Local talent highlights Haiti benefit concert in Aspen
ASPEN – The benefit concert for Haitian children Thursday at the Wheeler Opera House features several Aspen legends – Bobby Mason, Jimmy Ibbotson – and another handful of local acts – the Crowlin Ferlies, Derek Brown, the Defiance String Band, Melissa and Kelly Gabossi, Cottonwood Acoustic, and Starcher & Hudson. There’s also a music idol from the classic rock era, a contemporary TV personality, a key figure from one of the best movie moments of 2009, and a budding player on the acoustic-music scene. But since time is tight, those last few have been rolled into one, in the person of John Oates.It’s likely that Oates, a Woody Creek resident who has lived in the valley for two decades, will always be best-known as the shorter, darker, facial hair-favoring half of the soul group Hall & Oates. There’s little he can do about that; the twosome are the best-selling duo in music history. But the 60-year-old Oates is also composing a second act of his career that is taking him into some unexpected corners.In 2008, Oates released “1000 Miles of Life,” a singer-songwriter-type album that featured several of Nashville’s top pickers. The artistically solid effort earned him respect in the acoustic realm; Oates spent this past holiday season touring as part of the band of dobro master Jerry Douglas. “That took me outside my comfort zone,” said Oates, who performs tonight accompanied by local musician John Michel and Nashville singer Kathy Chiavola, who contributed to “1000 Miles of Life.” “It enhanced my reputation, enhanced my skill level.”The solo album – Oates’ second, after 2002’s funk-oriented “Phunk Shui” – likewise raised his standing. Oates was invited to contribute a track to “The Village,” a multi-artist album celebrating the songs that came out of Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. The album, released in November, featured Oates singing Dave van Ronk’s “He Was a Friend of Mine,” surrounded by tracks by Bruce Hornsby, Lucinda Williams, Amos Lee and Los Lobos. The label that released “The Village,” 429 Records, was pleased enough with Oates’ effort that they asked him to make an entire album of folk-blues songs. That project is in the pre-production stage, as Oates contemplates what material and which artists he wants to work with.Perhaps as unexpected as the headway into the folk world is the latter-day appreciation of Hall & Oates. The duo’s biggest moment came in the early ’80s, when songs like “Private Eyes” and “Maneater” were in ultra-heavy rotation on MTV. A lot of those sounds and styles have not aged well, as Oates acknowledges. “We could have paid more attention to our image,” he said. “We came up at a time where the culture was kind of surface-y. The fashions, MTV – that era we were a part of. We wore the funny clothes; we did the stupid videos because that’s what was happening. What has lasted is the quality of the songwriting.”Oates notes that rock critics of that time weren’t kind to the duo. But the influence of the rock press has waned in the digital age. “People make their own opinions,” he said. And a lot of people seem to think that Hall & Oates’ music is well worth celebrating.Perhaps most notable was last year’s offbeat romance “(500) Days of Summer,” a hit with critics and audiences. The film’s most rapturous moment was an out-of-nowhere dance sequence, an homage to the music video era, set to Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams.” Oates says that when he saw the film in a theater, people applauded. “You don’t see that at a movie,” he said.The Hall & Oates catalogue got a more in-depth look with “Do What You Want, Be What You Are.” Released in October, the four-disc collection, the first box set devoted to Hall & Oates, is a high-class affair, featuring live tracks, rarities from the pre-Hall & Oates days, and an extensive booklet with testimonials from Mick Jagger, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, and others.The duo’s hits get a different sort of treatment in an album, due out next month, by the edgy indie duo, The Bird and the Bee. “Interpreting the Masters Vol. 1” reworks Hall & Oates’ best-known songs, including “Rich Girl,” “She’s Gone” and “I Can’t Go for That.”Hall and Oates have even shown up on TV – and not just on VH1’s “Behind the Music.” “The Cleveland Show,” a spin-off of “Family Guy,” has the two playing recurring animated versions of themselves – sort of. Daryl Hall is the angel, and Oates the corresponding devil, sitting on the shoulders of main character Cleveland Brown.”We give him bad advice. Creepy advice,” Oates said, adding that he especially enjoys the fact that he represents the dark side: “I kind of like that. I thought it would be the other way around.”The Benefit Concert for Haiti Children is tonight at 7 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House. The event includes music and a silent auction. All proceeds from the event go to the Mercy & Sharing Foundation, operated by Aspenites Joe and Susie Krabacher.firstname.lastname@example.org
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