Gifts, food, trees and decorations are all wonderful things. But for many, the heart of the season means gathering to hear the songs and see the sights of the holidays onstage. Aspen offers no shortage of opportunities. The Wheeler Holiday Community Open House (Sunday, Dec. 11, 3-6:30 p.m.) invites everyone to the opera house for stories, sing-alongs and Santa, plus cookies and cocoa. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s “Nutcracker” (Friday through Sunday, Dec. 16-18, nightly, with matinees Dec. 17-18 at the Aspen District Theatre) tells E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale of wicked rats and dreamy children in spectacular fashion. Colorado songman Jim Salestrom (Friday, Dec. 16, Wheeler) and frequent Aspen visitor Mack Bailey (Thursday, Dec. 15, Snowmass Chapel), both regular participants in the Musical Tribute to John Denver concerts, have worked up sets appropriate to the season; Bailey draws from his new CD, “Star Light.” Theatre Aspen’s stage version of the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” returns (Dec. 20-24, Wheeler), with some cast changes from last year’s debut. The Dickens Carolers do their Victorian take on Christmas songs (Dec. 23-25 in the lobby of the Hotel Jerome). For those with a different idea of the holidays, the local husband-and-wife duo of cantor Rita Shore and pianist Ira Shore do their Magical Moments concert (Dec. 26, Wheeler), a night of Broadway and Jewish tunes.
If you’re from New Orleans and want to ride a family name, you couldn’t choose a better one than Neville. (Unless, perhaps, it was Marsalis.) But Ivan Neville’s associations extend beyond father Aaron, and uncles Art, Charles and Cyril. Neville is a first-call keyboardist, having recorded with the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt and Robbie Robertson. (And Don Henley, Angie Stone and, of course, the Neville Brothers.) Neville has also worked under his own name, most successfully with his solo debut, 1988’s “If My Ancestors Could See Me Now.” The members of Neville’s current band, Dumpstaphunk, likewise have more than one significant connection. Guitarist/bassist Tony Hall and drummer Raymond Weber played in 70 Volt Parade, a project of former Phish leader Trey Anastasio. On guitar is Ian Neville, Art’s son and a guest with numerous New Orleans acts. Apart from his musical skills, Ivan has some New Orleans voodoo power: Presumably, he named his current swing through Colorado the Cold As Funk tour before this cold wave hit. Dumpstaphunk heats up the Belly Up Sunday, Dec. 11.
Three weeks ago, an item in this space marveled about George Clooney’s evolution from a pretty television face to a serious and talented director, with the opening of his film, “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Now comes “Syriana,” perhaps an even bolder stride forward. “Syriana,” which stars and was executive produced by Clooney, is a fierce political thriller about the global oil industry. Directed and written by Stephen Gaugen, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 2000’s “Traffic,” “Syriana” shares a stylistic approach with that film, getting at a complex topic through a variety of lenses: the oil fields of the Persian Gulf, the boardrooms of American oil companies, the lives of individual players and pawns. Clooney may be portrayed as a knee-jerk liberal, but through the war movie “Three Kings” and the statements on journalism in “Good Night, and Good Luck,” he has proved adept at creating art while adding a critical voice to contemporary political issues. “Syriana,” which features Matt Damon, Chris Cooper and Amanda Peet, should add to that reputation.
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Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jacob Best encountered one of the most unique situations he’s seen in 15 years of duty Friday in a high-speed horse pursuit on Interstate 70 near Eagle. The horses escaped from the nearby Eagle County Fairgrounds.