Mike Hagan: The difference a year can make
September 1, 2003
The wind was blowing, and it was raining and cold. Bo Diddley, a few songs into his set after telling everyone that a medical condition in his leg couldn’t stop him from playing, had just run off the stage in a full sprint.
It wasn’t looking good. One by one people fled the concert grounds to find shelter somewhere. Some even gave up, and headed on home. I had been waiting to see Tom Petty since I was 12 years old. I wasn’t going anywhere.
So myself and a good-sized group of hearty locals stood in the rain and cold for well over two hours talking about everything from the weather to the huge thunder crash that shook our homes that morning to old Volkswagen buses and the memorable stories that every former (or current) VW owner has to tell. It was a far different scene than last year, as my wife and I sat on the hill at Buttermilk on a warm evening cheering on Bob Dylan. But despite the inclement conditions, it also made me realize the difference a year can make.
Last year, as we walked around Buttermilk every footstep produced a “crunch” caused by the bone-dry grass. Every cigarette had to be carefully extinguished to keep the slopes from quickly going up in flames.
The concerts of 2002 brought to an end what had arguably been one of the toughest years in this area since the silver crash. A bad snow year, a record number of skiing deaths, followed by a summer clouded in anxiety and wildfire smoke. Our entire economy had come crashing down. The great music at Buttermilk wasn’t so much a celebration as a sigh of relief that the year was coming to an end.
So as I stood there in the rain I couldn’t help but be thankful for what has transpired over the past year. True, we have a long way to go to get back to the glory days in terms of our economy. But we had a fairly good winter that saw a rise in skier visits.
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Summer was beautiful and business has been brisk. And the monsoons came, as they are supposed to, to keep our beautiful valleys and mountains green. No one in the audience Saturday night was worried that a stray cigarette could cause the entire Brush Creek Valley to go up in flames.
So rain or no rain, this year’s concert series definitely felt like a celebration, a chance for all of us to gather together, drink and be merry, listen to great music (though I still don’t know why Bo didn’t come back to play a couple more songs) and look forward to an even better year than last year.
But that wasn’t the end of it. After the sound checks and one last visit to the now-lengthy beer line after the rain stopped, the stage lights burst on and there he was, white hair blowing in the breeze and that slight Gainesville drawl in his voice. Tom Petty, whose “Damn the Torpedoes” album first spurred me to pick up a guitar, was on stage and launching into a set I will long remember.
What I will most remember, however, was that as he started strumming the beginning to “American Girl,” a double rainbow erupted in the storm-blackened sky to the left of the stage. On the right, in the twilight sky, a sliver of a moon rose against a backdrop of sparkling stars, highlighting the surrounding mountains.
And it was then I realized why I work so hard to stay here, why I sacrifice the home with the white picket fence. It was simply one of those magical moments I have been lucky enough to enjoy time and time again, like standing alone in the trees on a powder day, when everything feels right in the world, when I know how lucky I am to call Aspen home.
[Mike Hagan is editor in chief of The Aspen Times. This column appears every Tuesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]