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Insider information: Summer highlights, according to the experts

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Weekly
Rosalie O'ConnorThe Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Company performs Twyla Tharp's "Sweet Fields," accompanied by musicians from the Aspen Music Festival, in August at the Benedict Music Tent.
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ASPEN – Forget the financials. The summer arts season is upon us, and it’s time to get to the good stuff – the artists and events that have people buzzing. Here’s what the heads of various arts organizations are using to keep their minds off other matters. They were asked to go easy on self-promotion.

Jamie Cullum at Jazz Aspen’s June Festival (June 18). I missed him the first time and heard from everybody that he blew away everyone else that came before and after him, all summer long.

Twyla Tharp’s “Sweet Fields,” by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at the Benedict Music Tent with the Aspen Music Festival (Aug. 10). That combination of choreographer, composer, live orchestra and elegant dance work is a must-attend event.

Ken Burns at the Aspen Institute, with a preview of his new series, “The National Parks” (June 16). I’ve seen a preview and it is so stunningly beautiful. Plus it’s Ken Burns, so you know the narrative is masterful. Hearing the filmmaker talk about his work is bound to be fascinating.

The Wheeler’s Rooftop Comedy Festival (Thursday through Saturday, June 11-13), and our new MountainSummit festival (late August). These are both collaborations with exceptional entities in their fields – Rooftop Comedy for stand-up and short-film comedy, and Mountainfilm in Telluride, whose 31st festival at the end of May was a profound intellectual and visceral experience that Aspen can now enjoy.

Cindy Sherman [who will be honored at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s Annual Recognition Dinner, July 7-8, with a coinciding talk and exhibit] and Ken Burns. They’re both among the most significant living artists in the world. I wouldn’t miss anything they do.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s program (July 17-18, Aspen District Theatre). That looks like a big winner.

At our festival, I like Deborah Voigt (Aug. 6). She’s making her Aspen debut, so it’s a novelty. It’s also a sensational program, and our 60th anniversary party. The two evenings of the Brandenburg Concertos (July 14-15) – I don’t know how long it’s been since we did all the concertos. And [conductor] Nick McGegan is a firecracker. [Bassist] Edgar Meyer is always good stuff. But this year [Aug. 13, with Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush] is sure to be special.

Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival. The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, aka Comedy Fest, was my absolute favorite Aspen event. It’s gone, and I’m thankful to the Wheeler for bringing national comedy back. I bought a local’s pass! I just hope I can survive the inevitable “It’s hard to breathe up here” jokes.

What’s Your Story? (Aug. 9, Theatre Aspen). Is it horribly self-serving to include an event that I’m co-producing AND performing? Of course it is. But this will be a very cool event; it’s based on New York’s acclaimed storytelling event, The Moth. Aspen locals telling good stories. On stage. Unique. Awesome.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (opening June 25, Theatre Aspen). I was humiliated in front of a parent-packed auditorium during a spelling

bee. I misspelled “character.” I was in 5th grade! How is that even possible? Watching a musical about spelling bees is the logical next step in my long healing journey.

Visitors Attempting To Figure Out The Parking Meters. Watching families scratch their heads in front of these machines is like an ongoing piece of performance art. There’s real human emotion there – angst, pathos, disbelief, confusion, anger! Some of the more frustrating moments could even pass for interpretive dance. This event lasts all summer, and it’s free.

Working at the Red Brick has its perks – like walking through the cheerful art gallery. This month, the halls are adorned with the work of many of the Roaring Fork Valley’s preeminent artists, including Susan Olsen, Elizabeth Farson, David Notor, Jennine Hough, Shelly Safir Marolt, Betty Weiss, Georgeann Waggaman and Alicia Matesanz de las Heras. The “Fresh” exhibit is as eclectic and fun as the personalities behind each piece.

The Wallflowers, July 20, Belly Up: They say you should never meet your heroes, but no one seems to object to being in the same room with your hero’s son. I saw the Wallflowers at the House of Blues Chicago in 2003, which seemed an unbeatable venue to check out Jakob Dylan and his ever-changing band. Six years and one Belly Up later, I’m armed with two well-priced tickets for what is sure to be a sell-out performance at the music venue. With sexy vocals, risky lyrics and a cool customer at the helm, there’s nothing shy about the Wallflowers.

Carbondale Mountain Fair, June 24-26: I’ve never been to this fair, but it comes highly recommended by too many people to count, so I’m there this year. Arts, crafts, music, a cute town, some sort of smoothie machine that boasts fruit from Paonia and lets you blend your own concoction while riding a bike (I’m just reporting what I hear), plus the women’s wood-splitting competition should make for a pretty comprehensive weekend!

Rapper NAS and Damian Marley at Belly Up (Aug. 4-5) isn’t just two top acts sharing a bill; the two collaborated on an album, “Distant Relatives,” set for a summer release. Marley has ripped up the club in several past appearances; NAS is making his local debut.

Soprano Dawn Upshaw performs an evening of works by Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov (July 29). Golijov came onto my radar when the Music Festival performed his “Azul” last summer. It’s one of my most cherished classical music experiences.

I care not a whit about heavy metal. Still, I’m praying someone finds a way to get “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” the documentary of an enduring, B-list metal group, onto an Aspen screen. The reviews have been outstanding.

Barry Smith wants to promote his What’s Your Story? event; I want to promote his latest one-person show, “Barry Smith’s Baby Book.” He performed the multi-media production at the Wheeler last winter, and it was hysterical. Smith even refreshes the work for his latest date (Aug. 2, Theatre Aspen) with a zingy new subtitle: “Me, My Stuff and I.”

stewart@aspentimes.com


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