ZZ Top rings in New Year at Belly Up Aspen
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Two members of ZZ Top were once offered a reported million dollars apiece by the Gillette company to shave their famous beards. The two ” singer-guitarist Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill ” declined. It didn’t sound like a good idea: “We’re too ugly without ’em,” they said.
The amount offered by Belly Up Aspen to ZZ Top to play the club’s New Year’s Eve gig this year certainly didn’t approach seven figures apiece. But the trio ” which is rounded out by the ironically unbearded drummer, Frank Beard ” accepted. Michael Goldberg, owner of Belly Up, assumes the band smelled not only a paycheck, but a good time as well.
“It’s a big effort for them to come here,” said Goldberg, noting that the band has concerts scheduled Dec. 28-30 in various Florida locations, and has to be back in Florida for a New Year’s Day appearance at the Orange Bowl. “They wouldn’t normally take something this complicated if they didn’t think it was going to be a lot of fun.”
Add the difficult itinerary to the fact that ZZ Top, accustomed to playing for audiences of thousands in arenas and amphitheaters, will perform for a capacity crowd of 450 in Aspen, and the result is a predictably eye-popping ticket price. Concertgoers paying in advance will have to shell out $550 for general admission (they go up to $600 the day of the show), and $3,000 for reserved seating, which includes dinner and champagne.
The Texas-bred ZZ Top came to prominence with the 1973 guitar-heavy hit “La Grange,” and continued to establish themselves through the ’70s with the songs “Tush” and “Cheap Sunglasses.” Their greatest commercial success came in the ’80s, when they traded their signature blues-rock for the slicker sounds of “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs,” both of which were packaged with catchy MTV videos. The band entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, with Keith Richards giving the induction speech.
The price for ZZ Top surpasses such previous acts as B.B. King, Joe Cocker and Seal, all big-name acts that have made uncommon small-venue appearances at Belly Up. (Seal, who has played the club the last two years around Christmas-time, returns this year on Dec. 22 for the bargain price of $250.) But Goldberg says the fact that it’s New Year’s Eve throws rational thinking out the window.
“They’re so big, it makes it difficult to downsize to a club like ours for a reasonable ticket price,” said Goldberg, adding that the band’s traveling party numbers 16. “So what better night to do a silly ticket price? I wouldn’t have done a show like this on any other night.”
Even with such steep prices, Goldberg relied on his connections to seal the deal. His brother Bill ” the former professional wrestler who appeared under the single name, Goldberg ” is a friend of ZZ Top’s Gibbons.
A final element is the lure of Aspen. Members of ZZ Top have spent the holidays here in the past.
“There’s always the magic of Aspen,” said Goldberg, who has been trying to bring ZZ Top to Belly Up for two years. “Some bands are willing to say, ‘Hey, this is a lot of fun.’ But it always seems to take a lot of money to make them say that.”
Goldberg was quick to point out that Belly Up’s holiday shows come with a range of prices. Christmas night has reggae singer Ky-Mani Marley ” a son of Bob Marley and the opening act on the current Van Halen Reunion Tour ” for $38. The night following ZZ Top features the all-female AC/DC cover band Hell’s Belles for $28, and Jan. 2 has up-and-coming Colorado rock trio Rose Hill Drive for $18.
Goldberg said he isn’t about to stop chasing such artists, and he is certain that, eventually, he will land them.
“I am sure that one day there will be higher prices than this,” he said.
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A majority of users of the popular Red Hill Recreation Area north of Carbondale say they would be OK with closing the trails during the muddiest times of the year.