What’s new on Aspen’s entertainment scene? Plenty | AspenTimes.com

What’s new on Aspen’s entertainment scene? Plenty

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
James Hunter takes the Wheeler Opera House stage in Aspen on Feb. 5.

ASPEN – Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Second City National Touring Company. Rings a bell, doesn’t it?Or, how about these: The Rev. Horton Heat, Tobias Wolff, Karl Denson, a comedy festival at the Wheeler Opera House, Wynton Marsalis, tribute bands at Belly Up, Beth Malone, Soupskl, a Rolling Stones documentary, a tribute to John Denver, fireworks over Aspen Mountain, artsy lift tickets, a Verdi opera, health-oriented cuisine upstairs at Explore, members of the McEuen family of pickers.Yep, all coming to a theater, club, festival ground, etc., near you – just like they did last year, or maybe as far back as the year before that. The arts calendar in the Roaring Fork Valley can seem like a dj vu experience, a circular rotation of Super Diamond, James DePreist, mountaineering documentaries, Ishmael Beah and Chris Thile.But the new year also brings the promise of new things in the arts – innovative venues, fresh faces, debuting festivals, new eateries. Here’s a look at some things up ahead in 2011 that you haven’t seen before. Or at least, not exactly the way you’ve seen them before.••••The real new big thing at the Aspen Art Museum – a new building – won’t be finished in 2011. But the organization will have its new, downtown location – albeit a vacant space – sometime around March 1. To whet the public’s appetite for what is to come, the museum intends to use the construction site as a pop-up space for art. Ideas being mulled include drive-in movies (with bicycles and feet in place of cars), music and dance performances, sculpture, and an architecture camp for kids. “The idea is to have people focus on what will happen inside the structure, after it’s built, rather than the structure itself,” Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, director of the museum, said.••••Steve’s Guitars has found a way to let more than 60 or so people in on the music that gets made in its tiny little Carbondale space. Last week, Steve’s launched a recording project that will document live shows on CD; the first release was a full set by local Americana band All the Pretty Horses. Steve’s and recording engineer Jeff Maus, have stockpiled around 100 concerts – some by the likes of Steve Forbert and Shannon McNally – and now it comes to deciding what to put down on disc. Shop owner Steve Standiford says to expect a mix of full shows and compilations.The project may not only enliven local home stereos, but the shows themselves. When All the Pretty Horses had their CD Release Party, they witnessed a huge turnout.••••MountainSummit, Aspen’s extension of the discussion-and-a-movie festival Mountainfilm in Telluride, is still reasonably new, and on an upward arc as it enters its third year this coming summer. But brand spanking new is the further extension, Mountainfilm Mondays, which brings a handful of documentaries to the Wheeler Opera House on Monday nights this winter. The series opens Feb. 7 with the local premiere of “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” a documentary of the late, radical attorney, made by Kunstler’s two daughters. The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.Also in the series, and having their Aspen premieres, are “The Fence,” about the 700-mile barrier built between the U.S. and Mexico; “On Coal River,” about mining in West Virginia; and “Last Train Home,” about the social upheaval caused by China’s massive economic growth. Also on the program are several films (don’t roll your eyes now) that screened at last summer’s MountainSummit, including “Bag It” and “Freedom Riders.”••••Presumably at some point this year, the Aspen Music Festival will announce that it has hired a new music director to succeed David Zinman, who resigned last spring. But here’s a truly novel concept: go without a music director. Radical, sure – but last summer’s festival was pulled off with the top artistic position vacant, and strangely enough, many listeners thought that the music never sounded better.••••For years, Aspen foodies complained that the local restaurant scene had gone stale. But a new round of eateries have opened, with some more still to come, that should keep diners comparing notes.BB’s Kitchen, an ambitious new venture by Aspenite Bruce Berger on Cooper Avenue, opens its doors today, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The pulled-pork-stuffed burger is bound to catch some eyes, as are the fresh-baked breads and the house-made charcuterie. But the early advice is to go for a bowl of the white bean chili.Pyramid Bistro, inside Explore, is turning healthy spa cuisine into deliciousness. Oy Vey Caf, on Hopkins Avenue’s Restaurant Row, has all the kitsch of a New York deli – as well as the smoked salmon, pastrami and matzo ball soup. CP Burger has become a destination for diners looking for the fast, inexpensive burger-fries-shake meal (with the kale salad doing its part in luring the more health-conscious). More of the burger-fries-shake formula is to the found at both higher altitudes – at the Ullrhof, on Snowmass Mountain – and lower – at Fatbelly Eats in Basalt. Both feature local, grass-fed beef.Still to come: The Pullman, in Glenwood Springs, a new spot by Mark Fischer, whose existing restaurants (Six89 and Phat Thai, in Carbondale) make this buzz-worthy.••••The What’s So Funny? series? Gone. The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, which brought to town George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld and the Monty Python troupe? Long gone. The Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival? Also gone, as of this year.Comedy at the Wheeler? Still rolling, as the Wheeler introduces the Aspen Laff Festival, March 16-19. Gone as a partner is Rooftop Comedy, whose focus on college kids was a problem both in timing and style of humor. In is comedian Tom Simmons, who co-produces the festival. The inaugural event is bookended with appearances by Christopher Titus and Caroline Rhea.••••The conspicuous new act at Belly Up Aspen is actually an old one: Stone Temple Pilots, the ’90s grunge heroes, who make their Aspen debut on Feb. 17. But dig a bit deeper, and you finds some hints of other fresh things. Medeski, Martin & Wood, who have never played a club show in Aspen, do just that at Belly Up, in March 3. MMW’s jazz-groove sound should benefit from the intimacy of the venue. Colorado’s Leftover Salmon hasn’t played an indoors show in the valley in a decade; they head inside on Feb. 27. Public Enemy returns Feb. 20, this time with a full band – although whether that means they can top their Aspen debut from a year ago remains to be seen. And when singer-songwriter Amos Lee shows up, on Feb. 4, it will be with a new batch of songs; his “Mission Bell” album gets released Jan. 25.••••”Today’s Special” is a film that should awaken viewers’ appetites. It stars “The Daily Show’s” Aasif Mandvi as a sous chef dreaming of studying in France, but instead pulled into his family’s shabby storefront Indian spot in Queens. The film shows Jan. 25 at the Wheeler, and rather than release the ravenous hordes into the Aspen night, Aspen Film has arranged a pre-show, specially priced dinner at the Pitkin County Steakhouse and Tavern. (“Today’s Special,” without the dinner portion of the evening, also shows Jan. 26.)••••The Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s surrounds its annual Winter Words series with a bunch of additional events, making for its busiest winter program ever. Writers Andrew Sean Greer (Feb. 10) and Tobias Wolff (March 7) appear in talks geared toward “The Great Gatsby,” the Writers’ Foundation’s selection for The Great Read community book event. Singer-novelist John Wesley Harding presents the Cabinet of Wonders (Jan. 30, Wheeler); the variety show premiered in Aspen last summer, but this version has new guests, including singers Juliana Hatfield and Evan Dando.••••Jazz Aspen’s winter series – presented Downstairs at the Little Nell, which does a fine impersonation of a proper jazz club – gets a theme this year: It’s all women singers. The series opens with Karrin Allyson (Jan. 28-29) and closes with Paula West (March 25-26), with a February artist still to be announced.In other new Jazz Aspen news, the organization has brought in a partner, concert giant AEG Live, to bring in big-name acts for the Labor Day Festival. Initial rumors point to AEG pulling their weight.••••The Aspen Skiing Company-owned Limelight Lodge is offering a new angle on aprs-ski in town. Their American Bluegrass Winter Series puts free music in the Limelight lobby every Wednesday through Sunday, throughout the season. The bands are drawn from the local and regional ranks of acoustic acts, including Jayme Stone, Defiance Stringband, Missed the Boat, Ellen Stapenhorst, and the trio of Rich Ganson, Tom Hills & Randy Utterback. The scene includes a bar, a stage and fresh-baked cookies.••••Listen to James Hunter, and it’s more than a little bit of a throwback to the old-school soul of Sam Cooke. But Hunter is white and British, and plays a mean guitar. And when he hits the Wheeler stage, on Feb. 5, it will be his local debut.••••Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s program of mixed repertoire (Feb. 11-12, and March 19) feature familiar choreographers in Nicolo Fonte and Jiri Kylian, but both will be represented with brand new works.••••You’re coasting down the Snowmass slopes, traversing from the Big Burn over toward Alpine Springs, heading over the Trestle Bridge … when you hear a sound coming from the woods. A comforting, wintry sound, that is unexpected but somewhat familiar. That’s Susan Philipsz, recent winner of the Turner Prize, singing the Fleet Foxes song “White Winter Hymnal,” with the refrain – “I was falling/ I was falling … ” a pitch-perfect accompaniment to the act of downhilling. The sound installation is presented by the Aspen Art Museum.••••Carbondale – the valley’s center for funkiness in the arts – becomes a center of the fine arts when the Powers Art Center opens, which should be early this year. The new institution, just off Highway 82, is something of a memorial to the late, local art collector John Powers; the art, limited largely to works on paper by Jasper Johns, was donated from the Powers collection.••••Theatre Aspen unfolds a new tent for its 2011 summer season. Audiences can expect the intrusions from Mother Nature – rain, thunder – to be a little less of a distraction to what’s happening onstage.stewart@aspentimes.com

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