Music makes its return to the Roaring Fork Valley |

Music makes its return to the Roaring Fork Valley

Big Head Todd and the Monsters, who opened last seasons Hi-Fi concert series, will again be part of this winters music scene as they play the Belly Up in December. (Aspen Times File)

Last winter season began on a tentative note, at least concert-wise. The Belly Up was still in the construction phase, and anyone who saw the old Double Diamond space had a hard time believing the demolition zone would be transformed into a rock club by the late January target. Yes, there were a handful of shows on the books, mostly at the Wheeler Opera House, and there were a few big names – Rickie Lee Jones, Jonny Lang, Marc Cohn – among them. But Aspen wasn’t feeling like ski world’s party central, and Aspen probably couldn’t even call itself the rock capital of the Roaring Fork Valley.This year’s lineup, now in the process of being rolled out, is proof of how things have changed. Last year, in early winter at least, concerts could be weeks apart. This year, music lovers of all tastes are going to have to pace themselves. Even those who favor all-girl, hard rock cover bands will have two shows to choose from. Following is a look at the highlights, with a reminder – there’s still plenty more to be added. Tonight, Belly Up: Little Hercules. Minturn funk band Little Hercules has been conspicuously absent from the Roaring Fork Valley the past few years. But with their new, self-titled CD on local radio, the band makes its Belly Up debut. Guests on “Little Hercules” include Leo Nocentelli of the Funky Meters and Mars Williams of Liquid Soul, which should provide some hint at the kind of music Little Hercules plays. Saturday, downtown Aspen: The Trews. Toronto hard-rock quartet The Trews make their Aspen debut on the heels of their second album, “Den of Thieves.” The show, at the top of the Gondola Plaza, opens the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Hi-Fi Concert Series; next up are the Gin Blossoms, Dec. 10 in downtown Aspen, with four more concerts spread out over ski season.

Saturday, Belly Up: Drew Emmitt Band. This night offers the intersection of Colorado’s two recent string-based rock bands. Drew Emmitt, late of the defunct Leftover Salmon, leads the way; special guests are Billy Nershi and Keith Moseley, guitarist and bassist, respectively, of String Cheese Incident. The combo, rounded out by Nashville banjoist Chris Pandolfi, is going fully unplugged for this tour of the West. Sunday, Nov. 27, Belly Up: Paris Delane’s Tye Dye Skye. The big, big-voiced singer from soul band Sonia Dada appears with his side project. Singer-songwriter Joe Firstman opens. Wednesday, Nov. 30, Belly Up: Singer-songwriter Jerry Joseph and his band, the Jackmormons, follow up their impressive Jazz Aspen Labor Day set with a club gig. Dec. 1, Belly Up: Blackalicious, one of the few hip-hop acts to hit Aspen with any regularity, returns behind their new CD, “Me Craft.” Dec. 4, Belly Up: Who said white boys can’t play reggae? Boston’s John Brown’s Body, led by singer-songwriter Kevin Kinsella, have made a handful of roots reggae CDs on par with any current reggae artist and have toured endlessly. Opening is eclectic rock band Virginia Coalition, making their local debut.

Dec. 9, Belly Up: The Blasters,, the center of ’80s Los Angeles’ punkabilly, long ago lost founding member Dave Alvin to a solo career. But with Dave’s brother Phil Alvin still on board, The Blasters have soldiered on, releasing this year’s “4-11-44.” Dec. 11, Belly Up: Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk. The first generation of Nevilles produced an impressive quartet of musical brothers. Among the second generation, Ivan Neville has been the most notable, as a producer, solo artist and sideman for Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt and the Neville Brothers. His latest band, Dumpstaphunk, can be counted on to feature a healthy dose of modern New Orleans. Dec. 16, Wheeler Opera House: Colorado songman Jim Salestrom, an associate of the late John Denver, warms up the Wheeler for the season with his Colorado Christmas concert. Dec. 26, Wheeler: The husband-and-wife duo of Cantor Rita Shore and singer-pianist Ira Shore lived in Aspen some time ago and are back after years in Florida. They celebrate their return with the Magical Moments concert, mixing Broadway, old-time pop and Jewish tunes. Rita is also the new cantor for the Aspen Jewish Congregation.

Dec. 27, Belly Up: Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Last winter, Colorado rockers Big Head Todd and the Monsters braved the cold and snow to play in downtown Aspen. This time they play indoors, in the same space where they were signed to their first record deal, nearly 15 years ago. Dec. 29, Belly Up: Hell’s Belles, an all-female take on the classic hard rock of AC/DC.

Jan. 1, Wheeler: Legendary picker and storyteller David Bromberg kicks off the musical New Year. Jan. 9, Wheeler: Robert Earl Keen may not have reached the popular heights of his old college classmate, fellow Texas troubadour Lyle Lovett. But Keen is far more prolific; “What I Really Mean,” released in the spring, is his 11th album. And Keen’s songwriting takes a backseat to no one. Jan. 11, Belly Up: Medeski, Martin & Wood. With virtually no one present to witness it, avant-jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood ripped up Jazz Aspen’s June Festival tent two summers ago, in an opening slot for Buddy Guy. Imagine what MM&W might do in a packed, sweaty dancing club. A sure candidate for show of the year. Jan. 16, Belly Up: Lez Zeppelin. More girls, more very un-girly songs, as Lez Zeppelin puts an unusual spin on the muscular music of Plant, Page, et. al. Jan. 19, Belly Up: English Beat. England’s premiere two-tone ska band had a short but powerful existence in the early ’80s. In 2003, bandleader Dave Wakeling reunited the group and hasn’t stopped since. The current English Beat comprises Wakeling and an all-star ska band. Jan. 31, Wheeler: Railroad Earth. New Jersey acoustic band Railroad Earth has made just one stop in Aspen, atop Aspen Mountain when they first started out a few years ago. Since then, they have become associated with the Grateful Dead’s Phil & Friends, released three exceptional albums, and signed to Colorado’s SCI-Fi Records for their next release, a live one. Opening is Honkytonk Homeslice, a side project of String Cheese Incident’s Billy Nershi and his wife, Jilian.

Feb. 19, Belly Up: New Orleans icon Dr. John. Feb. 26, Belly Up: Rev. Horton Heat. Rockabilly giant the Rev. Horton Heat probably won’t play many tunes from his new CD for this February date. The Rev.’s latest is the Christmas album “We Three Kings.” Feb. 27, Wheeler: Mellow rock band Cowboy Junkies. March 13, Wheeler: Folksinger Judy Collins. March 16, Chick Corea & Touchstone. Some years ago, playing in Madrid, pianist Chick Corea was joined by guitarist Paco de Lucia, igniting a flamenco-style jam. Corea decided on the spot to put a flamenco project on his agenda, and finally, Touchstone was born. The quintet features three Spanish musicians, all from de Lucia’s band, plus drummer Tom Brechtlein, who has performed with blues act Robbin Ford & the Blue Line and many others.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is

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