Winter wonders land: Previewing Aspen’s cultural season |

Winter wonders land: Previewing Aspen’s cultural season

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
J. Michelle Martin-CoyneOklahoma rock band the Flaming Lips make their Aspen debut in December at Belly Up Aspen.

ASPEN – Aspen’s cultural scene will never be described as radical. But this winter season might come as close as it ever gets, with a definite sense of things being shaken up, and everyone waiting to see how it all lands.

The Wheeler Opera House has rethought its festivals. The Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival, formerly a partnership with Rooftop Comedy and presented in late spring, is now the Aspen Laff Festival – the Rooftop folks are gone – and gets moved to mid-March. The promising 7980: The Aspen Songwriters Festival, which just debuted in September, likewise gets moved into prime-time, with dates in late March.

The Aspen Skiing Co. is set to launch its own music festival, a bold, three-day, early March extravaganza in Wagner Park. Skico also gets into the visual arts, with a ski-oriented photography exhibition ranging across its four mountains.

A major new music venue is coming to Carbondale. Belly Up caps its Christmas/New Year’s lineup with one of its coolest acts ever. The Aspen Brewing Company moves downtown.

And if you thought (rightly) that the valley’s restaurant scene had gotten stale, well, there will be plenty of fresh new spots to chew on this winter.

We’ve asked local insiders – event producers, magazine publishers, heads of arts nonprofits and performers – to offer their insight on the events, activities and openings they are most looking forward to.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers at the Wheeler Opera House (Dec. 29). During my first visit to Aspen, in the winter of 1987-’88, I saw a poster announcing the Flying Karamazov Brothers at the Wheeler – three days earlier! I’ve waited 22 years for them to return to Aspen. This is the smartest juggling show ever created, and we know how much we like our juggling to be smart, right?

The Flaming Lips at Belly Up (Dec. 27). I had to do a double-take when this was announced. Really? The Flaming Lips? In a venue that intimate? Yes! The Lips are famous for their elaborate live shows, so the confetti-per-audience ratio will likely be at an all time high. Lucky, lucky us.

The Aspen Laff Festival at the Wheeler (March 16-19). Who doesn’t love to laff? HBO’s defunct U.S. Comedy Arts Festival was always the highlight of my year, so I’m glad Gram Slaton and the Wheeler are continuing to bring comedy to town. This first installment promises laffs from some hot stand-ups whom we can only hope (and, for those of us so inclined, pray) will not attempt to find humor in the altitude, the prices, or the blatant Caucasianism of Aspen. Ha! Laff, I nearly did…

Eavesdropping around Aspen – all winter long. If you’re looking for some quality highbrow entertainment RIGHT NOW, just hang up the cell phone, crane your neck and listen in on that conversation at the restaurant, bar, gondola, cafe, etc. I’ve eavesdropped all over the country, even the world, and there’s no beating the quality of overheard quotes right here in Aspen. Bring a pad and pencil and prepare to be entertained and inspired. I’ll see you there.

The Pullman in Glenwood Springs is the newest in Mark Fischer’s trio of restaurants, and he will no doubt do what he does best – display his commitment to community and local products by offering a seasonal menu, exceptional value, and a thoughtful, comfortable atmosphere. The Pullman, across from the railroad tracks, promises a new American cuisine that will transform the restaurant landscape in Glenwood Springs and beyond.

Willits Winter Market in El Jebel is one of the best, and most significant, additions to the valley. With the dedication of area farmers, ranchers, dairies and food and beverage artisans, the local food movement breaks the seasonal barrier beyond summer and fall. Every Saturday, producers trek to stock the indoor market so we can eat straight from the farm even in winter. There’s fruits and veggies, eggs and cheese, artisanal soups and baked goods, and wine. It’s also a great place to do your holiday shopping, with gifts for your favorite foodie, plus local art, jewelry, home accessories, hand knits and skin care products.

Aspen Skiing Company’s extraordinary commitment to source locally produced grass-fed beef at on-mountain restaurants takes eating local to new heights. I’m celebrating the fact that burgers at Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass Village now feature beef raised at Milagro Ranch in Missouri Heights, thanks in part to Skico’s executive chef, mountain division, Jim Butchart.

Over the last three years I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to a stream of locally produced products, many of which make great gifts. Four products I love this season: Decadence Gourmet Cheesecakes – I recommend the sweet, and the savory. Avalanche Cheese Company – possibly the perfect gift, an antique plate filled with an assortment of fresh cheeses. Mountain Meadow Naturals – OMG Treatment and Becca’s Butter are the best combo for dry skin! Too Haute Cowgirls – Fistful of Fleur de Sel gourmet popcorn. Popcorn, chocolate, toffee, salt – need I say more?

Lina Dunham’s film “Tiny Furniture,” an independent film by the daughter of the Ranch’s two honoree artists in 2011: the painter Carroll Dunham, and the photographer Laurie Simmons, who is in the film. It is getting great reviews. (No local screenings are currently scheduled.)

The video art that will be on display in BB’s Kitchen, the new restaurant opening in Aspen in late December. There is no other venue in Aspen for contemporary video art.

“The Tempest,” a film directed by Julie Taymor and starring Helen Mirren as Prospera (opening nationally Dec. 10). It’s Shakespeare’s play by a very innovative director and staring one of my favorite actresses.

The Metropolitan Opera’s “Das Rheingold” in HD at the Wheeler Opera House (Feb. 10), with James Levine conducting and Bryn Terfel as Wotan. The HD opera performances are astonishing to watch.

The Mark Manders exhibition, Parallel Occurrences/Documented Assignments, at the Aspen Art Museum (opening with a reception on Feb. 17). I love Manders’ work and am putting it in a museum exhibition I am organizing.

Flaming Lips. That’s a band I’ve never seen, and has been on my top 10 list of bands I want to see.

The Wailin’ Jennys (Feb. 16, Wheeler). I’ve never seen them. They don’t tour much – I know; I’ve tried to book them for my bluegrass festival. So this is special. Their harmonies are great; I can’t wait to sit back and listen.

My top pick for movies is “Biutiful” (opening in limited release Dec. 29, and showing Dec. 30 in Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings, ). I think that’s going to end up being the best movie of the year. Everything about it looks intense and mind-blowing. Javier Bardem is one of my favorite actors; he’s captivating.

“Somewhere” (in limited release Dec. 22). I’m a big fan of Sofia Coppola. I love how she incorporates soundtracks, and this one has music by Phoenix. And it looks like a good story – a relationship between a father and daughter.

“Blue Valentine” (in limited release Dec. 31). It looks like an interesting relationship movie. And it’s got Ryan Gosling.

“True Grit,” a great remake of a great movie. Based on a 1968 novel about a 14-year-old girl who undertakes to avenge the death of her father, then made into a 1969 John Wayne movie, this version is by the talented Coen brothers. The Coens have approached the movie from its original book perspective (they always have the best perspective!), that of the girl, who, played by Hailee Steinfeld, is the true star of the movie, and they add real star character in the form of Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. I dare anyone, after watching the trailer, to miss it. (In fact, you can be the first in your neighborhood to see it: it shows Dec. 23 in Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings.)

For you film and ski aficionados, I recommend “Legend of Aahhh’s” (Friday, Nov. 26, at 7:30 p.m., Wheeler), a film by Greg Stump. Stump released his “Blizzard of Aahhh’s” 20 years ago, and now returns to explore the history of ski films. His historical perspective, both of the films and of the personalities that would “lead skiing from the burning rubble of the freestyle era into the MTV-inspired extreme movement,” is sure to be both entertaining and informative. This is the first public screening, and the Aspen Skico is the film’s one and only sponsor.

For a non-film adventure, for anyone interested in finding special holiday gifts, I recommend WHAM! the Wyly Art Center’s annual holiday bazaar held during the first two weeks of December in their new location in the Old Library building in downtown Basalt. They feature creative gifts by local artists from the Wyly Arts Center and the Roaring Fork Valley. A reception on December 4 in Lions Park includes the Basalt Peace Tree Lighting, a visit from Santa, horse-drawn wagon rides, and the Basalt High School Choir.

Flaming Lips, “Biutiful,” the Pullman, “True Grit,” the art at BB’s Kitchen – I second all those thoughts. But trust me, I’ve got a few more items circled on my calendar.

Skico hired Italian photographer Walter Niedermayr last winter to create a series of ski-oriented, multi-panel images on the local slopes. The impressive results will be exhibited in various Skico-owned venues.

Skico also goes big on the music front, unveiling a festival, Snow Beats, March 3-5, in Wagner Park. Acts have yet to be named.

James Hunter is the spitting image of Sam Cooke – except that Hunter is white, British, plays mean guitar, and is still alive. Since he emerged a few years ago, I’ve thought he’d be perfect for Aspen. He finally brings his brand of old soul here (Feb. 5, Wheeler). 7908: The Aspen Songwriters Festival, produced by the Wheeler and musician John Oates, showed promise in its September debut; it can only benefit from its new location on the calendar (March 31-April 3). Expect songwriter extraordinaire Jim Lauderdale to return, and get a spotlight event.

At Belly Up, the Flaming Lips is the intriguing new act of the season. For familiar faces, make mine Martin Sexton (Feb. 12), the great singer-songwriter who may have hit a career high point with his 2010 album, “Sugarcoating.”

You know those naan burritos that are the highlight of Carbondale Mountain Fair and Jazz Aspen? Come early December, they will be more than a twice-a-year treat. The booth owners are moving from California to Carbondale to open an Indian restaurant, Gandhi’s, in a Highway 133 shopping plaza. Also coming to ‘Bonedale: a 400-plus-capacity music venue in the Third Street Center; it should open in March.

More ethnic food gets served up as Karl Menyhert, who ran the restaurant at the Aspen Club a few years back, opens the Jewish deli, Oy Vey Cafe, on Aspen’s Restaurant Row.

Colum McCann is not only the Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s writer-in-residence, he has been using Aspen as a place to form ideas and do his writing. The Irish-born, New York-based McCann makes several appearances in the Writers’ Foundation’s Winter Words series: On Jan. 27, he will do an onstage interview of Irish poet Paul Muldoon; and on Jan. 30, he is part of John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders variety show at Belly Up. Both events will have McCann addressing “The Great Gatsby,” the selection in the Writers’ Foundation’s Great Read program.

Apart from “Biutiful,” which is the latest from Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu,” and “True Grit,” the big news on the big screen is director Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” (Dec. 3), a thriller set in the ballet world; director David O. Russell’s boxing-brothers drama, “The Fighter” (Dec. 10); and “Catfish,” an indie which has been intriguing and confusing audiences in its limited release.

I saw “127 Hours,” director Danny Boyle’s thrilling version of former Aspenite Aron Ralston’s adventure in the Utah desert, at Aspen Filmfest. I’ll see it again when it opens in Aspen (Dec. 3), but just as much, I’m looking forward to the discussion of the movie that will no doubt circulate around town.

The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is great at cultivating rising choreographers. Two of their finds – Jiri Kylian and Nicolo Fonte – debut new works in a program on Feb. 11-12, with an encore on March 19.


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