Fast start for Aspen summer of arts |

Fast start for Aspen summer of arts

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesSteve Molitz, keyboardist of the techno-jam band Particle, performing at last weekend's Snowmass Chili Pepper & Brew Fest.

ASPEN – Damn the weather and screw the economy. Aspen’s arts season is off to a flying start on the artistic side, with exceptional showings in music, theater, visual arts and literature. Impressive, considering that Jazz Aspen Snowmass, the Aspen Music Festival, Theatre Aspen, the Snowmass Free Music Series and the Aspen Writers’ Foundation have yet to kick off their summer offerings.The early harvest began with a new event, the Aspen Fringe Festival. Presented by Pegasus Repertory Theatre, the festival was small in scope, with two contemporary plays, each performed twice. But the talent was huge, and the vision is promising.The Aspen Fringe opened at Aspen High School’s Black Box Theatre with “I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me By a Young Lady from Rwanda.” Sonja Linden’s two-person drama, about a relationship between a female survivor of Rwanda’s civil war and a British poet, was brought fully to life by the actors, Don Mackay (a co-director, with Aspenite David Ledingham, of Pegasus) and Hilary Ward. Beneath the surface story of the woman’s struggle to get her horrific experiences down on the page, the play explored personal insecurities, cultural differences and the power of the written word.I missed the other play, “Almost, Maine,” but was encouraged to hear that both performances of the John Cariani comedy sold out. And though word is that the play was hysterically funny, I have little qualm about skipping it, thanks to the Snowmass Chili Pepper & Brew Fest.Snowmass Village’s season-opening event got off to an inauspicious start. Rain and cold hovered over the outdoor festival, and my experience was further dampened by getting caught up in the minor circle of hell of volunteering to be a judge for the International Chili Society competition, red chili division. It took 45 minutes of instruction before we could judge the chili – an endeavor I have spent my life preparing for. Eventually, I got around to my sweet reward – bowls of chili, most of it excellent – but I walked away muttering the line spoken by both Holocaust survivors and chili judges: Never again.The savior, as it often is, was the music. Colorado’s Leftover Salmon, despite being a five-gigs-a-year group these days, turned in a powerful Friday night set. And this wasn’t just powerful in their usual, bluegrass-meets-zydeco-meets-rock way. With Karl Denson guesting on saxophone and flutes, Leftover turned a corner into the funk realm for much of the night.Saturday night’s headliner, moe., made the 13-year wait between area gigs worth the wait. In the interim, the upstate New York quintet has turned itself into a fine rock band, fueled by the guitarists Chuck Garvey and Al Schnier. But the buzz of the weekend was provided by Particle, a techno-groove threesome fortified by a host of guest musicians, including mandolinist Michael Kang of String Cheese Incident and guitarist Josh Clark of Tea Leaf Green. Playing long, but always focused, instrumental jams, and making it evident how much joy they put into and got out of the music, Particle left its mark on Fanny Hill.At Belly Up Aspen on Tuesday night, nobody seemed to mind that the Jimmy Herring Band didn’t play the blues-based, Southern jams of guitarist Herring’s other band, Widespread Panic. The Herring Band’s brainy, technique-heavy jazz-fusion drew guitar-heads who spent more time checking out six-string licks than dancing. The following night, the Denver rockabilly band the Hillbilly Hellcats demonstrated that technique and fun could go hand-in-hand.At the Red Brick Center for the Arts, the current exhibition Fresh, featuring work by the resident artists, continues to put the Center on the map with Aspen’s top galleries. Shelly Safir Marolt’s piece, combining painting with video projections, puts a new twist on multi-media. Jennine Hough’s “Mao’s Daughters” shows not only a new direction for the painter, but another level of technical and emotional accomplishment.This past week saw the publication of “The Year That Follows,” a sensational new novel by Scott Lasser. The local author tells a story of the crumbling of a family through death, disease and divorce, but more lasting is the rebuilding of that family through determination and love. Lasser’s characters are life-like, and his fluid language and storytelling don’t prevent him from examining poignant emotional truths. (Lasser has a book event scheduled for July 9 at Explore Booksellers in Aspen.)So now we’ve been properly warmed up. Bring on the arts

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