Crystal Palace founder Mead Metcalf looks back in new memoir
Aspen Historical Society to host ‘The Music Man’ book-signing on Tuesday
What: Mead Metcalf ‘The Music Man’ book-signing
Where: Wheeler/Stallard Museum
When: Tuesday, Aug. 17, 4 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: aspenhistory.org
When Aspen icon Mead Metcalf returned in early 2020 for a reunion and performance of his Crystal Palace performers, he stopped by the rubble on the site of the classic Hyman Avenue dinner theater he oversaw for 51 years, where construction of a new boutique hotel was underway.
“We had tears in our eyes watching the drump trucks,” Metcalf writes in a new memoir, due for publication Tuesday, later adding: “Even thought the Palace had closed 10 years earlier, it was still bittersweet to witness the end of an era.”
But what an era it was, and what a run Metcalf had at the helm of his irreverent and popular dinner theater from the Eisenhower era to the dawn of the Obama years.
“Looking back 63 years, it’s hard to imagine that a 25-year-old college graduate, newly arrived in Aspen, could open a business and see it succeed for more than five decades,” he writes in “The Music Man.”
Metcalf, best known for satirizing current events and performing “The Peanut Butter Affair,” opened the theater in 1957 and closed it in 2008. He opens the memoir by recounting how people in Europe, Asia and South America have recognized him as the “peanut butter on your chin” singer over the years.
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“We had done something right to be remembered so fondly in all corners of the globe,” he writes.
More than the surprise business success, though, the memoir — written with assistance from Dexter Cirillo — captures how the casts and staffs at the theater became a family and became a bedrock of the Aspen community. Metcalf is celebrating the book’s release Tuesday with a book-signing and party at the Aspen Historical Society, where many Palace alum now lead interpretive history programs.
‘The Music Man: My Life and Times at Aspen’s Crystal Palace’
Mead Metcalf, as told to Dexter Cirillo
235 pages, hardcover; $98
Memory Works Publishing, August 2021
“Not only did the Palace provide entertainment and good food or 51 straight years — a record for any (restaurant) business in Aspen — but we became a close-knit family bound by affection and trust that survives to the present,” he writes.
The book is peppered with fond and funny first-person accounts by Palace veterans and with the lyrics of classic Palace original songs like “Scotch on the Rocks” (popularized by Metcalf’s first wife, Joanie) in the early ’60s, “The Neighborhood Porno Lady” and “The Watergate Tap.”
“He created a place to work in which people’s lives became quite intertwined,” writes pianist and Palace alum David Dyer, “resulting in a true extended family. Those relationships are worth more than gold, and we are the richer for being a part of such a special working environment.”
Lavishly illustrated with photos and printed in coffee table book style, the memoir tracks Metcalf’s life back to boyhood in Missouri in a non-musical family, to his time as a student at Dartmouth College, through his years abroad in the military performing in Germany and Austria (some of his first postwar music gigs were at Adolf Hitler’s former “Eagles Nest,” which was requisitioned as a U.S. Army recreation center).
Metcalf covers it all in the book, writing about his “several” wives, the talents who he recruited to come to Aspen — Broadway-bound performers like Beth Malone and writers like “Newsical” creator Rick Crom among them — and his business moves including his key $28,000 purchase of the Palace building in 1960, and his meticulous work collecting and installing the stained glass — more than 100 pieces he found across the Midwest — throughout the property.
A college road trip to Aspen in 1951, when he and a friend listened to a concert on the lawn at the original Music Tent, hooked him on the place he’d eventually call home.
“It was heaven,” he writes. “I loved Aspen, I loved the music, and I hoped to return.”
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