Last Call at the Double Diamond
September 4, 2003
Five-and-a-half years ago, when the Double Diamond was first supposed to turn off the lights, I was in a fighting mood. The Double D was still my regular late-night refuge, and the thought of it going down was unbearable. My Aspen existence had more or less mirrored that of the Double D: I moved here just as it was opening; my career as a music journalist coincided with the rise of the Double D to a place of prominence among ski town nightclubs. So, when word got out that the club’s lease would not be renewed, I wrote a poem (“Ode to a Night Club”), I strategized with the club owner and fellow music lovers, I protested loudly. When all that seemed destined to fail, we arranged one final night of music, a massive party with all local musicians invited, intended to show how much the Double D meant to the community.Somehow, it worked. By the time the first notes were played that night, a deal had been struck. The Double D would live on, and what had been planned as a farewell became a celebration of something significant. We had taken action and accomplished what we set out to do. Amazing.But you only get one such moment per club. This time, the Double D went down with little visible fight – but a nice touch of irony. As the valley’s biggest musical party was raging in Snowmass Village over Labor Day weekend, the Double Diamond was having its last, last call. There is, of course, sadness in this for me. It’s the end of an era and a really good one. For five years or so, the Double D was not just my music club, but a second home, a training ground, a gathering spot. I’d spend hours – in the afternoons, with no one else around – talking bands with the club’s original booker, Karen Smith. I’d go to evening sound checks to meet musicians. I put up posters, hauled equipment, and sometimes even stayed late and helped clean up. Hey, I even played the Double D stage about a dozen times.In the years since the Double Diamond almost closed, the club has represented as much my own faded glory as my sustenance. I extensively covered the bands who played there, but at a remove. Married and with a child, shows that started at 11 p.m. (“Please, let them start by 11!”) and ended at 1:30 were not part of my weekly routine. Over the last four years, I don’t know that I’ve been to 25 shows at the club – a pittance in light of my stellar attendance record of years past. So this time, there’s no fight in me. Just thanks – to the doormen, bartenders, sound men, music fans, musicians and especially owner Greg Jurgensen – who made the Double D’s 12-year run a memorable one. There’s horror, too: My god, how am I going to fill these pages without the Double Diamond?Best of all, there are memories. Here’s a top 10 of what I’ve witnessed at the Double Diamond.Not exactly a recognizable name. But for a few years in the mid-’90s, the High Plains Drifters rode high in the saddle through Colorado ski towns. A thrown-together project, the Drifters were led by singer Jono Manson, who called on some of his old New York buddies to do a handful of mountain dates each March. Manson’s regular sidemen included the late Bobby Sheehan, bassist from Blues Traveler, and Spin Doctors guitarist Eric Schenkman. And for one glorious night, the High Plains Drifters also featured Blues Traveler frontman John Popper on harmonica and vocals. Playing Manson’s songs, Blues Traveler tunes and a bunch of choice covers, the Drifters put on a rock ‘n’ roll tour de force. Still a high point of my life.The Aquarium Rescue Unit – playing without their original frontman, Col. Bruce Hampton – made a lasting impression on me before even playing a note. I walked into the backstage room to say hello, and felt an energy coming from the five musicians, just sitting there getting ready for their set, that I’ve yet to feel again. When the band hit the stage, there was no letdown at all. Here’s a band that didn’t last long enough, and really needs to reunite. They are busy men, I know: Jimmy Herring is now guitarist for The Dead, Oteil Burbridge is in the Allman Brothers, and brother Kofi Burbridge is in the Derek Trucks Band.Guitarist Robben Ford had impressed me as a bluesman at an earlier Double D show with his three-piece band, the Blue Line. But when Ford returned to play instrumental jazz-funk in a four-piece combo, that took things to another universe.Before the Eagles even announced they were reuniting, they did a surprise reunion gig at the Double D. The night ended with me pinned to the ground by two or three Aspen constables, for the crime of taking pictures of the precious Eagles. (I’ve done things a lot more illegal than that in the Double D, you bastards.) Still, it was pretty cool seeing one of the biggest bands ever play in a small club. Just wish I had some pictures of it.And may The Dude forgive me for putting the Eagles in here.With the lease about to expire, the Double Diamond decided to go out with a bang. They opened the doors for free, almost every local musician came and played, and the club had its biggest crowd ever. When the announcement came that the Double D had earned its reprieve from the landlord, the party really took off. Even a bad case of stage-hogging by one local musician couldn’t spoil the mood.Hip-hop group Jurassic 5 played a private show at the Double D this past winter, but this was far from your usual stuffy VIP gig. It was an X Games affair, so there were lots of scruffy youngsters rocking the joint.And man, did they have something to rock to. Jurassic 5’s performance was an astounding show of musicianship and positive energy. It seems to have ruined me as a live hip-hop fan; how anybody can come close to these guys, I can’t imagine.I’ve seen the New Orleans Radiators numerous times at the Double Diamond (and numerous times in many other places too). But on the second-night of a two-night stand in July 1995, the Radiators had their mojo working overtime. I recall a particular stretch of maybe 40 minutes where the band linked song after song, and it just kept building. March of 1997 might have been the high point of the Double D era. At the heart of the month, along with the High Plains Drifters, was a blistering three-night stand by the Funky Meters. Three nights of the Meters in a small club – it seems like a long ways away from here.I came in very skeptical. G. Love seemed a pretty boy with a goofy name and a hit record. In fact, he was all those things and more. G.’s mix of folk-blues and hip-hop, which he calls “rag mop,” was a treat. And Special Sauce, the two-piece rhythm section of drummer Jeffrey “Houseman” Clemens and bassist Jimi “Jazz” Prescott, has some serious chops. I became an instant fan.Michael Franti, aka Spearhead, spreads plenty of love and music whenever he performs. This was his first Aspen appearance, and he announced his presence in a glorious way.Along the wayAmong the other bands I’ve seen at the Double D: Joan Osborne, Zuba, the subdudes, George Clinton & the P-Funk Allstars, Jimmy Buffett, Jazz Is Dead, Particle, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, Hot Tuna, Sheryl Crow, WAR, Jimmy Cliff, the Kinsey Report, the JGB Band, Richie Furay, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, A.J. Croce, Pretty & Twisted, Linda Perry, Acoustic Junction, Dave Matthews Band, Maceo Parker, Anders Osborne, Blackalicious, Burning Spear, Sherri Jackson, Gov’t Mule, Lord of Word, Black Uhuru, Young Dubliners, Merl Saunders, Sister 7, Nuttstalk, Treehouse, moe., Charlie Hunter, Boxing Ghandis, Sugar Hill Gang, Cabaret Diosa, Todd Snider, Steel Pulse, the Samples, Ugly Americans, Third World, Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise, Monkey Train, Better Than Ezra, Everything, Liquid Soul, Deep Banana Blackout, Marcia Ball, Terence Simien, Skatalites, Sonia Dada, the Winebottles, Ani DiFranco, Tab Benoit, Tony Furtado, Derek Trucks, Keb’ Mo,’ Barenaked Ladies, Freddy Jones Band, God Street Wine, Wailing Souls, Nina Storey, Long Beach Dub Allstars, Victor Wooten, Christian McBride, Galactic, Los Lobos, Toots & the Maytals, Taj Mahal, Pato Banton, Zero, Super Diamond, Vinyl, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Shemekia Copeland, Super Diamond, Agents of Good Roots, the Gourds, Bernie Worrell & the Woo Warriors, Dark Star Orchestra, Train, Roomful of Blues, B-Side Players, Soul Hat, From Good Homes, Yonder Mountain String Band, the Wailers, Likewise, Zec, Band du Jour, Eek-A-Mouse, Dread Zeppelin, Kiss Army, Dude of Life, Codetalkers, Fiji Mariners, Big Ass Truck, Smiling Assassins, Michael Ray & the Cosmic Krewe, Perry Farrell, Rufus Wainwright, Disco Biscuits and a whole bunch more that somehow slip my mind.Rest in peace.