Tony Vagneur: Pretty hip party broke out to celebrate Aspen’s hippie past

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

The coming vortex of a convergence of constellations had not made itself known. And like all events of lasting historical significance, it came together piece by piece until it finally climaxed last Tuesday night at the Mountain Chalet.

While sitting at a makeshift office in Crested Butte, totally divorced from Aspen and taking in some fall hiking colors with my partner Margaret, I got a strange call from a guy named Bo Hale. You might know him. He wanted to get together with me and wondered if I still played my accordion. “No, Bo, I haven’t touched that beast in about 15 years and I’m not thrilled about dragging it out again.”

“I totally understand,” he said, in that smooth way of his, “but think about this. This will be a low-key gig, just four or five songs for a special lady, coming up in December. You could do that, couldn’t you? Maybe you should ask Buck Deane if he’d like to join us?”

OK, at the time there were about two people I’d consider playing that retired accordion with, and Bo and Buck were it. Hell, I’d played with Buck back in the late ’70s, early ’80s and, man, we had some good times together. And Bo, I’d heard him around at various places and respected his large repertoire and energetic performances. I took it as a compliment to be asked and before long, the answer was a reluctant “OK.”

In the meantime, I had another special project going, a reading of a book in progress. Jill Sheeley had asked if I’d look at a book she was working on, detailing her life in Aspen, kind of as a hippie chick, but also as a newcomer who put down roots here in 1968 and did some amazing things, like writing books for 40 years and raising a family.

Jill is a hard-working, talented writer, paying much appreciated detail to events and people of importance. I read her book, saw it updated three or four times before she sent it to the presses. I’d never met Jill, but was starting to feel like I really knew her. That was maybe a year ago, or maybe longer, I don’t remember, but it doesn’t matter now.

Buck’s interest was piqued about the music gig, although recovering from a cold and we figured we might have a practice get-together down the road — it was late November.

Jill emailed and we finally met over lunch, along with Marjorie DeLuca, talented graphic artist, cover designer and with whom I’d worked with on Aspen Hall of Fame projects. Mention was made that Jill was going to launch her book at a signing Dec. 10.

“Sorry, I can’t do that ­— I’ve committed to Bo Hale for a music gig on that date.”

“Don’t be silly, Tony. They’re one and the same event.”

You never know how to gauge a party like that, especially in Aspen, where people usually don’t commit until the last minute. An article on the front page of The Aspen Times doesn’t hurt. The party room on top of the Mountain Chalet had about 40 chairs set out; the caterers were fervently working, hauling up the grub, and Tommie behind the bar was looking at a sea of thirsty mugs. Enough chairs for 40 and 200 people showed up, all ready to rock on.

The third constellation was moving high in the sky — a resurgence of 1970s Aspen was happening all around us. The snow was fresh, the night air crisp, and there actually was parking for anyone who needed it. It was, as John Denver might have said, “Far Out!” It was definitely the coolest.

Jill read from her book. Bo and his lovely bride, Vicki, warmed up the crowd with several duets. People I’d thought to never see again were milling through the crowd, buying books like crazy, shaking hands of old friends; stories of years gone by were emerging from the depths like trout on a new hatch, and once the band fired up, folks were crowding around us in front, taking photos and videos like maybe we were really kicking ass a little bit.

It was a stroll back through time — listening to Buck yodel again, priceless; Bo laying down some rock ’n’ roll licks, and even a polka or two seemed to go over well. What a night. Vicki kept the beat going with a tambourine and sang backup with Had Deane and David Swersky.

It was the kind of party you can’t plan for, and probably wasn’t envisioned, but it came off like the old days of locals loving Aspen and a good party. Thanks to Jill Sheeley for launching her book, “Those Were the Days: Memories of an Aspen Hippie Chick” on a most propitious night.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at