Fall harvest: Plenty to see, hear and do in Aspen this offseason
September 24, 2009
ASPEN – Worried about getting bored before the ski lifts get cranked up? No need; Aspen is quiet, but far from a cultural dead zone this autumn. We’ve got the genius behind “Juno,” noodles, a hit of Zappa, a ton of movies, Christmas songs from a most unlikely caroler, and not one but two monumental stage works from the early ’60s to keep us occupied.
Harald Neuweg knows how to throw an Oktoberfest. The Austrian native has hosted a fall bash at his Florida restaurant, Fritz & Franz, for 15 years; last year’s party drew 16,000 over 10 days. Neuweg throws a scaled-down version in his first year as owner of Aspen’s Weinerstube, but the three-day event features everything one would expect of an Oktoberfest: yodeling and brat-eating contests; seasonal beers including Warsteiner’s Oktoberfest and Knig Ludwig’s weissbier; off-menu items like Bavarian beef stew and the roasted chicken dish wiesn hendl; and music by the lederhosen-clad trio, Those Austrian Guys. Admission is free; if all goes well, Neuweg would love to expand his Oktoberfest into a street party.
Most theatergoers will come to the Thunder River Theatre Company’s production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” with thoughts of Mike Nichols’ 1966 film in mind. Which is fine with Lon Winston, who directs for Thunder River. It will be that much easier to surprise and delight his audience. Winston says that the film sucked vital elements, especially the ironic humor, out of playwright Edward Albee’s stage version. Those expecting merely the self-delusion and corrosive take on American romance that dominated the film should be in for something different.
Fluff the pillows, stock up on the popcorn, gather round the TV set – and engage your mind and spirit. America’s best documentarian, Ken Burns, is back, giving the country’s national park system his typically expansive and emotional examination. “The National Parks” features six two-hour episodes; among the viewing options is watching six consecutive nights at 8 p.m. beginning Sunday, Sept. 27.
Diana Jones was born in New York, and came to country music during her high school years on Long Island. Not exactly the stuff of country legends. But Jones, who was raised by adoptive parents, later learned that her birth family came from Tennessee, and that her biological grandfather had been a noted musician who played with Chet Atkins. It’s a strong case for the genetics of musicianship; Jones, now based in Nashville, seems to come by her old-timey voice and songs as a birthright. Her recent CD, “Better Times Will Come,” is a heartfelt throw-back.
The multitudes who lament that Harper Lee never wrote another book after her debut, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” should be grateful. For one, it’s possible (probable? certain?) that Lee would never equal her 1960 masterpiece, which stands the test of time (not to mention the lines of age, race and region). For another, the world almost didn’t get even “To Kill a Mockingbird”: Lee, in the midst of her seven-year process of distilling her thoughts on justice, childhood, the Deep South and generational traditions into a book, once chucked her pages into the New York City snow before an editor brought her back to her senses.The National Endowment for the Arts celebrates the 50th anniversary of Lee’s novel by naming it the subject of its Big Read. Locally, the Aspen Writers’ Foundation spearheads the observation with a slew of discussions, readings, screenings of the 1962 film version and more. It begins with a theatrical adaptation by the Montana Repertory Theatre on Monday, Sept. 28 at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House.Those who haven’t encountered the story in a few decades are in for a treat: “To Kill a Mockingbird” is every bit as good as your ninth-grade English teacher said it was.
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Attendees to Aspen Filmfest ’09 can take their eyes off the screen occasionally: Highlights of the 31st annual Filmfest include in-person appearances by Stanley Tucci, co-star of the current hit “Julie & Julia”; rising actress Paula Patton, who plays a vital role in the Sundance Audience Award winner “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”; and Jason Reitman, who honed his directing skills at Aspen Shortsfest and demonstrated what he learned with the Oscar-winning “Juno.” Those glued to the screen can look forward to Michael Moore’s latest rage against the machine, “Capitalism: A Love Story”; the animated Australian film “Mary and Max”; the coming-of-age British film “An Education”; and Reitman’s “Up in the Air,” starring George Clooney as a traveling executive obsessed with frequent flier miles.Also: a community drama set in post-war Bosnia; a documentary about the late U.N. diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello; a Czech farce about marital infidelity; and a ski film set on Everest by local adventurer Mike Marolt.
Even those who know Margaret Cho and are her uncensored take on sex and her own sordid past, might not be fully prepared for her Belly Up debut (Oct. 6). Cho comes armed not only with off-color humor, but bellydancing moves, tattoos that cover 20 percent of her body, and songs like “Eat Shit and Die” from her upcoming CD, “Guitarded.”More predictable, but no less pointed and funny, is Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa (Nov. 24), which has the guitarist resurrecting Father Frank’s satiric, virtuosic material. The younger Zappa earned a Grammy for his recording of his dad’s instrumental masterpiece, “Peaches en Regalia.”Other Belly Up highlights: reggae singer Buju Banton (Oct. 7); New Jersey alt-rockers Yo La Tengo (Oct. 11); electro-instrumentalists Lotus (Oct. 15); resurrected rhythm rockers Rusted Root (Oct. 20); Wu-Tang rapper Ghostface Killah (Oct. 29); reggae princes Julian Marley & the Uprising, with Stephen Marley (Oct. 31); SoCal rockers Slightly Stoopid (Nov. 10); and the local debut of hip-hopper Warren G (Nov. 20).
Welcome news on the culinary front: Aspen gets an Asian noodle shop. It’s about time; New York City’s hottest restaurant has been a noodle shop – Momofuku Noodle Bar – for six years. Noodles by Kenichi offers a newfangled twist, as the dishes are pitched for the blood type of the individual diner. But it doesn’t ditch the affordability of the traditional noodle; a customized bowl – pick your own noodle, sauce, veggies, etc. – goes for $8.50 (and build your own salads are $7.50). Noodles by Kenichi is set to open in the new Fat City Plaza, a promising underground spot next to Boogie’s with a handful of businesses squeezed into small spaces. The restaurant has 16 seats inside, with another 20 outdoors.
Aspen’s art scene tends to look beyond our borders. Visions West is a reminder of just where we are. The group exhibition focuses on Western icons – cowboys and horses, mountains and metal – with work by locals Roger Davis, Michael Kinsley, Linda Loeschen, Roberta McGowan and Bill Smith.The Red Brick takes the other extreme with its November show, Eastern Flair, which spotlights Asian-inspired work. Among the artists is Calvin Lee, who has studied in China and uses calligraphy strokes in his art.
Filmfest is only the beginning of the feast of films filling the Wheeler in the fall. The Wheeler Film Series has six movies on its October schedule alone.The schedule kicks off Oct. 5-6 with the wonderful offbeat romantic comedy “(500) Days of Summer.” Also on the calendar: the Oscar-winning Japanese drama “Departures” (Oct. 12-13); “Humpday,” an edgy take on male-on-male sexuality (Oct. 14-15); “World’s Greatest Dad,” starring Robin Williams and written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (Oct. 19-21); “Bright Star,” Jane Campion’s drama based on the romantic life of 19th century poet John Keats (Oct. 25-27); and “Unmistaken Child,” a documentary about a Tibetan monk’s search for his teacher that has earned awards from Boston to Israel (Oct. 28-29).
Not everything coming out of Los Angeles is all slicked up and pre-packaged. WPA is a folk-rock group that grew out of a community of musicians who congregated at the L.A. club Largo. The leaders of the pack – Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket, Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek and Luke Bulla, fiddler from the Jerry Douglas Band – come to the Wheeler for the group’s Aspen debut. Their self-titled album, featuring WPA collective members Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), and Davey Faragher and Pete Thomas (seen backing Elvis Costello at the Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival), was released this week.Another new face coming to the Wheeler with new songs is New York singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson (Oct. 18), whose autobiographical album “Everybody” was released in late August.Making a welcome return to the Wheeler is the exceptional Irish-American quintet, Solas (Nov. 7).
The Aspen Poets’ Society is very much alive, and celebrates its third anniversary with a special event. All local writers and poets are encouraged to participate in the open mike portion of the program, and there should be an extra dose of musical performances.Roaring Fork Open, opening with a reception on Oct. 29, Aspen Art MuseumThe excessive wealth of the Roaring Fork Valley – the artistic riches, that is – is celebrated as 125 local artists show their stuff in the Aspen Art Museum’s 29th annual Roaring Fork Open. The museum expands artistic boundaries with a series of performances – comedy, music, theater, readings – arranged by local talent.No need to wait till the Roaring Fork Open to make a visit to the museum. The knock-out exhibition Fred Tomaselli, a mid-career survey of the Brooklyn artist, is on view through Oct. 11. Art fan or not, fan of the local art museum or not, this is an eye-opener.
When Aspen Community Theatre first staged “The Music Man,” in 1978, there might have been some resonance between the musical’s innocent River City and Aspen – if not in fact, then at least in recent memory. Aspen’s status as a place untouched by the larger world is now well in the past, but the charms of Meredith Wilson’s 1957 Tony-winner – the budding romance between librarian Marian and con-man Harold Hill, songs like “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Till There Was You” (the only Broadway tune covered by the Beatles), and the “Trouble” scene – endure. John Goss directs and choreographs; Mike Monroney and Nikki Boxer star as Harold and Marian.
On the screen: “A Serious Man” (opening nationally Oct. 2), a black comedy by the Cohen brothers, set in the Midwest of 1967; “Nine” (Nov. 25), a musical take on Fellini’s “8 1/2,” by “Chicago” director Rob Marshall”On your iPod: “Monsters of Folk” (released this week), a collaboration featuring Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes and Jim James of My Morning Jacket; “Christmas in The Heart” (Oct. 13), a set of traditional Christmas tunes by Bob Dylan (ne Robert Zimmerman); “How I Got Over” (Oct. 13), by hip-hop group the Roots and inspired by the conclusion of the Bush presidency; and “By a Thread” (Oct. 27), from hard-jammers Gov’t Mule.firstname.lastname@example.org