The little club that could: A Belly Up Aspen retrospective |

The little club that could: A Belly Up Aspen retrospective

Michael Goldberg
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Michael Goldberg/Special to The Aspen TimesZZ Top performs a sold out show at the Belly Up on New Year's Eve 2007.

• Any of the seven times Damian Marley has played the club. I think he is a special talent and it has been fun to watch him grow. It has also been fun to get to know him and his family (Stephen and Julian) and the entourage he travels with. Each of my three sons has worked in varying capacities at the club. Whenever we see any of the Marleys at concerts elsewhere, they invite my sons to watch the show from onstage. The relationship aspect of the business is a very nice by-product.

• Chris Isaak’s first concert, June, 2005. He had a date in Denver and I called his agent to see if Aspen was possible. Based on his fee, we needed a $100 ticket – the first to break triple digits. I recall a front-page newspaper article with a copy of the ticket highlighting the $100 price. We were nervous about the reaction, and about selling the show. The show sold out the night of the concert and that was the first of many Chris Isaak shows, including a New Year’s Eve broadcast live on Sirius satellite radio in 2006. It is actually in our contract that I take him and his band to dinner at Matsuhisa the night of the concert. The first dinner was like being in “The Chris Isaak Show” – very funny group of guys.

• First of two concerts with Jimmy Buffet (I mean, Freddie and the Fishsticks). Out of college I moved to Miami and spent a lot of time in the Caribbean racing sailboats. My father loved his music and it seemed Buffet would somehow be playing many of the places we stopped. When we weren’t seeing him live, we listened to him on the boat’s stereo. The first concert was a benefit for three of his favorite charities, and was broadcast live on Sirius Radio Margaritaville – all on a handshake. My father didn’t live to see that concert but I did have Jimmy inscribe a poster to him. I know he was watching from somewhere.

• Social Distortion, July ’06. Sell out Red Rocks one night, play Belly Up the next. Ticket price was about the same. My kind of band – they play here because they like to, not because they have to. Another Matsuhisa fan who hasn’t missed a pre-concert meal at the restaurant.

• ZZ Top, New Year’s Eve, ’07. Time was running out on finding a big act for New Year’s. ZZ Top, an old favorite of mine, was playing halftime at the Orange Bowl a few days after New Year’s. This was a logistical nightmare, getting 16 people to Aspen from a concert in Florida the night before and assuring they would all be in Miami on Jan. 1 for rehearsals. The weather cooperated and so did the band.

• Raconteurs, June ’08. One of the hottest bands on the festival circuit. Not a band used to playing a 450-capacity club. Still not sure Jack White knows what to think of Aspen.

• Leo Kottke, July ’08 and March ’09. I still have most of the LPs Leo made, beginning with the “Armadillo” album from 1969. I was at the University of Minnesota and Leo would play local coffee houses and theaters and I saw him many times. He is a great acoustic guitar talent, especially on the 12-string. I jumped at the chance to have him in the club. I brought all my albums to sound-check and showed them to Leo. Now I have an autographed collection of LPs. Leo is notoriously shy (and funny; read the liner notes on “Armadillo”). Denver promoter Chuck Morris manages Leo, and tells me he is amazed I got Leo out to dinner, let alone a Japanese restaurant.

• Thievery Corporation, April ’09. A talented collective of international musicians held together by two Washington, D.C. DJs, it seemed improbable we could get them at the club. They have been playing major festivals and their full show has 16 musicians. We finally got a show which the band would use as a warm-up on their way to the Coachella music festival. They decided to come in the night before and dinner at Matsuhisa was more like a welcoming party to the members of the group as they had not been touring and came together for this short run.

• John Prine, June ’09. My first personal encounter with John was a late-night session at a Snowmass bar with Hunter Thompson. Prine was playing the Snowmass Convention Center several months before we opened the Belly Up. Hunter told me he was a fan, so I invited him. He only made it as far as the bar as he was in pain from his hip replacement. I met John after the show and invited him to have a drink with Hunter. He obliged, and a very late, very funny and touching evening ensued. I asked John to come back for the opening of Belly Up. He chuckled and shrugged it off. When I finally was able to book him, he commented from the stage that the owner had invited him to open the club and he apologized that it took almost five years to get there. I think John wanted to do something special, so he suggested we make it an all-request night. He played every request except one.

• Jane’s Addiction, New Year’s Eve ’09. What can you say about a show that most people in attendance said is the best show they’ve ever seen in the club? Some say it’s the best rock show they had ever seen. Perry Farrell had played the club twice before with his band Satellite Party and the other members of the band had played as Camp Freddy. This was their first time playing together at Belly Up (they were co-headlining a tour with Nine Inch Nails last year playing 20,000-seat arenas) and for whatever reason, it all just came together. Going to be quite a challenge topping this show.

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