On his website, Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen issued an apology to fans less than satisfied with his New Years Eve show. Having seen his performance a year ago at the Wheeler Opera House, it was mind-boggling to consider that Keen had given less than his all on New Years Eve, and at the Austin Music Hall, in his quasi-hometown of Austin, Texas, no less. Further reading revealed the problems were not with the music, but with inadequate concessions and services. Youd be hard-pressed to find anyone critical of the effort Keen gives onstage. In terms of popularity, he is second to his former Texas A&M classmate, Lyle Lovett, but Keen takes a back seat to no one as a live act. His gig last January ended with the raucous The Road Goes On Forever, one of the most rocking moments in Wheeler history. Keen returns to the Wheeler on Thursday, Jan. 12, and while one expects the venue will be adequately stocked, its hard to imagine fans fretting too much over a shortage of M&Ms. It should be noted, Keen offered snackless fans from New Years Eve a free copy of his new Live at the Ryman a fine CD, no doubt, but no substitute for the singer in person.
No doubt Winterskl, Aspens annual midwinter celebration, benefits somehow from the sponsorships of Mens Health magazine and Lufthansa Airlines. (How the first Winterskl, in 1951, managed without is a mystery.) Surely some fitness-conscious males will take the opportunity to chill out at the Mens Health Village, as the events literature puts it. And someone, somewhere will be lured by the opportunity to dine on selections from Lufthansas Star Chefs menu at the Lufthansa warming tent. (Mmmm, airplane food …) But the best parts of Winterskl remain the most anti-commercial. Soupskl (Friday, Jan. 12) has diners wandering downtown, grubbing on free samples of soup from numerous local restaurants. Wintersculpt adorns the pedestrian malls with ambitious, imaginative snow sculptures. New this year is the Wheeler Opera Houses Air Guitar Nation (Thursday, Jan. 11), featuring a competition (the top prize, a ski helmet with built-in MP3 capacity, shouldnt draw out the professionals) and a screening of an air-guitar documentary. On the other hand, the Armani Code Fireworks Viewing Party at The Little Nell hotel is by-invitation-only but those not on the guest list are free to look up into the sky over Aspen Mountain anyway (Saturday, Jan. 13).
The Aspen Writers Foundation Winter Words series opens Monday, Jan. 8, at the Sky Hotel with poet Yusef Komunyakaa. Komunyakaas poetry, set down in 12 volumes, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Neon Vernacular, is instantly accessible. The 59-year-old Louisiana native writes about issues the African-American experience, father-son relationships of concern to any American. Two subjects that Komunyakaa consistently returns to, the Vietnam War and jazz music, are used especially well to illuminate emotion. Winter Words continues with five more events through mid-March; featured writers include Colum McCann, Gretel Ehrlich, Lisa Lee and Ana Castillo.