Jazz Aspen Labor Day Experience review: Bras, blues and John Mayer
“It’s weird when you play a festival,” John Mayer told the sold-out crowd a few songs into his headlining set at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience on Saturday night, “because you don’t know who is there for you and who is not there for you.”
One enthusiastic fan immediately tossed her bra on stage to signify she was, in fact, there for Mayer.
A bemused Mayer looked down at the bra and used the moment to lightly touch on his once-controversial and very public past as a sort of tone-deaf sex fiend, and to note his maturing reaction to fan underwear arriving on-stage. Bras, the 41-year-old noted, have a practical purpose: “Now I’m an older and wiser person and I’m thinking, ‘There is someone out there without support.’”
The quick moment of banter highlighted Mayer’s pleasant self-awareness these days and how he’s evolved in the public eye and improbably drawn fandoms spanning a wide swath.
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Just who is John Mayer in 2019? Jerry Garcia stand-in with the Dead? For the past three years, he has been. Heartthrob purveyor of feels in light rock emo earworms? Still, yep. Blues guitar hero? As this set proved, definitely, more on than below. Master of publicly navigating celebrity in the social media age? Surely you caught his viral meatloaf on Instagram last week.
So, yes, all of the above and his Jazz Aspen set — to a capacity crowd of some 10,000 fans in Snowmass Town Park — underscored them all. The performance had virtuosic guitar solos for the blues heads, it had a powerhouse six-piece band with dual drummers plus two backup singers in a Dead-like configuration, it had some self-deprecating chatter, it had parents and daughters dancing sweetly to “Daughters” and a big pop song sing-along to “Why Georgia.” Even the pothead crowd is on board with Mayer these days, as the wafts of smoke rising during his stoner anthem “Who Says” evidenced.
The guitar theatrics were never predictable. Sometimes, as in Saturday’s renditions of “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” the head-bobbing “Helpless,” the soulful ballad “Changing” and his encore of “Gravity,” Mayer veered off into rollicking solo blues jams (the Jazz Aspen video crew, it’s worth noting, did a commendable job of shooting close-ups of his finger work during these guitar passages, giving fans far from the stage a chance to see him at work). But for some of his pop hits, like “Love on the Weekend,” “Dear Marie” and the big sing-along to “Why Georgia,” he stuck to the pop star script and skipped the jams, also toning it down for an acoustic interlude of “Daughters” and his popular “Free Fallin’” cover.
The solos themselves were varied enough that the jam-averse never had an excuse to zone out or get bored. The solos didn’t get self-indulgent and Mayer was unafraid to let his backing band shine.
And for the fans who road-tripped from across Western Colorado to the festival from towns with less glitzy names than Aspen, Mayer had a message: I see you. He mentioned that he flew into the Rifle airport and drove across Garfield County and up the Roaring Fork Valley for the show, crossing our stretch of Earth for the first time.
“Every town we passed, from Rifle to Aspen, I Googled it: population as of the 2010 census, chief exports, median income,” he said. “It’s wonderful country, we’re lucky to be here.”
Then Mayer added with a grin: “I’m John. My chief export is feelings, and business is good.”
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