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Current Events

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The annual Musical Tribute to John Denver has shifted into a lower gear 11 years after the death of the Aspen and folk-music icon. There are no high-profile stars like Vince Gill and Kathy Mattea, who have appeared as guest artists in recent years. But the real attraction of the shows have always been Denver’s songs, the singer’s environmental and political legacy, and the gathering of friends and fans. There should be no shortage of any of the above: Former Denver bandmates and co-writers, including guitarist Pete Hutlinger, keyboardist/musical director Chris Nole, and Roaring Fork Valley fiddler John Sommers, are among the musicians performing the familiar hits, and Denver’s uncommonly devoted fans will no doubt swarm to attend the concerts, sing at the John Denver Sanctuary, and do an environmental good deed while here. The concerts, with proceeds going to Challenge Aspen, are Friday and Saturday, Oct. 10-11 at the Wheeler Opera House.

Larry Charles said his impulse for directing “Religulous” was to see if he could make a “Saturday night date movie about religion.” Judging by the waves of laughter at Aspen Filmfest, Charles’ film ” which follows comedian/commentator Bill Maher around the globe ” has succeeded. Who knew a documentary that probes into the deeply held beliefs of the world’s organized religions and their followers could generate laughs of biblical proportion? Or possibly be 2008’s funniest comedy? Leave it to Maher, the cynical, B.S.-busting host of HBO’s “Real Time,” and Charles, director of “Borat,” to make a movie this hilarious, this smart. “Religulous,” which is showing in Aspen, isn’t so much an attack on organized religion as it is a thoughtful assault on the things people do and say in the name of religion. Maher can’t help but point out the contradictions of certain belief systems and the hypocrisy of those who claim to be faithful followers. For many, that makes him an unwelcome preacher of blasphemy. For everyone else, he is a refreshing prophet.

The obvious touchstone for the Austin quintet the Gourds is the Band ” there is the combination of mandolin and organ, the shuffling country-rock beats, the glance back at old America and Old Testament. But the Gourds have added their own flavors of dark comedy and bright lap steel, and on 2007’s “Noble Creatures,” they included the sweet, nostalgic, straightforward love ballad “Promenade” ” which counts as going out on a limb for them. So taken with the new dimension, they followed up with more slow, stirring songs like “Steeple Full of Swallows” and “Last Letter,” making their ninth studio recording a new kind of album for the decade-old band. Still, figure for there to be plenty of rollicking stompers when the Gourds play Belly Up on Wednesday, Oct. 8. Colorado bluegrass band Whitewater Ramble opens.

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