Two summers ago, Jazz Aspen Snowmass had its biggest festival ever, with old favorites Steve Miller, youngster Jack Johnson and middle-of-the-road pop star Sheryl Crow drawing record Labor Day Festival crowds. And who turned in the best performance of that memorable weekend? Robert Randolph. And who is Robert Randolph? The New Jerseyite is the current hero of a style called sacred steel, an up-tempo form of gospel that spotlights the pedal steel guitar. But Randolph and his Family Band, which features two of his cousins, has taken sacred steel to some gloriously unholy places; their Labor Day set included a raucous Hendrix medley and a take on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” The conventional wisdom is that pedal steel is among the hardest instruments to master, but it didn’t seem that way as Family Band members rotated through Randolph’s spot, with the music never flagging. Randolph got a major response as a little-known, Jazz Aspen opening act; he should tear the roof off the Belly Up when he performs there Sunday, Feb. 12.
Nominations for the Academy Awards were announced this week, meaning it’s time for serious filmgoers to get fully up to speed on last year’s best. The local movie houses are being helpful, by holding over several nominees, and even bringing one back for a second run. “Brokeback Mountain,” the tale of an enduring romance between one-time ranch hands, leads the pack with eight nominations; it shows in Aspen and El Jebel. “Capote,” starring best actor favorite Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the multifaced writer Truman Capote, has returned to Aspen. Steven Spielberg’s politically provocative “Munich,” nominated for best picture, shows in El Jebel. “Match Point,” whose best original screenplay caps Woody Allen’s comeback effort, continues its extended run in Aspen. “Syriana,” which earned nominations for supporting actor George Clooney and original screenplay, is at the Crystal in Carbondale. Finally, the Palestinian film “Paradise Now,” contending for best foreign language film, is at the Wheeler Opera House Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 6-7.
If any act has established itself as a regular favorite at Steve’s Guitars, it’s probably Hit & Run Bluegrass Band. The Colorado quintet continues to rise in the acoustic world; their latest trophy is a first-place win at the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music Associations’ 2005 International Band Competition. Their latest CD, “Without Maps or Charts,” was a fine example of contemporary bluegrass. And Hit & Run, led by singer Rebecca Hoggan, continues to get invites to the best festivals and gigs; later this month, they open for Ralph Stanley at the Boulder Theater. And still, they haven’t stopped playing Steve Standiford’s tiny listening room in Carbondale. Winter gigs are harder; not too many fans will sit on sofas outside the shop’s doors, as they do in the warmer months. But inside, the room will be packed and the picking will be hot Thursday, Feb. 9.
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Shopping local is more impactful than ever this holiday season. Aspen Times Arts Editor Andrew Travers has compiled some local shopping suggestions based on what he’s found so far this 2020 giving season.