Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

It’s all peaceful now, at least on the surface: the Aspen Music Festival out at the tent, the rodeo at Snowmass Village on Wednesday nights and various crazies from both still wandering the streets when they should be at home.

It wasn’t always so peaceful. Early in the day of what might be called modern cultural clashes, the rodeo grounds were by the Music Tent, but the march of progress dictated that it was not an appropriate place for such activities, particularly so near the tent and the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies.

The rodeo was banished, and Walter Paepcke, president of the very successful Container Corp. of America and whose true brainchild was the Aspen Institute, seemed to be continually battling a shortage of funding for his various endeavors, which included the Music School and Festival, pressed the idea locally that 5 percent of the gross of every business in Aspen should go toward the support of his Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies.

That notion, of course, went over like the proverbial wet pig on a witch’s broom, and the idea was scrapped. Lurking in the wings, however, was the previously disenfranchised group of rodeo and horse enthusiasts, still yearning for a suitable place to congregate and stage their own events. They had a beautiful arena up by Stillwater, but it was small, and parking was a challenge.

Newt Klusmire, owner of the Silver Grille Cafe and bronc rider extraordinaire, offered his establishment as headquarters, and through mostly word-of-mouth advertising and the auspices of the Aspen Saddle and Bridle Club, $12,000 was quickly raised for the purchase/lease of 10 acres from Art Pfister, and the race was on. A large arena, with attached and substantial grandstands, was built just west of the Maroon Creek Bridge, and the Silver Stampede Rodeo was born.

Walter Paepcke wasn’t exactly pleased that such a large sum of money was raised so quickly for a rodeo but was never offered by the community to support his Music Associates and Aspen Institute. This was not the sort of summer entertainment Paepcke envisioned when he started his Aspen project, and a showdown was imminent.

Before the citizens could quite grasp the situation, Paepcke announced that if there was, in fact, a rodeo, he would withdraw all future music programs and immediately close up the Institute. He further proclaimed that he also would foreclose on the still-developing Aspen Ski Corp. The Denver papers jumped on this, proclaiming it the “Music versus Manure” controversy.

What was to be done? The business community was twisting and turning between the two when an unlikely hero stepped forward in the person of Herbert Bayer, artist and designer. Bayer’s Aspen existence was wholly dependent on Paepcke at that point, but he swallowed hard and said, according to Henry Stein in his book “Frontiers Past,” “Valter, you have your Institute for Humanistic Studies. You preach and admire the humanities. Valter, you now practice them.”

We know that Paepcke heeded the advice, but as a result of that struggle, the Music Festival and School was dropped from the Institute program.

In all fairness to Walter Paepcke, his Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies flourished, and he remained a faithful supporter of the Aspen Ski Corp. Aspen, as a cultural center, would not be what it is without the impetus of Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke. The Aspen Music Festival and School is still with us, and although we no longer have a rodeo arena near town, the spirit of the West lives on.

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