Willoughby: A seasonal town with a seasonal calendar | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: A seasonal town with a seasonal calendar

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Taking down the tent in the early 1970s.
Willoughby collection


Aspen, like most resort towns, has its work seasons. For workers that is both a blessing and a challenge. A blessing because if you are not enjoying your job, you know it won’t be long before it ends and a challenge because you have to find a new one.

I loved the seasonal nature of work in Aspen and combined being a teacher with summer work at the Music Festival. The transitions for some were inconvenient, but for me they elevated my energy level. Since I taught at Aspen Country Day School on the Music School campus, the two jobs overlapped.

At the end of the school year we had to pack up the entire school. In the earliest years we even had to haul everything to storage in town. Over time we built special library shelving that we could put a plywood cover over and move the books without boxing them. One of the greatest challenges was moving the science lab; moving aquariums full of water and fish is awkward at best. The first classroom ACDS arranged to lease for the whole year was the science lab.

Most teachers found the seasonal moving seemingly unnecessary hard physical labor. It did, however, make them very selective in what they boxed for the next school year. Since the Music Festival needed to set up for the season the school moving had a short deadline. In the fall the process repeated, but ACDS was the entity with the deadline. It was not a coincidence that the upper grades (5-12) spent the first week of the school year on outdoor education trips.

Eventually we had storage on campus that made it easier with the challenge being how to cram boxes, student desks and the library mostly into a basement, or after we had the science room, up a narrow set of stairs to the second floor.

The Music Festival seasonal shift was equally challenging. Even more work than moving aquariums is moving pianos. Each season the Festival was loaned hundreds of brand-new crated Baldwin upright pianos. Moving heavy boxes of books up a flight of stairs is a chore but moving a piano to the second floor of a condominium with a narrow stairway that changes direction half-way up is torturous. Doing it without scratching the brand-new finish added another challenge.

Most of my years were spent at the tent. The first job of the summer was to erect it. A small crew of around eight put up the top, and because for many years there were only two of us assigned to the tent, the rest fell to me and my partner. We installed all the side panels that required hours of lacing, and we had to attach each of the 13 top panels to anchors that held them down. The anchors were turnbuckles, I think six per panel, that had to be turned and turned and turned, a slow process.

After that we installed the seat cushions and for many years the wooden stage sections were stored for the winter so we had to reassemble them and correct any winter warping problems.

Every inch of the tent had to be cleaned removing nine months of dirt and dust. In the early years we also were in charge of the lawn so we had to get the watering system up and running, mow the grass and clean out the irrigation ditches that watered the trees.

Our deadline was not the beginning of the festival but in those days it had to be ready for the International Design Conference. We usually got to everything except weeding the gravel sections that surrounded the tent. We weeded the week of the Design Conference listening to the presentations as we dug out dandelions. The end of the season reversed the process, but it took far fewer days and we were more than willing to put in extra hours to end the season.

In those years Aspen had longer and more pronounced shoulder seasons where ski industry workers took a vacation and then many signed on to construction jobs. The erection of the tent was the harbinger of the summer season to the whole community. Finishing the school year celebrated a longer period but with the energy of children. Being part of starting another Music Festival season was a special joy, too. Life in Aspen, tied to the seasons, can be invigorating and fulfilling.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.

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