Live music takes off at Aspen airport
ASPEN – One afternoon last July, visitors flying into Aspen walked from the tarmac inside the airport to the sounds of John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High,” sung by a local musician.
In fact, every passenger that afternoon was greeted the exact same way, as the singer/guitarist stopped whatever he was performing each time another flight landed to start crooning the song by one of Aspen’s most famous residents. The musician was there as part of a program through Pitkin County that sponsors live music in the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport throughout the year.
David Dyer, 52, is another musician who regularly performs at the airport. He’s a pianist and the former music director at the Crystal Palace, and was the featured artist Wednesday afternoon with his electronic keyboard. He mixed Christmas classics like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with Broadway show tunes like “Memory,” from “Cats.” Most of the flights into Aspen that morning were delayed so he played to an all-but empty room, but the smattering of people who passed by seemed to appreciate the live soundtrack to their travel day.
Dyer says it’s a fun gig, and not just because of the $300 the musicians make per three-hour shift. Money for the music is drawn from the outreach fund of the airport’s self-sustaining budget made up of landing and users’ fees – it’s an enterprise fund separate from the county’s general fund, which is made up of taxpayer money.
“Last winter during one of the less-than-favorable travel days, when the weather was wreaking havoc,” Dyer said, “a few people came up and thanked me for the diversion from their screwed-up travel plans.”
The musicians sit near the arrivals door and play from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. twice a week during the year, generally on Mondays and Saturdays, when the airport is busiest. More performances get scheduled during such holiday weeks as Christmas and the Fourth of July. During the deep off-season, such as late October, there’s usually no music to be heard in the airport.
Guitarist Bobby Mason has been playing music in the valley for 42 years and was at the airport Thursday. During his shift, many flights were canceled due to inclement weather, and stranded passengers expressed their appreciation to him during the wait, telling him they enjoyed the performance and requesting songs like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”
“I really like the airport gig. It pays half my rent, but I’ve been in town so long I also feel like a good representative of Aspen, a good ambassador,” said Mason.
The idea came to Pitkin County community relations specialist Pat Bingham when she was at Aspen Valley Hospital for a senior health fair; a live guitarist was playing at the event. She thought something along the same lines would be a nice touch in the airport.
Following the runway-paving project that shut down the airport for two months beginning in early April 2007, live music began to fill the air.
“We started doing airport outreach after we reopened that June,” Bingham said. “We wanted to elevate awareness of the airport and start a ‘fly local’ campaign to encourage residents from Carbondale to Aspen to book their flights out of Aspen.”
Bingham is responsible for scheduling the roster of local musicians who perform, including Dyer, Mason, David Harding, Dan Sadowsky, and John Sommers with Anne Federovich, among others. They can sell their CDs and put out tip jars to make a little extra cash. She also gives them next to no direction, other than not to be so rambunctious that they disrupt any airport announcements, and to be respectful of people dining in the adjacent airport cafe. “Rocky Mountain High” on a continuous loop wasn’t at Bingham’s behest, either.
“The goal is to target locals, not tourists,” said Bingham. “We lost some folks to the airport in Eagle during the runway project and wanted to get people to think about the Aspen airport again. We thought it was time to remind people that the airport is such an economic engine for the community that we should talk about it among ourselves.”
Pitkin County didn’t invent the pairing of live music and transportation. The Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta sponsors a music series at least four times a year in which some of Georgia’s top musicians perform straight-ahead jazz during Atlanta’s annual Jazz Festival, or carolers roam the concourses in Victorian costumes during the holidays, for example.
And Music Under New York also embraces jazz ensembles, plus classical violinists, Cajun cellists, folk and opera singers and Latin guitarists. There have been performances in New York City subway and train stations since 1985, courtesy of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which permits more than 150 performances at 25 locations weekly throughout the transit system.
“We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on it,” said Bingham. “It’s all part of making the airport a more pleasant experience.”
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