Aspen’s Core Party Returns, headlined by Nathaniel Rateliff

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats headline Aspen's free Downtown Core Party on Saturday

The large crowd cheers at the first Hi-Fi Concert of the year at the base of Aspen Mountain on Friday, March 25, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Who: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Where: Downtown Aspen Core Party, Paradise Corner

When: Saturday

How much: Free

More info: The party starts in the après hour at 4 p.m. with a beer garden, food trucks and games; Rateliff is expected to take the stage around 8 p.m.;

With a packed crowd of elated locals and tourists singing, dancing, drinking, sledding and skiing to the sounds of California Honey Drops last Friday night on Aspen Mountain for the return of the free Hi-Fi Concert Series, the ski town spring break crowd seemed to finally turn the page and celebrate.

Coming almost exactly two years since the pandemic shut down ski country, the show was not only the Hi-Fi’s long-awaited return to Ajax but also the first major public event here without vaccine checks, masks, distancing and other pandemic-bred public health precautions.

It looked a lot like the before times and felt like it, too, kicking off a week-plus of Spring Jam festivities that will culminate on Saturday with Denver’s Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats playing the Downtown Aspen Core Party.

“This feels like the first taste of the ‘Roaring ’20s’ thing we’ve been waiting for,” the Aspen Daily News columnist and local concert stalwart Lorenzo Semple said amid the crowd pushing up Little Nell, noting that the post-vaccine COVID-19 outbreaks, the war in Europe and the inflation crisis — not to mention the local acrimony over Gorsuch and redevelopment in Aspen — have held back the full-on celebration of life that so many had hoped would follow the pandemic’s worst stretches.

A large crowd dances to The California Honeydrops while skiers enjoy night skiing on Little Nell on Aspen Mountain during the Hi-Fi Concert Series in downtown Aspen on Friday, March 25, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Core Party promises to be the bigger and better next step toward an uninhibited celebration, promising to bring back Skico’s annual block party with a high-profile and beloved headliners in Rateliff and the Night Sweats — there is no better or more popular act out of Colorado right now, and few better bands anyplace in the world.

The show kicks off three nights of Rateliff shows in Aspen, as the free Core Party concert is followed by two sold-out nights at Belly Up Aspen on Sunday and Monday.

The burly and bearded Rateliff is an unlikely and late-blooming rock star.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats at Vail Snow Days in December 2021. (Courtesy photo) (Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily)

Rateliff’s history playing Aspen precedes the formation of the Night Sweats and their breakout self-titled 2015 album, which quickly made them a must-see live act on the national scene. For years before that, as a struggling Denver singer-songwriter and occasional bandleader, Rateliff rolled through Belly Up and other ski town clubs playing to small crowds and finding his way. Once he did land on the swampy retro neo-soul sound, it clicked and fans flocked.

This weekend’s sold-out Belly Up shows continue a run of local sell-outs for Rateliff going back to 2015, when his powerhouse band’s infectious breakout hit “S.O.B.” made them what seemed like an overnight success (he’d actually been at it since the late 1990s in Denver).

Before his first sellout here seven years ago, Rateliff laughed and admitted: “Every other time I’ve been to Belly Up there’s been nobody there.”

As the crowds and stages have gotten bigger, Rateliff and his band appear to get better. Last spring, they played “Saturday Night Live” and this summer they’re going on a massive North American tour that includes two nights headlining Red Rocks Amphitheatre (Aug. 23 and 24).

They released their third full-length album, “The Future,” in November and it’s been well-received, but this is a band that’s made to play live.

Rateliff and his seven-piece band play rock and soul revival music that brings in old styles from boogie-woogie piano to wailing Southern rock, powered by their wall-of-sound compositions and Rateliff’s easy charm, soft-shoeing around the stage or playing the tambourine (he smashed one to bits and tossed another two into the crowd when he played the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience in 2017). They’ll play bluesy party-starters and Muscle Shoals covers and will have fans singing along to slow, sweaty ballads and newcomers converting into fans.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats will headline the Aspen Core Party on Saturday, April 2 followed by two nights of shows at Belly Up Aspen. (Courtesy photo)

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