With a friend on Wheeler stage, Aspen musician finds harmony
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
ASPEN ” As someone who does ministry work at Aspen’s Crossroads Church, Derek Brown keeps the Golden Rule close to his heart.
So when he realized that Randolph Turner, a prominent member of the local music scene for nearly two decades, had never played at the Wheeler Opera House, Brown did a good deed and created a music showcase, Localized, in part to spotlight Turner and his long-running rock band, Jes’ Grew.
There was also a touch of guilt involved, along with the “Do unto others” ethic. Brown recalls once, nearly a decade ago, asking Turner if he could borrow an amplifier for his own Wheeler gig. Turner dutifully lugged his amp over to the opera house.
Recently, Brown reflected on the unfairness of it all ” that Turner’s equipment had appeared at Aspen’s premiere venue, while Turner himself had not.
“I got to thinking: ‘How come he’s never done his music on that stage?'” said Brown.
That absence gets rectified Wednesday night. Jes’ Grew joins Brown’s recently formed Derek Brown Band, and a third local group, Funky Miracle, on the Wheeler stage. All three bands will focus on their original material for the evening. The locally focused night comes with a locals-friendly price tag of $10 a ticket.
As far as appearing at the Wheeler, the 42-year-old Brown has lived by the credo that God helps those who help themselves. The music director of Crossroads Church, Brown has for eight years been organizing the Aspen Community Christmas Concert, which has become an institution at the Wheeler. (It is taking this year off due to Brown’s schedule, which includes a recording project.) He has also appeared at the Wheeler in the songwriter-oriented event, All About the Song.
Localized is about taking things off his own hands, and letting other musicians do their own thing.
“For me, it’s been to let these other bands create their own sets,” said Brown, who was born on Easter Sunday, 1966. “With the Community Christmas Concerts, it’s always been me looking for great arrangements, and me coming to the musicians with the sets. So this is a little more freedom. It’s, ‘OK, you guys take charge.'”
Brown’s music-making began not at the Wheeler, but on a school bus. His first real singing came when his high school basketball team, in Phoenix City, Ala., embarked on road trips.
“Believe it or not,” he said, “the whole team would sing all the songs that were popular in that day, country and rock.”
Brown took the accounting degree he earned at Alabama’s Troy State, and went to Key West, where he and his guitar haunted the clubs on the island’s notorious Duval Street. For a year, he played ’70s rock ” Kenny Loggins, the Eagles, “Jimmy Buffett, of course,” he said ” as a solo act. But he quickly tired of Key West.
“It was a rough crowd down there, playing till 2 or 3 in the morning,” he said. “And there are not a lot of good things that happen after midnight in Key West. I had to change my environment.”
Brown took a tip from a friend, and found Aspen. He checked into the Little Red Ski Haus; two days later, he had not only a room there, but a job as well, as manager. That same day he gained employment, he also played his first Aspen gig, at the old Smuggler Land Office. In addition to playing his solo sets at the Slope, Cowboy’s and the Paragon ” all defunct ” Brown formed a band, Second Wind. Over the years, he has added a wife and three kids to his life ” and plenty of songs and styles to his repertoire.
“We don’t know what to call it. Maybe we shouldn’t call it anything,” he said of the music he plays in the Derek Brown Band, which includes keyboardist Doug Gelpi, drummer Brandon Kessler, bassist Keith Ball and singer Meg Simon. “It’s got a little jazz, a little swing, a little pop feel. I love the stuff from the ’40s, Cole Porter, the Tin Pan Alley stuff, with loads of chord changes. But I also love ’70s rock. And I love Lyle Lovett.”
One of Brown’s new songs, the feel-good country-folk tune “Mountain Town,” has made its way onto local radio. But he seems more interested in getting his friends onto the Wheeler stage.
“I’ve been thinking of Randolph playing there for 10 years,” he said.
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