Your Jazz Aspen Labor Day 2021 Crash Course
Who’s on and what to expect from Aspen’s biggest pop festival
The return of live music in Aspen feels like it’s been building to this. We’ve been at it for a few months now, since the exultant return of indoor concerts at the Jazz Aspen June Experience, the reopening of Belly Up at full capacity, the Aspen Music Festival, the JAS Café series and the Fanny Hill concerts in Snowmass. The post-vaccine scene here has returned vibrantly with crowds welcoming the return of these summer pillars of performance. The Jazz Aspen Labor Day Experience, the biggest local pop music festival, is back as the end-of-summer blowout culmination of it all.
The delta variant, breakthrough cases and the re-emergence of coronavirus locally has raised some concerns and kept some away from shows since mid-summer and led to one artist major cancellation at Labor Day, but the show will go on for the first time since 2019 with vaccinated and tested crowds expected to near Snowmass Town Park’s 10,000 capacity.
It’ll be a celebration, with the early birds racing for their spots as gates open and a notably upbeat lineup of hitmakers on the bill.
Virus-wise, the festival is sticking to the policy it used for the indoor June Experience and JAS Café series: attendees must show proof of vaccination or a negative test result from within 72 hours (children 12 and under included). They’re providing testing sites again as well and beefed-up hand stations, touchless options at bars and merch tents.
Even amid the distractions and concerns of the pandemic, the focus all weekend is going to be on the superstars on stage. Here’s a run-down on what’s in store from them.
GARY CLARK, JR.
Friday, Sept. 3, 6 p.m.
Key Track: “Come Together,” 2017 (cover)
What’s New? “Valley of Last Resort.” Last fall, the bluesman co-wrote and released this theme song about Aspen for the locally produced documentary “Freak Power,” about Hunter S. Thompson’s 1970 campaign for sheriff of Pitkin County.
What to Expect: Hard blues and hardcore fans. Clark has made regular stops in Aspen over the past eight years, including Belly Up and Jazz Aspen shows, growing his cult following and somehow upping his showmanship every time.
KINGS OF LEON
Friday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m.
Key Track: “Use Somebody,” 2008
What’s New? The album “When You See Yourself,” released in March after a yearlong pandemic delay.
What to Expect: An old-school rock show from one of the last great bands playing straight-ahead guitar rock (and, of course, a big “Use Somebody” singalong).
Saturday, Sept. 4, 3 p.m.
Key Track: “She’s a Self Made Man,” 2020
What’s New? Songs from the 2020 album “Self Made Man,” released during the pandemic and being performed for audiences for the first time this summer.
What to Expect: Maybe the sleeper show of the festival as this hard-shredding sister blues duo make their local debut.
Saturday, Sept. 4, 5 p.m.
Key Track: “All I Wanna Do,” 1993
What’s New? The definitive concert album “Live at the Ryman and More,” released in mid-August
What to Expect: A legend at the start of a new chapter. Between performing on the “American Idol” finale in May, releasing the live album and hitting the road on a big national tour, Crow – who released what she said would be her final studio album in 2019 – is in a celebratory and retrospective phase of her three-decade career.
Saturday, Sept. 4, 7:30 p.m.
Key Track: “Record Year,” 2015
What’s New? The ambitious triple-album “Heart & Soul,” recorded during the pandemic and released in May.
What to Expect: A barnburner of a country rock show, of course. He won CMA Entertainer of the Year for a reason.
Sunday, Sept. 5, 3 p.m.
Key Track: “Diamond Studded Shoes,” 2021
What’s New? The Dan Auerbach-produced album “Stand For Myself,” released this summer.
What to Expect: Maybe, hopefully, a duet with Maren Morris, who Yola performed with on the country supergroup The Highwomen’s hit self-titled song.
Sunday, Sept. 5, 5 p.m.
Key Track: “The Middle,” her billion-streaming 2018 collaboration with Zedd and Grey
What’s New? “Bigger Man,” an emotive collaboration with Joy Oladokun released this summer
What to Expect: As she proved once again guest-hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live” this month, Morris is an extraordinary entertainer. Expect more than a great country show (though you’ll get that, too).
JIMMY BUFFETT & THE CORAL REEFER BAND
Sunday, Sept. 5, 7:30 p.m.
Key Track “Margaritavilee,” 1977
What’s New? This booking! When Stevie Nicks canceled on Aug. 10 due to coronavirus concerns, Buffett – the longtime part-time Aspenite and boozy music icon – stepped in to make his Jazz Aspen debut.
What to Expect: Parrothead shenanigans, sing-alongs and an Old Home Week vibe from stoned Boomers regaling you with their tales of seeing Buffett play bars and barbecues here back in the day. It’s gonna be a blast.
Veterans of the Labor Day fest know not to sleep on the side stage, showcasing local and regional talent (and, in the comfort of a shaded tent, offering a break from the sun). Sets run between the main stage acts, so you don’t have to miss a thing.
This year’s lineup in the JAS Music Lounge includes Denver band Pandas & People (Friday, 5:10 & 7:20 p.m.), Boulder-based duo Augustus (Saturday, 4:20 & 7:10 p.m.) and Boulder’s folk outfit The Sweet Lillies (Sunday, 4:10 & 6:40 p.m.).
The festival is also bringing back its post-show Silent Disco Party on Friday and Saturday night, starting immediately after the main stage headliners end. This year’s parties feature local D.J. Andrew Wickes, DJ Knuttybird, DJ Verduzco, LOLO and Ryan Golbus. (Tickets are $10, benefiting Jazz Aspen’s scholarship fund).