Tony Vagneur: Aspen Fourth of July parade filled with decades of memories

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

This date is a big deal, every year. Jay, Dana, Dominic, Chris and the rest of the Smuggler boys and girls get accused of rolling you out with an early-morning, ear-splitting blast from over thatta way. After that, the day is set up perfectly. You did hear it, didn’t you?

Other than burning sparklers off the front porch of our Woody Creek house, the first Fourth I really remember happened when I was 14 or 15. My good friend Pam (I neglect to mention her last name out of fear of embarrassing her) and I were beating around town, looking for some action when we got wind of a keg party at Toro Pelletier’s house, just east of the Roaring Fork river.

Toro (Ted) was well-nicknamed — built like a bull and ski patrol legend had it that he drove a snowmobile down Blondie’s with one hand, carrying some ’boo (or bombs) in the other. Years later, he and I had a brief altercation in the patrol room — his understanding toward a rookie saved my ass.

His keg party was an overwhelming success, no one questioned our presence, and I’m not real sure about Pam, but I was getting pretty well lubricated by the time the cops arrived. Being underage, she and I hightailed it across the street to Hildur Anderson’s very dark back yard, next to the river. We squiggled under Hildur’s large, commercial BBQ, just missed by the panning of inquisitive flashlights.

How either one of us got home is unclear, but the next morning my buddy Jack Rowland (my age) showed up unexpectedly at my grandmother’s house, driving an antique Cadillac, giving me the opportunity to blather on about what a great night it was but how the hangover, being my first, was totally worse than I ever imagined. It wasn’t my last.

When I was at the T Lazy 7, we won several parade awards over the years, such as best float or best riders: L.E. Wheeler drove my team one year, Charley and Sally, and got most colorful horses. If you count the years yours truly rode a horse in the Fourth of July parade, it comes out to about 24, finally ending around 1995. Maybe later.

One year, Red Rowland and I won the prize for best mounted riders — we shared a saddle bag of beers, either before or during the parade, which probably helped. That’s the same year Terry Cagnoni wanted me to bring my horse Kiowa into his original Magnifico’s liquor store, across from the Wheeler. The shelves were lined with shiny bottles in the tiny space, and it was tempting, but one wrong move from the horse and Terry and I both would have been out of business.

My last ride in the parade was several years ago, on the hood of a jail truck that Kemo Sabe’s Tom Yoder found somewhere. Buck Deane and I sat on the hood of the truck, playing country music and having a hell of a good time. It was the hottest we’d ever played together, seeing as how the heat of the engine was coming up directly through the hood. Yoder took good care of us, and we had the pleasure of traveling with some of the best-looking women in Aspen.

There was the infamous year in the ’90s, when a couple of gals wanted to have a pig roast. I volunteered to cook the pig, having had plenty of experience out on Owl Creek. (Man, you should have seen the pig roasts Don Stapleton and I did at our place in the country. Devastatingly excellent in all regards!)

All day long, and a hot one at that, I tended the fire, giving curious bystanders the rundown on what the hell I was up to, turning the pig over once or twice, and had a stack of pork ribs slowly sizzling on the top shelf, the drippings coursing down onto the jumbo main entrée. It may have been the best porker I ever tended in such a fashion.

About 3 p.m., just as people start arriving for the ballyhooed event, the temperature starting taking a turn toward cold. Fortunately, by 4 p.m., the grub was ready, and as people sat around the park, eating and kibitzing, a few snowflakes commenced to fall.

It was a tough crowd, but why fight it. People in shorts and summer shirts began drifting away rather quickly, and as we cleaned up the area, the snow began sticking on the ground, and then piling up. What are you gonna do?

The next thing we knew, the fireworks on Aspen Mountain were canceled that night. Too much wet snow and a very low cloud cover.

Happy Fourth of July!

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at