Great music always starts with the song |

Great music always starts with the song

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times WeeklyAspen, CO Colorado

This weekend, Aspen audiences will get a vivid glimpse of the power of a song. Somewhere during Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sunday evening set at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival – if they have a flair for the dramatic, it will be the finale of their set, and thus the closer to the weekend – a slide guitar riff will start up, the singer will deliver a tale about needing to move on, and thousands of listeners will fire up their lighters and sing along to one of rock’s great anthems, “Free Bird.” It will be a moment of nostalgia – the song is, after all, 36 years old – but “Free Bird” is also iconic enough that it will likely create fresh memories for many of those in attendance.And so it is with many great songs.Later this month, an exploration of the songwriter’s craft will continue when the Wheeler Opera House debuts 7908: The Aspen Songwriters Festival. The four-day event, Sept. 16-19, hosted by Woody Creeker John Oates, will feature performances by pop acts, bluegrass pickers, R&B greats, Nashville singers and ’80s New Wavers, but all attention will be focused on the song as the essential ingredient of music.Speaking of the contemporary music world, Oates said, “You don’t need natural instruments; you can correct a voice in every way. The only thing that remains constant is the song, the writing of the song. Everything else is superfluous. But without songwriting, you have nothing. That’s why I want to celebrate it and give insight to people on how important it is.”The songs and songwriters featured in the inaugural 7908 event come from numerous points on the musical spectrum. Among those appearing are Jeff Barry, who helped craft some of the biggest hits of the early-’60s girl group era, including “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Be My Baby”; Richard Butler, the leader of the ’80s British rock band, the Psychedelic Furs; and Allen Toussaint, the New Orleans pianist and producer behind such Louisiana classics as “Southern Nights” and “On Your Way Down.”Also scheduled to appear are alt-country musician Jim Lauderdale, whose songs have been covered by George Strait and Patty Loveless, and whose latest album, “Patchwork River,” features songs co-written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter; string master Sam Bush; singer-songwriter Tift Merritt; Nashville song-crafter Jeff Black; and the contemporary pop duo The Bird and the Bee, whose latest album, “Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1,” is a tribute to the songs of Hall & Oates.Oates himself is slated to appear in two shows: a concert with Bush and acoustic maven David Bromberg, and a festival-closing concert with Nashville writer-performer Jimmy Wayne.The 7908 Festival will also include a songwriting workshop with Jeff Barry, and performances by local musicians at venues outside of the Wheeler.For further information, go to


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It may seem like it’s a bit early to be thinking about the premier summer event in Aspen, after all we are still skiing on fresh snow on all four mountains. But the 40th Anniversary of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is not that far away. This year’s Classic takes place June 16-18 which is just two turns of the pages of the calendar. The event sold out quickly and an exciting lineup featuring the best of the food and wine world has already been announced.

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