Where Have All the Concerts Gone? | AspenTimes.com

Where Have All the Concerts Gone?

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Staff Writer

When the Yellow Snow Tour lands in Aspen this coming week, the hard-core concert headlined by ska-funk band Fishbone will make but a small mark. The concert, which also features OPM and Bargain Music, will be held at Iguana’s, a spot at Aspen Highlands Village known more for Mexican food and local bands than high-profile concerts. The crowd will be limited to 150 moshers due to space limitations.Pop-punk band The Offspring, with some 32 million CD sales to their credit, will have to brave the elements for their upcoming Aspen appearance. Their concert, an X Games affair sponsored by the Aspen Skiing Co., is scheduled for the streets of Aspen, requiring the closure of several downtown city blocks. That situation raised some concern for the city government, which eventually approved the event. The Offspring will have to hope that their concert set for 6 p.m. this Tuesday, Jan. 27, on a semi-trailer equipped with a stage and lighting, but no coverage for the audience doesn’t suffer the fate of the appearance by fellow punks the Riddlin’ Kids. Their late December concert, outdoors at Snowmass Village, drew a sparse audience thanks to the cold. Last year’s premiere X Games music attraction, hip-hop group Jurassic 5, had no such concerns: They played indoors, at the now-defunct Double Diamond.At least Fishbone and The Offspring are coming, despite the less-than-ideal locales. Such solid draws as Sound Tribe Sector 9, the Derek Trucks Band, Leftover Salmon, the Wailers, Cracker, Tony Furtado and Guttermouth, all of whom packed the Double D in a past era, are all touring through Colorado ski towns in the weeks ahead but none is currently scheduled to make it to Aspen, or even the Roaring Fork Valley. As consolation, fans of such bands have a whole bunch of road trip opportunities to look forward to.Life sucks when your town doesn’t have a prominent live-music nightclub. Or any decent makeshift, readily available facsimiles, like an ice rink or conference center. But since the Double Diamond shut its doors at the end of last summer, Aspen which for decades has proudly carried the title of the ski world’s best nightlife has been shut out of much of the music scene.Josh Behrman probably feels the pinch harder than anyone. Behrman, the owner of Mountain Groove Productions, has been staging concerts, festivals and other events in the valley for seven years. Much of his time is spent pleading with agents to give him dates with bands Behrman knows will draw well in Aspen. This year, the tables have unfortunately turned.”In the last four to five weeks, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Keller Williams, Tim O’Brien, Eek-a-Mouse, just today the Big Wu, Spearhead, have all called looking for dates,” said Behrman, who booked the Yellow Snow Tour at Iguana’s. “What’s strange about this particular year versus all others is, Medeski, Martin & Wood and Keller Williams are bands that I’ve been calling for years, and now they call me and I can’t house them. House, meaning a venue.”Behrman exhausted his options. The Wheeler Opera House, where he has staged several recent acts including Bruce Cockburn and Steve Earle, was not available on the necessary dates for Medeski, Martin & Wood, Williams, or Leftover Salmon. The Aspen Music Festival and School’s Harris Concert Hall was too expensive for certain shows, and too formal for others. The Snowmass Conference Center was in a state of flux, having been recently purchased by the Silvertree Hotel. The Silvertree’s Cabaret Room was not big enough. Behrman has shown a willingness to be flexible to accommodate a show: Last month, he booked Garaj Mahal into Zl Music Cafe, where the four-piece band had to physically divide itself three members on one side of the room, and the keyboardist on the other side of the entryway. But the better-known acts tend to insist on more normal staging.Behrman is not the only one compromising to put on concerts. David Laughren’s Avalanche Productions is bringing blues-rock band the North Mississippi Allstars to Aspen in March. But instead of the Double Diamond, where the Allstars have played in the past and most likely would have played again, Laughren has the band booked into the Wheeler, not a perfect fit for a loud, electric band whose fans are accustomed to dancing.With the Double Diamond out of action and the space temporarily dark after a would-be successor, Duke’s, never opened the Wheeler is being squeezed to near its maximum. Blocks of prime winter dates at the 500-seat theater have long been reserved for such events as the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, an Aspen Theatre in the Park musical, and the Wheeler’s own events, including the five-night Beyond Bluegrass festival.”The Wheeler Opera House is definitely my first choice of venues anytime, anywhere,” said Behrman, whose past presentations at the Wheeler include David Crosby’s CPR, Leftover Salmon, Ben Harper and Jack Johnson. “But the Wheeler isn’t always available. Because there are no other venues, people are going to use the Wheeler and it’s getting very crowded there. And there’s nowhere else.”Laughren, too, says he is shut out of the Wheeler because of previously scheduled events “all the time.”Actually, venues are popping up all over. They just aren’t the kind that even a modestly popular band is going to play. Responding to the shortage of venues, Main Street Bakery instituted a weekly acoustic-music series that is proving to be a good venue for mostly local acts. Zl, the Cantina, the Red Onion and the Blue Door in Snowmass Village have all become regular stops on the live-music scene. The Grottos, a small but ambitious music spot for several years, recently returned after its new owners tried first a Mexican-themed restaurant/club, Cabo’s, and then a resurrection of the Golden Horn, both with disastrous results.Whether the venue situation improves, maintains the status quo, or goes further down the drain in the future is murky. In a small town like Aspen, even one business decision can hold enormous import.The big question mark is what happens to the Double Diamond space. As reported in The Aspen Times earlier this week, the space, ideally configured as a midsize rock club, was leased to Larry Marks, whose stated intentions were to operate a club, Duke’s, that would house the occasional live act. But Marks was denied a certificate of occupancy and a liquor license, and Duke’s never opened. The space is currently on the market for sale at $2 million, or for rent at $15,000 a month, according to the Times’ report.Laughren believes that if the space is adapted for some use other than a nightclub, it will never return to its former use. And, Laughren adds, if the space disappears as a music venue, Aspen will never see another rock club the likes of the Double D. “I don’t think that, with real estate prices the way they are and the cost of outfitting a nightclub, there will ever be another rock n roll nightclub in Aspen.”Harris Hall is available for rent, but it’s got its limitations. The Aspen Music Festival, which owns the 500-seat hall, gets the pick of dates for its own events. The price $2,500 for one night for nonprofit groups, with no set price for other groups is high. And it is nothing but a sit-down concert venue. Still, the Aspen Choral Society regularly stages concerts there, and Jazz Aspen Snowmass used Harris Hall for a short series of jazz shows last winter.Perhaps the most intriguing site is the Aspen Recreation Center. With its spacious ice rink, proximity to town and decent parking options, it could make a feasible all-ages concert venue, and a larger one by far than any other indoor venue in the valley. Ice rinks aren’t known for their great acoustics and site lines, and an adequate floor covering is a major cost. But Vail’s Dobson Arena has become an attractive spot for jam bands and hip-hop acts. And Behrman is confident that any space large enough can be made into an acceptable venue.”If you do enough shows somewhere, you figure out how to do it well,” he said.Behrman is currently trying to figure out how to make Snowmass Village an attractive concert destination. The Cabaret Room is an exceptional sit-down venue with a capacity of 350. The remodeled Blue Door is small, with room for about 150, but Behrman raves about its suitability for small concerts. The Conference Center, site of the occasional large concert over the years, has earned a reputation for poor acoustics, but it can hold nearly 1,000 people and, according to Silvertree Hotel senior vice president of operations John Quigley, is available for organizations interested in presenting concerts.”What we want is to make the Conference Center available for concerts,” he said. “Since we’re the new guys, we’re trying to figure out how to work it into a concert venue and grow nightlife in Snowmass.”With all three venues the Cabaret Room, the Blue Door and the Conference Center, purchased from the Snowmass Resort Association the first of the year all in the Silvertree’s hands, synergy might be a key. Earlier this month, the town of Snowmass Village threw its first Massive Music and Movies event, programmed by Behrman, that featured bands at the Blue Door, the Silvertree’s Bedford Ballroom and the Mountain Dragon restaurant, with movies at the Cabaret Room. The event was modestly successful, but with some tweaking putting another band at the Cabaret Room instead of movies, or anchoring the event with a big-name band at the Conference Center there is potential for getting music fans to make the trip to Snowmass.”Snowmass might have a lot of answers to Aspen’s problem,” said Behrman.There are other potential solutions out there. A synthetic covering over one of Aspen’s parks Wagner or the Rio Grande, say would make large outdoor concerts, either tented or not, easier to stage. Skico is using its muscle to place its Hi-Fi Series of concerts in places like downtown Aspen and on ski slopes; the series continues with high-season concerts planned for February, March and April. And with the eventual building of Base Village, Snowmass may solve a whole lot of problems. According to Bill Kane, the Skico’s vice president of planning, early plans for the development include an 11,000-square-foot conference center that would accommodate concerts, and an events plaza for outdoor music events.The other answer is to simply wait until summer, when practically every mountainside, ski slope, park and street corner becomes a feasible concert venue, and Aspen reliably fills with music.