Sean Beckwith: You’ve got to pay to play
One of the hardest things to do as a musician in Aspen is incite crowd participation. Whether it’s an ill-advised opener at the Labor Day jazz fest or an under-sold show at Belly Up, I always feel bad when an artist tries to rile up a finicky crowd. Awkwardness is often compounded by trying to get a crowd to complete a response that’s longer than three words and visitors who think that because they paid such steep prices that they’re not obligated to do anything more than slowly sway with a drink in hand.
We get it, you came to be seen, but don’t shoot me nasty looks for trying to, you know, dance at a concert. I don’t know what it is about Aspen concerts, but you need an enthused audience to get the full experience.
However, when you happen across the right situation, it’s hard to beat any venue around town. This was the case at Belly Up on Saturday night for Jurassic 5.
If you don’t know who they are, you clearly have never listened to hip hop — and if you do and haven’t heard of them, then I’m not sure how you can justify reading this. The Los Angeles-based group has stopped in Aspen plenty of times, with their most notable MC Chali 2na dropping by the Snowmass concert series on his own volition a couple times, as well.
This was far from a free show though with tickets pushing $70. If you want to get locals to pay an extraordinary amount of money (pretty much anything over $40) for a show, you better be pretty damn good. Dave Chappelle just announced four shows over two nights at the Belly Up for $195 a ticket. Most Aspen residents, myself included, can’t afford that and he’s one of the top five comedians on Earth.
That said, my thought process was the high price would weed out the casual crowd looking to fill a Saturday night more so than engage in a sweaty dance festival of hip-hop royalty. Royalty may be too high praise for some, but those people probably haven’t seen J5 live. People’s perception of hip-hop shows is a bunch of dudes strutting around stage spitting occasionally discernible lyrics over a bunch of bass — which is accurate in certain instances. Not Jurassic 5, though.
When groups have performed together for as long as they have, the interplay between MCs and DJs seems frantic at first but crystallizes into beautifully choreographed interchanges among group members the longer you watch. The closest thing I can compare it to is watching hockey. Novice hockey watchers have trouble following the puck, while grizzled hockey fans can follow game action effortlessly even after a few beverages.
I had a few cold ones and I hit every lyric on the hook of “Concrete Schoolyard” when prompted by 2na. I’m a terrible rapper and still killed it. (I know two songs by heart: Wu Tang’s “Method Man” and Biggie Small’s “Ready to Die.”) You know who else hits every bit of “Let’s take it back to the concrete streets, original beats with real live MCs, playground tactics, no rabbit in a hat tricks, just that classic rap s— from Jurassic?” Everyone on that exquisitely intimate dance floor.
Even when they asked “How y’all feeling tonight, Aspen?,” they received a big applause and then asked for louder applause, and we met — nay, exceeded — their expectations.
I also went by myself because apparently none of my true hip-hop head friends live in town. That’s a lie. Seventy dollars is a lot of cash for people not fully recovered from the offseason poverty cycle. I’m not scared of debt, though. I’m also not afraid of being that freak at the concert fully engaged with the show.
Honestly, it’s more fun without the thought of people judging my flawless Filthy Shuffle skills. You know how I know they were without flaw? Because I was the only critic, and I’m grimy AF so I know my stuff was dirty.
As GZA once said on the eternal banger “Protect Ya Neck”: “I’m the dirtiest thing in sight, matter of fact, bring out the girls and let’s have mud fight.”
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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