Aspen turns out to help fire victims |

Aspen turns out to help fire victims

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Aspen turned out last night for what may have been one of the more casual and eclectic concerts of the season ” the Back from the Ashes benefit for victims of the Castle Ridge fire at the Wheeler Opera House.

“It’s going to be a little sloppy around the edges, a little raggedy,” warned Gram Slaton, Wheeler Opera House executive director, prior to the concert. “But that’s what happens when you put an event together in six days.”

But if concertgoers minded the low-key tone of the evening, they weren’t showing it. Moving freely between the bar, the concert and the silent auction, a crowd wearing everything from dresses to running clothes mingled, bid on soft-shell jackets and snowmobile tours, and eventually wandered upstairs to listen to music.

Performers included local musicians Jimmy Ibbotson, Bobby Mason and John Oates; Aspen Music Festival students; local Celtic-music ensemble The Crowlin Ferlies and Aspen comedians Beth Brandon, Mark Thomas and Don Chaney ” a lineup Slaton called “everything from the legends of rock and roll … to just plain folks in the community.”

Down at the bar, a duct-tape note over the menu said “Local’s special.” More duct tape on the sign had been used strategically to lower prices or invent new drinks. The bartenders had all donated their time to the event, and 100 percent of the proceeds from the bar went to help the Castle Ridge fire victims.

Upstairs, the performers were donating their time as well.

“When you have trouble in your town, everyone does what you can,” said Alan Fletcher, president of the Aspen Music Festival and School, noting that the musicians had music to give.

By 9:15 p.m., approximately 350 people had arrived, with more trickling in every few minutes.

The June 10 fire, started by a cigarette, burned quickly through the 100 building of Castle Ridge Apartments, an affordable housing complex adjacent to Aspen Valley Hospital. All 10 units in the building were destroyed,

Victims of the fire ” many of whom escaped with only the clothes on their back ” said they have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of community support.

“At times I’m often speechless about this,” said former Castle Ridge resident C.J. Monaco, who said people continue to ask her what she needs. “The support is unreal,” she added. “This town has really come together and helped us out.”

In the lobby of the Wheeler Opera House, former Castle Ridge resident Scott March walked up to Mark Skluzack ” the man who woke him up during the fire ” to thank him.

“You pounded on my door, man. 109,” he said.

Skluzak, who lives in another Castle Ridge building, had just gotten off a bus the night of the fire when he saw a glow that he initially attributed to a grill. When he realized the building was on fire, he called 911.

But the fire was spreading so fast, he soon realized he needed to start pounding on doors ” and those in the building say he saved their lives.

Looking around him on Wednesday night, Skluzak was emotional.

“This is a hell of a lot better than funerals,” he said.

Aspen residents, businesses and institutions were so generous, that planning the event became more about managing an embarrassment of riches than scrambling around to get folks to help, Slaton said.

First, he had to see if he could get the Wheeler Opera House “back” from the Aspen Music Festival and School, which uses it for their performances during the summer. However, when he called Matthew Loden, director of operations for the music school, Loden said music school staff had just been discussing what it could do for the fire victims.

Needless to say, the festival happily handed over the Wheeler Opera House, and Slaton went to work finding entertainment.

The first performer he called was Oates.

“Seriously, his only question was what time is it and how many songs can I play,” Slaton said, adding that all the performers had a similar reaction.

“It just fell into place all so quickly, it was just painless,” he said. In fact, so many performers offered their services, he eventually had to start turning people down.

The same thing happened when he began soliciting for donations: At 70 auction items, he had to start refusing, for fear people would be completely overwhelmed by the number of items.

Still, Slaton acknowledged that the event has been a lot of work, joking that “you don’t even want to know” what the last week has been like.

By the beginning of the concert, Slaton was ready for the music to begin ” encouraging concertgoers not to dwell on the fire, but to enjoy the evening’s offerings.

“What we want this evening to be is a real celebration of life, a celebration of gathering together,” he said. “It’s all good, it’s all Aspen.”