tuesday, Dec. 13). An excellent opportunity to see the work of established and emergent artists from far and near and hear them discuss their processes in their studios – as well as to get acquainted with the ranch’s programming and have a great meal to boot.Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (Feb. 17-18, Aspen District Theatre). An evening with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet troupe is one of Aspen’s truly wonderful cultural experiences, and with a new work by a new choreographer, Norbert De La Cruz, and a favorite by the Boston Ballet’s resident choreographer, Jorma Elo – that’s a must- see.Cyrilee Amiee and Diego Figueiredo (Jan. 13-14, JAS Cafe Downstairs @ The Nell). There’s something about a vocal guitar duo that calls to mind (even if it’s just my own) a time when a bossa nova or gypsy melody accompanied by the perfectly mixed cocktail meant you were “in with the in crowd” at the coolest club in town. With the intimate room that the series occupies and the chance to buy in for so little per show, it’s the definition of what people mean by the term “civilized”- and the closest thing to a NYC cabaret as you get at altitude. And what’s cooler than that?Michael Chabon and Andrew Sean Greer (Feb. 21, Wheeler, Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s Winter Words series). The fact is that I don’t read enough fiction anymore, and these two critically lauded writers make me regret it heartily. Getting to hear them compare notes may just be the push I need to make myself make the time to do so.

The Community Oven at the Third Street Center. Not only is it a beautiful pizza and bread oven with a fantastic view of Mt. Sopris, but it is a lovely way to gather community together and have some fun. It gives me one more reason to hang out at the Third Street Center. To find out when the oven is open for baking, become a friend on Facebook under Carbondale Community Oven.The Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus (with a grand opening party on Friday, Dec. 9, 315 E. Main St.). Finally an innovative store that embodies the creativity that abounds in this valley. Featuring local artists and organic fruits and vegetables, it is inspiring to just go in and look around and even more fun to buy knowing you are supporting local artists.Toubab Krewe (January 24, PAC3, Carbondale). The first time I saw them was in Sopris Park for a summer concert just as they were starting out, about four years ago. It was an explosion filled with smiling faces and dancing bodies. They bring together so many cultures and instruments in such an accessible way and the PAC3 stage is going to be a fantastic way to view them. This is going to be one of those special nights.

Believe it or not, I’ve got a few thoughts of my own as to what’s going to rock these next few months.Widespread Panic playing Belly Up (Feb. 17-19) is just huge, cool news – the biggest example yet of the club’s unique ability to attract big acts to a small, off-the-beaten track venue. And I like the fact that the shows come with question marks: Given a $350 ticket, what kind of crowd will show up? How will Panic handle the switch to acoustic instruments? (They played sort-of acoustic back in 1996, at the Wheeler Opera House, and it wasn’t a shining moment, musically.) And with the band staring at a long hiatus following the shows, how will they commemorate the occasion? In any event, I expect it to be memorable.Banjo genius Bla Fleck has appeared in various Aspen venues with various projects, all of them outstanding. But Fleck’s signature group is the Flecktones, and for the first time in ages (possibly the first time ever), the jazz-fusion group appears in Aspen (April 5, Wheeler Opera House) as Fleck originally intended – a quartet with Howard Levy on piano and harmonica. I saw the original lineup last summer in Telluride, and it was everything I hoped for.Two films at Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings stand out. “Young Adult” (Dec. 22) is by Jason Reitman, who polished his directing abilities at Aspen Shortsfest. On feature films, he is three for three: “Thank You for Smoking,” “Juno” and “Up in the Air.” “Young Adult,” which stars Charlize Theron as a self-absorbed woman returning to her Minnesota hometown hoping to rekindle a past relationship, pairs Reitman with “Juno” screenwriter Diablo Cody. Word is that “Shame” (Dec. 29) is an unsettling film with an unforgettable performance by Michael Fassbender as a New Yorker with dark sexual habits.Apparently a Thai restaurant – Bangkok Happy Bowl – will open next to Clark’s Market in January. Even if it’s not on a par with Carbondale’s extraordinary Phat Thai, I will consider my New Year off to a great start if they’ve got a good green curry.Novelist Ann Patchett can do no wrong in my book – or in hers. She’s also a charming speaker, not something that can be said for all writers. She opens the Writers’ Foundation’s Winter Words series on Feb. 7 at the Wheeler.After a year off, it’s nice to see the return of the Aspen Music Festival’s Winter Music series to Harris Hall. A highlight will be Jonathan Biss (March 15); the young pianist plays a program of Beethoven sonatas, including the “Moonlight.”

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