Asher on Aspen: Three Chords and the Truth – a country run at Belly Up |

Asher on Aspen: Three Chords and the Truth – a country run at Belly Up

Shannon Asher
Special to The Aspen Times
Charley Crockett
Michael Goldberg/Courtesy photo

Country music, or “hillbilly music” as it used to be called, is the sound of the working class. It celebrates a simpler and slower way of life, saluting America’s rural storytelling. A fundamental component to country music is this sense of home and belonging. I have my small-town Iowa roots to thank for my unwavering bias toward this kind of music. It’s what I grew up with, and at the end of the day, it’s the sound I crave the most.

This past week was a rather lively one for country music lovers in Aspen. The Belly Up brought three incredible country acts to the stage within a five-day period. Monday was Steve Earle; Tuesday was Charley Crockett; and Friday was Paul Cauthen. Having never seen any of these musicians before, I was especially excited for this lineup of shows.

What I appreciate the most about Belly Up is its widely diverse booking calendar. The talent buyers are intentional about catering to every music lover, no matter what style of music they prefer. They acknowledge every genre of music, which in turn, acknowledges every walk of life. It’s pretty incredible that Aspenites can attend a boisterous rock band one night, followed by an electric duo the next, followed by a honky-tonk country act the next night. Belly Up sure has a sweet way of making our small corner of the world feel big.

The week started off with country music trailblazer Steve Earle, who is known for hits like “Copperhead Road” and “Galway Girl.” The 67-year-old singer-songwriter captivated one highly excited audience as he performed hits, from “Jerry Jeff,” his new tribute album, to ’70s Texas legend Jerry Jeff Walker, while sprinkling in solemn moments of storytelling. I love when musicians take a moment in-between songs to share a little bit about their story. It humanizes the musician and makes them more relatable to the everyday concertgoer. In this case, he paid tribute to the “Mr. Bojangles” songwriter and revealed why he felt compelled to make a fourth tribute album. His encore included two staple singalongs, including Grateful Dead’s “Casey Jones” and The Band’s “Rag Mama Rag.”

Steve Earle
Michael Goldberg/Courtesy photo

The next night, I witnessed the incredible charm of the ’60s country-music enthusiast Charley Crockett. On the day of a concert, I always like to “study” the music beforehand and listen to everything I can so that I feel prepared for the show. After all, you never know when you might get pulled on stage to sing with the artist. Listening to Charley Crockett on Spotify, however, is only half of his mystique. His live performance is where things really get interesting. He exudes a cool, coy presence that commands everyone’s attention, while he produces an amusing level of twain and Elvis-like dance moves. Popular for hits like “I Am Not Afraid” and “Jamestown Ferry,” his performance style is unassuming and unapologetic.

It was somehow already Friday and time to see Paul Cauthen — someone who I’ve had my ears on for a while now. I first discovered him in December of 2018, and I remember being instantly enthralled by the sound of his voice. A mix between Texas country, Memphis soul and gospel funk, the industry has had a hard time trying to pigeonhole him into one specific genre. While his vocals certainly resemble Johnny Cash, his persona and stage presence are completely one-of-a-kind. My personal favorite and lesser-known hit, “Hanging Out on the Line,” has felt like my life anthem for the past year. It has a weird, therapeutic way of speaking directly to my soul. Of course, many know him now for his top-charting hits like “Cocaine Country Dancing” and “Holy Ghost Fire,” which both hold an energy that are equally as contagious.

The ripple effect that live music has on people is pretty extraordinary. The music not only boosts your mood and serotonin levels, but it also allows you to discover new music and uncover old music. Rediscovering songs that you haven’t heard in many moons is so special and nostalgic, and these songs will likely spark a memory or two. I can still vividly recall an old boyfriend’s voice singing “Rag Mama Rag” by The Band. My concert high typically lasts about two to three days following a show, but this whirlwind of a country music saga has done me in. It’s safe to say I’ll be riding this one for a while.

Songwriter Harlan Howard famously described it as, “three chords and the truth.” These are the simple necessary ingredients for country and western music. Now, ain’t that the truth?

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