On darkest day, the light of music in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

On darkest day, the light of music in Aspen

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Brenda KennerlyLocal singers and songwriters Jan Garrett and J.D. Martin perform their 21st annual Winter Solstice Concert Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Aspen Community Church.

ASPEN – Jan Garrett and J.D. Martin don’t need a special occasion to remind them to use their music for spiritual uplifting. The singing and songwriting couple typically perform at spiritual centers; in mid-January, they are featured at the Posi Music Festival in Orlando, Fla. (“Posi” is short for “positive.”) Their songs – like “Love Wins,” which is nominated for a Posi Award in the Healing category – are explicitly about connecting, recognizing the good and finding paths to make things better.

“All of our songs have that uplifting thing. That’s what we do,” Garrett said. “Whether it’s a kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll song, or something like ‘I Believe This Belongs to You'” – a soft piano ballad about Martin Luther King Jr. and about seeing how the good and the rotten are related – “the intention behind it is always, ‘Let’s wake up.’ The lyrics are my way of saying, ‘Pay attention to what’s behind everything, tuning into the heart of harmony,’ which is available to everyone.”

Still, the winter solstice has taken on special music-making significance for Garrett and Martin. Wednesday at 7 p.m., for the 21st consecutive year, Garrett will present her Winter Solstice Concert in the Roaring Fork Valley. The concert (which has included Martin since the two became a couple in the mid-’90s) returns this year to the Aspen Community Church after several outings in their midvalley home. Partly because the performance has become a tradition, partly because it’s a hometown appearance and partly because they usually take place in a church, the winter solstice shows tend to take on an elevated, spiritual tone. But the biggest reason for the extra dose of uplift is that there’s no time when people need to be shown the light more than on the darkest day of the year.

“Being a Colorado native, and living in Aspen since the early ’70s, I know there’s snow and dark and cold,” Garrett said. “The days are so short; you really feel that. So you kind of wait for that turning point, when the days get longer again.”

“I always feel it as really joyful and hopeful – it’s going to be turning to longer days,” Martin said. “That represents something else – your life, where you could be going through a dark night and coming out the other side.”

The concert will open with a set of original songs and then move into a more Christmas-oriented segment.

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“Those jolly, wonderful pagan carols – ‘Deck the Halls,’ ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ – that everyone can relate to,” Garrett said.

The show concludes with a candle-lighting ceremony “so people can have that experience of bringing in the light, ending the darkness,” she said.

This year’s concert should have an extra dimension of celebration. Not only are the days getting longer, but so is Garrett and Martin’s discography. The show doubles as a CD release party for “Inside the Songwriters’ Studio,” which collects the 11 songs that the twosome released individually as digital downloads over the past year.

The download series of songs grew out of requests from fans who heard live performances of songs that had not yet been put on an album. Garrett and Martin released those songs one at a time with a pledge to release one new song each month for subscribers. Several times the two had to scramble to fulfill the promise.

“That kicked our asses,” Garrett said. “That’s a good place to put ourselves. It really jump-starts our creativity.”

It also gave the duo a new way to work. Rather than record in Nashville, Tenn., or Los Angeles, as they typically have, they recorded at their home studio with Martin engineering, mixing and mastering the tracks.

“It was that wonderful thing of getting to do something you’ve never done before,” Martin said. “You’re really afraid, and you say, ‘OK, here we go.’ I like that.”

Each download came with the lyrics and a short story about the song’s genesis. For those buying the album, the collected lyrics and stories are available in a booklet – which to Garrett is reminiscent of the time of vinyl LPs.

“I’d sit there with my vinyl records and pore over the liner notes,” she said. “Any tidbit – where it was recorded, what inspired the artist – I used to love that.”

Lest she give the impression that she thinks all things were better in the old days, Garrett is quick to point out that, for getting across a message of serenity and hope, the venues she plays now, like a church on the winter solstice, are far better than a nightclub.

“We played the bars forever,” said Garrett, who was a member of the noted Aspen-based band Liberty in the ’70s. “You’d be playing some beautiful, heartfelt thing, and people are in the bar drinking, hitting on each other. But even at the Red Onion, people got what we were saying.”

stewart@aspentimes.com