In the seats: An alternative energy source | AspenTimes.com

In the seats: An alternative energy source

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesTaj Mahal performs Sunday in Aspen's Wagner Park.

ASPEN – Over and over, I heard people say about Sunday’s concert by Taj Mahal in Wagner Park: “Why didn’t they publicize this? I just heard about it from so-and-so an hour ago.”

On the whole, this came across as a mild complaint; the undertone was, “Dang, I came this close to missing the show.” But to me, this element of near-surprise was a positive. (Of course, I knew about the concert, had written about it and put a big photo of Taj Mahal in the Calendar section of Friday’s Aspen Times.)

So often, and this seems to apply especially to Aspen, we seem to squeeze the fun out of things with meticulous planning. We erect fences, line up security forces, throw up promotional booths and banners, advertise the heck out of what we’re doing. The events tend to come off smoothly, but something gets lost – spontaneity, a sense of the unknown.

Sunday’s concert was a different creature. This was essentially a new event – part of Aspen Renewable Energy Day, which had never included a high-profile concert before. Promotion was spotty, as were details. Wesley Clark, who had been a prominent general in the U.S. Army and is now involved in energy issues, was billed as giving an introduction; he never showed up, nor did anyone explain his absence.

A half-hour before the concert, Wagner Park was near empty. Chip Comins, the founder and director of AREDay, told me to start texting everyone I knew to tell them about the happening. I told him not to worry. Sure enough, by concert time there was a sizable crowd to hear Taj Mahal and his seven-piece Phantom Blues Band play their brand of folk-blues. The best promotional device turned out to be the music itself – people kept coming and coming till the sizable crowd became a big one. There was lots of talk about the “old Aspen” way of doing things, and Taj Mahal seemed to pick up on this energy.

A small-scale production. A shortage of advance notice. No VIP areas. No fences. No security. No evident police presence. Little sense of authority of any kind. (Early on, the production manager asked me, kindly, to limit my photo-taking to the first three songs. I, also kindly, ignored this request, as many other photographers still had their cameras out. I never heard about the three-song limit again.)

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And despite all this, a wonderful time was had by all. Is there a lesson here?

(Answer: Yes, one of those being that Wagner Park should be used a little more often as a concert venue.)

stewart@aspentimes.com