Sean Beckwith: Improving Aspen-Snowmass concert imperfections
September 25, 2018
"Hey @XGames if you could actually get decent artists to come to Aspen instead of the f—ing Chainsmokers that'd be fantastic. Three years in a row of dog s— artists." — @Kitten_Calendar on Twitter ("Tweet All About It: They Said It," Sept. 23, 2018, The Aspen Times.")
Aspen and Snowmass can't possibly please everyone with its selection of acts for music festivals and public concerts, clearly evident in the above tweet from @Kitten_Calendar, but there are some easily correctable steps to appease more folks.
X Games focuses on getting the bros amped enough to brave what's usually the coldest weekend of the year. The JAS Labor Day Experience seems set on big-name artists scheduled like someone forcing the wrong puzzle pieces together. The Snowmass Free Concert Series is a great way to spend a Thursday night, even if variety has lacked the past couple of years. The Bud Light Hi-Fi Concert Series — while sponsored and with the ability to attract quality bands — pops up seemingly at random in various places making it hard to discern a motive.
The lineup for X Games was announced last week and it's predictable enough. The f—ing Chainsmokers, Kygo and Lil' Wayne are headlining and will most likely do what the event planners had in mind: Fill the snow-covered venue at Buttermilk. Despite a less-than-stellar review, to put it mildly, of their last X Games performance from Aspen Times entertainment editor Andrew Travers, The Chainsmokers are back. Kygo also makes a return trip, with Lil' Wayne the sole artist making a debut.
It's as if the people running X Games asked aging execs, "What are the hip kids listening to?" Lil' Wayne is working on "Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown," err, I meant "The Carter V." I understand EDM and hip-hop are the preferred genres — which is fine — but how about adding acts that, you know, play instruments? It would be nice to utilize the massive space for more than just two idiots pushing buttons, and provide entertainment for all ages instead of only the 25-and-younger segment. The recent exception would be LCD Soundsystem, which I heard was a good show.
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JAS Labor Day Experience
The most popular music festival, JAS Labor Day, holds that distinction for a reason. We're lucky enough to get Stevie Wonder, Gary Clark Jr., The Roots and other incredible musicians. The weather (provided it doesn't downpour) and concert space are awesome. I just don't understand how the days are scheduled, though. Maroon 5 and The Roots played on the same day last year. If you know anything about those two groups, you'd know that the group who wants to see The Roots probably has little to no interest in Maroon 5.
I understand they want to sell weekend passes over single-day passes but the experience should be put first. Scheduling missteps often lead to scattered audiences showing up for their preferred act. The goal shouldn't be to sell as many tickets as possible; it should be to provide a music festival affair, which doesn't happen if people pick and choose shows instead of attending the full day.
Snowmass Free Concert Series
Free is enough to get people through the gates, especially with a beautiful mountain-scape backdrop and a perfect summer evening. The most difficult part of the Snowmass concert series is getting people to watch the music as opposed to mingle with friends. Audience engagement is not this area's strong suit.
Perhaps a little more variety — and less repetition with headliners — would help expand the demographic and boost the atmosphere. A never-ending stream of bluegrass and country acts, though a staple of Colorado along with thick leather belts and IPAs, quickly gets old. The best free Snowmass show I've seen was Chali 2na a few years back. If all you want is background music for families on picnic blankets to chat to, why not round up the mechanical vermin from Chuck E. Cheese's?
Bud Light Hi-Fi Concert Series
This last one, the Bud Light Hi-Fi Series, is an anomaly to me. Often held during busy winter weekends, I more often than not can't attend the random shows due to work. Cold War Kids played recently, setting off my "Why couldn't the X Games schedule them" alarm. The acts are scheduled by Aspen Skiing Co., and they seem strive for diversity with a DJ set and the Rebirth Brass Band playing shows along with Cold War Kids a season ago. Also of note for X Games, the series has never repeated a headliner.
The only way to improve the Bud Light concert series, outside of adding a sponsor that makes good beer, would be to chuck in a show for locals. Hear me out: These shows take place at the base of Aspen Mountain and Snowmass Ski Area but what if they added the base of Aspen Highlands to the rotation, specifically on Highlands Closing Day? It's already the best party of the year, and I don't see a negative to subbing out a ho-hum DJ for some live music with a little panache. That's one Aspen audience what will yell and scream for just about any reason.
People will inevitably have negative reactions to artist selections; that's the subjective nature of music. However, it's possible, with a few minor tweaks, to avoid getting flamed from the likes of @Kitten_Calendar immediately after the acts are announced — I think.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.