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The Tao of Etheridge: Singer songwriter talks about life lessons before Belly Up show

Back in 2013, while working on a proposed box set of archival recordings, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge came across a group of songs that had been recorded in the late 1980s but never released.

Now, she’s taking these tunes on the road as part of her newest album, “One Way Out.” She performs at the Belly Up on Aug. 17. For fans familiar with the singer’s biggest hits from the mid-1990s, “One Way Out” (both the title track and the album) have a harder rock edge and go heavy on her distinctive voice and guitar sound.

“My intention was to show that I’m a rock-and-roller,” Etheridge said during a recent phone interview.

Lively and effervescent, you get the sense that she loves what she does and has limitless energy, especially when it comes to her job of more than three decades. And, this album was a bit of a return to those roots.

“I got this idea to get the band back together — the original, very first band I ever toured with, which was Kevin McCormick on bass, Fritz Lewak on drums and John Shanks on guitar,” she said. “These guys are monsters.”

They recorded with her on the album, and the rest is (recent) history.

Looking back, Etheridge said she’s happy these songs are being dusted off the shelf, as a lot has changed since she decided not to release them initially. As to why she waited?

“I was still very confused about who I was and was easily drawn off track sometimes,” she said.

But now she feels ready, and then some.

“These songs now — the me now is so different of the me 30 years ago because I’m not afraid of my strength,” she said. “I’m not afraid to get up there and RAWR ‘I’m a rock god.’ These songs were feminist; singing these songs now is like getting my power back, power that I had dampened on my own when I was younger and less sure of myself.”

Those headed to the show are likely to pick up on that rollicking attitude as Etheridge looks forward to another return to Colorado, several years after lifting a self-imposed, 26-year boycott of the state (in 2015) in protest of Colorado’s Amendment 2 passage in 1993.

“After being away for a long time, I try to come back every year,” she said. “I love playing Colorado, the landscape there. I’ve played everywhere around the area. Especially Belly Up, with 400 people standing up in front of me. It’s a sweaty, hot rock and roll night. And, we’re going to turn it up!”

Melissa Etheridge plays Belly Up Aug. 17.
Elizabeth Miranda

Dipping into a seemingly endless well of enthusiasm, Etheridge breezed through our tight 15-minute phone call, one of many on her schedule that day.

When asked about how she keeps it up after all this time, she said, “Because I don’t ever think of it as hard. I don’t ever say that. I’m very grateful. I know that I’m doing things that 99.9% of people don’t get to do, and I’ve learned a lot. I have learned about life, I’ve learned about health, and one of the strongest lessons I have learned is that I will be what I think I am. I wanted this to be an amazing journey that’s constantly challenging and constantly rewarding. And, it is.”

It’s a challenge not to get swept up in her overwhelming positivity, but that positivity does strike a balance with a wisdom built from years of success and struggles — both in and out of the spotlight.

“I’ve climbed that mountain; I’ve made it,” she said. “I want to say, ‘You can do this, let’s not make ourselves small anymore.’ Let’s inspire each other.”

Melissa Etheridge inspires audiences with her messages through music.
Elizabeth Miranda

Diane Reynolds: Here comes school traffic

Our roads ahead, working with the numbers, are you ready?

School will be back in session beginning Wednesday, Aug. 17. Combined students/teachers and staff from Aspen to Rifle add up to 12,500. Please plan accordingly.

The 8:30 start time may coincide with daily commutes. As the ratio of asphalt to vehicles grows smaller, allow more time to reach destinations.

Take a minute, think about it. Our drive isn’t what is used to be.

Diane Reynolds

Glenwood Springs

C. Jacobson: Glad we didn’t defund our law enforcement

A big thank you and applause to law enforcement — Glenwood Police Department, Garfield Sheriff’s Department, Colorado State Patrol and the fire department — for a job excellently done on the shooting incident in the neighborhood of Midland Avenue in Glenwood last month.

Thank God the first responding police officer was not hurt with 50 rounds fired — reaching even to Veltus Park!

Thank God that our communities have common sense — not the brainless “defund police” crowd— so the law-abiding citizens have the protection and are able to enjoy freedom in our safe environment all due to our brave law enforcement to maintain the law and order! Thank a law-enforcement officer today.

C. Jacobson

Carbondale

Sandy and Lee Mulcahy: Recipes for unhealthy society

In addition to former President Trump’s home, the FBI also recently raided three churches in the South. (Source: KWTX TV Waco, Texas.) 

The Guardian reported that more than 25% of U.S. residents “feel so estranged from their government that they feel it might ‘soon be necessary to take up arms’ against it.”

The June 2022 poll published by the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics also revealed that most Americans agree the government is “corrupt and rigged against everyday people like me.”

If the response from our political elites is simply increased militarization of police forces and/or the politicization of our justice system, these are not recipes for a healthy society.

Sandy and Lee Mulcahy

Basalt

Donald Wilson: Nothin’ like the Crud, then ‘Aspen 2.0’

Joy reigned supreme last Saturday afternoon at the Aspen Historical Society’s annual Ice Cream Social.

Joy, that is, and Aspen Crud. What in the world is Aspen Crud? It’s a concoction marrying vanilla ice cream with bourbon that will knock your socks off.

Enjoying one, two or even three of these divine treats seems an ideal way to get ready for the Ice Cream Social’s other blissful concoction: Its hour-long chronicle, in sketch-comedy form, of Aspen’s century-and-a-half history.

Titled “Aspen 2.0,” the show is the product of the society’s resident “historical reenactors,” Nina Gabianelli, Mike Monroney and Travis McDiffett. These genial masters, polished professionals all, present Aspen’s history in a way that is crisp, snappy and never dull.

The show is also spot-on accurate in detailing Aspen’s often complex story, such as the tortured conflicts regarding mining rights and rail access in the town’s early years. Here, I’m always reminded of Anna Russell’s sublime travesty of Wagner’s “Ring,” which is wild and hilarious — and accurate in every detail of the vast Nibelungen saga.

Over the years, I must have seen “Aspen 2.0” a dozen times; yet, I always look forward to it, for these nimble comedians are constantly updating the material, keeping it as fresh as this morning’s newspaper.

If you attended Saturday’s revels, you know exactly what I am talking about. If you missed it, then you have an entire year to rethink your Saturday schedule and take steps to rectify the omission.

Donald Wilson

St. Louis

Pitkin County commissioners show initial support for ambulance tax hike

The Aspen Ambulance District seeks a property-tax increase to keep up its level of service, and the Pitkin County commissioners showed initial willingness this week to put the question on the Nov. 8 ballot.

All five commissioners voted for a resolution to do so on first reading on Wednesday. They’ll vote again Aug. 24; the deadline for the board to certify the ballot content is Sept. 9.

The district seeks an increase in annual property tax that would come to $76 more for a residence valued at $1 million, and $319 more at the same assessed value for a business, according to Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock.

He said the ballot measure would aim to provide adequate funding to maintain current service levels through varying economic cycles and to support equipment and vehicle replacements on a cash basis without incurring debt. 

According to Gabe Muething, chief of emergency medical services for the ambulance district, the increase in operating costs is driven by an increased volume of calls due to an aging population with more chronic-health conditions and more activity. This is coupled with a decreased collection rate because Medicare only pays between 25 percent and 30 percent of the bill, and more people are qualifying for Medicare. In addition, the cost of equipment and personnel is increasing, as it is across the board, he told the commissioners.

“We really do have an amazingly high level service here, and I don’t want to stop that in any way,” Muething said. “I want to make sure that we have the absolute best for our community. …We really are buying the best equipment that we need to save lives. … Help is going to be there for you when you need it most.”

Without a mill levy increase or subsidy from the county’s general fund (which the district currently receives), the ambulance-district fund balance will go negative in 2023, according to Peacock.

“One of the reasons that I am supporting this ballot question is that it is just not appropriate for the county to have to continue to use county general funds to fund the special district,” Board Chair Patti Clapper said.

One of the questions raised by Board Member Greg Poschman and Vice Chair Francie Jacober regarded the charge imposed by the ambulance district for special events. Jacober suggested charging event organizers more since they make a lot of money from the events.

“We’re a tourist community, but, more importantly, we’re an event community,” Muething said. “Our goal is obviously to provide the same level of care for somebody coming in for an event as our own citizens.”

Currently, the district charges a fee depending on what service is provided for the event. The amount is based on a charge structure that evaluates operating costs for the district. However, raising the fees would not bring in enough additional money to compensate for the revenue shortfall, according to Muething.

Poschman emphasized Jacober’s point, reiterating that many events could afford to pay more. He suggested studying ambulance rates for special events in nearby counties to supplement the district revenue.

“It might not make a significant difference, but it might make a difference,” Greg said. “Every little bit helps.”

According to Pitkin County Finance Director and Treasurer Ann Driggers, the mill levy remains relatively low when compared with other municipalities due to Aspen’s exceptionally-high assessed property values.

Asher on Aspen: Three Chords and the Truth – a country run at Belly Up

Country music, or “hillbilly music” as it used to be called, is the sound of the working class. It celebrates a simpler and slower way of life, saluting America’s rural storytelling. A fundamental component to country music is this sense of home and belonging. I have my small-town Iowa roots to thank for my unwavering bias toward this kind of music. It’s what I grew up with, and at the end of the day, it’s the sound I crave the most.

This past week was a rather lively one for country music lovers in Aspen. The Belly Up brought three incredible country acts to the stage within a five-day period. Monday was Steve Earle; Tuesday was Charley Crockett; and Friday was Paul Cauthen. Having never seen any of these musicians before, I was especially excited for this lineup of shows.

What I appreciate the most about Belly Up is its widely diverse booking calendar. The talent buyers are intentional about catering to every music lover, no matter what style of music they prefer. They acknowledge every genre of music, which in turn, acknowledges every walk of life. It’s pretty incredible that Aspenites can attend a boisterous rock band one night, followed by an electric duo the next, followed by a honky-tonk country act the next night. Belly Up sure has a sweet way of making our small corner of the world feel big.

The week started off with country music trailblazer Steve Earle, who is known for hits like “Copenhagen Road” and “Galway Girl.” The 67-year-old singer-songwriter captivated one highly excited audience as he performed hits, from “Jerry Jeff,” his new tribute album, to ’70s Texas legend Jerry Jeff Walker, while sprinkling in solemn moments of storytelling. I love when musicians take a moment in-between songs to share a little bit about their story. It humanizes the musician and makes them more relatable to the everyday concertgoer. In this case, he paid tribute to the “Mr. Bojangles” songwriter and revealed why he felt compelled to make a fourth tribute album. His encore included two staple singalongs, including Grateful Dead’s “Casey Jones” and The Band’s “Rag Mama Rag.”

Steve Earle
Michael Goldberg/Courtesy photo

The next night, I witnessed the incredible charm of the ’60s country-music enthusiast Charley Crockett. On the day of a concert, I always like to “study” the music beforehand and listen to everything I can so that I feel prepared for the show. After all, you never know when you might get pulled on stage to sing with the artist. Listening to Charley Crockett on Spotify, however, is only half of his mystique. His live performance is where things really get interesting. He exudes a cool, coy presence that commands everyone’s attention, while he produces an amusing level of twain and Elvis-like dance moves. Popular for hits like “I Am Not Afraid” and “Jamestown Ferry,” his performance style is unassuming and unapologetic.

It was somehow already Friday and time to see Paul Cauthen — someone who I’ve had my ears on for a while now. I first discovered him in December of 2018, and I remember being instantly enthralled by the sound of his voice. A mix between Texas country, Memphis soul and gospel funk, the industry has had a hard time trying to pigeonhole him into one specific genre. While his vocals certainly resemble Johnny Cash, his persona and stage presence are completely one-of-a-kind. My personal favorite and lesser-known hit, “Hanging Out on the Line,” has felt like my life anthem for the past year. It has a weird, therapeutic way of speaking directly to my soul. Of course, many know him now for his top-charting hits like “Cocaine Country Dancing” and “Holy Ghost Fire,” which both hold an energy that are equally as contagious.

The ripple effect that live music has on people is pretty extraordinary. The music not only boosts your mood and serotonin levels, but it also allows you to discover new music and uncover old music. Rediscovering songs that you haven’t heard in many moons is so special and nostalgic, and these songs will likely spark a memory or two. I can still vividly recall an old boyfriend’s voice singing “Rag Mama Rag” by The Band. My concert high typically lasts about two to three days following a show, but this whirlwind of a country music saga has done me in. It’s safe to say I’ll be riding this one for a while.

Songwriter Harlan Howard famously described it as, “three chords and the truth.” These are the simple necessary ingredients for country and western music. Now, ain’t that the truth?

Side track keeping Air Force recruit Ella Johnson on home front as assistant coach

Ella Johnson gave thought to the risk when she decided to close out her senior year at Glenwood Springs High School playing soccer and make a bid for another shot at the Class 4A state track meet podium finish.

Johnson, who was recruited last fall to run track and cross country for the Air Force Academy, was right on track in late April, having qualified to race in the 3200 meters and as a member of the Demons’ 4×800 relay team at the Colorado High School Track and Field Championships in May.

She would have been a top contender, having placed fourth at state in the 3200 her junior year and helping that year’s 4×800 relay team to a third-place medal.

Johnson was just returning from a backpacking trip with her outdoor education class on April 26 when she made the decision to meet up with her dad, Erik Johnson, in Fruita so they could drive to a soccer game in Montrose that had major playoff implications.

“I wasn’t even supposed to play,” she recalls. “But we made it just before halftime, and I got into the game.”

With about 2 minutes left to play, Johnson was dribbling the ball downfield when it rolled a little too far in front of her.

“I stepped with my left leg to try to maintain control, and my knee hyperextended,” she said.

An MRI a couple of days later confirmed her worst fear — a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

“I was a little bit worried, just with the craziness of the schedule, and also the risk of being injured,” Johnson said of her decision to continue as a dual-sport athlete, which she had done in her previous spring seasons at GSHS.

“When I talked to my coach at the Air Force Academy, he said that I’ll never get another chance to play soccer again, and so he encouraged it,” she said. “And I wasn’t ready to let it go yet, either. So I was happy that I got to play one last time.”

She navigated having to miss track practices by running and training on her own so she could stay in top track form.

When she hurt her knee, her immediate thought was not being able to go to the Air Force Academy as planned, where she had already been accepted. The injury was an automatic medical disqualification for her cross country and track commitment, at least for the coming year, so she decided to wait a year and reapply for admission to the military academy starting in 2023-24.

“When it all began to settle in, that’s when I was worried that my soccer team wouldn’t be able to make it to the playoffs, and that I wouldn’t be able to end my soccer career on a good note, and that I wouldn’t get to go to state for track,” she said. “That was a bummer, but long term it was more about the future.”

Johnson is now planning to take a part-time load of online classes through Brigham Young University so she gets a jump on her academic credits but doesn’t lose a year of athletics eligibility, while keeping an eye toward being readmitted to the AFA.

She’s also undergoing intensive physical therapy so she can resume her commitment to the Falcons cross country and track teams.

In the meantime, she approached GSHS cross country coach Aidan Goldie about helping to coach the Demons this fall, and was added to the roster of assistant coaches.

Glenwood’s Ella Johnson is first across the finish line in the Longhorn Invitational cross country meet on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“I thought it would be a good way to stay involved,” Johnson said. “My dad has been a soccer coach since I was little, so coaching has been in the family and I always thought I would want to do it at some point. So, this is just a little introduction to that.”

Goldie was happy to have her continue as part of the team.

“Even when I was coaching Ella, she was already like the fourth coach on our team just based on her leadership skills and the respect she had among her teammates,” Goldie said.

Since she’s not too far removed from her own preps experience, she figures she may have some advice for those who might want to consider running in college — and whether it’s a good idea to double-up with two sports in a season. 

“I would still do it over again,” Johnson said. “I just love both sports too much to not do them both.”

“But it is critical that (student-athletes) have good time management and know that your injury risk might increase because you’re doing a lot of training all the time. A lot of it is just making sure that you’re recovering properly and doing all that you can to prevent any injuries from coming up.”

Goldie agreed with that approach.

“From a coaches’ perspective, I always look at it as I’m coaching the human first, the student second and the runner third,” he said. “Whatever makes them happiest; I just want to be able to support their goals and dreams the best I can.”

Johnson said she also looks forward to coaching some of the athletes she helped mentor the past few seasons as a teammate. 

Practices for most fall sports officially began this week, as school is set to start Aug. 17 for the Roaring Fork Schools. The Demons’ boys and girls cross country teams open the season at the Grand Junction Central Warrior Invitational on Aug. 20.

The Glenwood Demon XC Invitational also returns this season, set for Sept. 17 at the CMC-Spring Valley Gates Soccer Fields complex. And, Glenwood Springs is due to host the 4A regionals on Oct. 20 at a location to be determined.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Bob Dennis: Is this a koan?

So … your publisher Allison Pattillo promised answers and an explanation of what transpired to create the mess at The Times. Now your (new) editor Don Rogers says he’s not.

Which is it? Are you all going to pretend nothing happened, and hope it all fades away like a bad dream? In a town like Aspen that has lost its soul, that just might work.

Bob Dennis

Aspen

Editor’s note: Both statements can be and are true.

David Hale: There’s nothing to compare

Once a week, I drive to Grand Junction to teach two classes in philosophy at Colorado Mesa University. Driving back and forth between the two very different cultures of Aspen/Snowmass and Grand Junction/Grand Valley area allows me a unique perspective.

Grand Junction is a desert environment, populated with generally regular folks — mostly blue color/working class, with a fair share of retirees and of homeless people.

In contrast, Aspen is a mountain environment, destination resort, peopled by short-term visitors, well-to-do long-term visitors, ski bums, capitalists, opportunists, superstars, influencers (whatever) and some rare locals.

I often get the impression that people I’m acquainted with in Grand Junction think I am wealthy. (Put hilarious laughing emoji here.) Isn’t Aspen the town where there are no houses listed under $20 million? Where the airport runs out of parking for all the private jets, and boutiques sell handbags for ten thousand dollars a pop?

Yep, it’s true. As a humble contractor, some of the people I work for are very wealthy. And, some of my neighbors are also very well-off. One of them actually sports a private jet. Super nice guy; we go out to dinner with him every summer.

Does that make me feel rich? No. Actually, it makes me feel dirt-bag poor — if I compare myself to him. And, therein lies the rub: comparing yourself to others, whether they be the homeless of Grand Junction or the rich and famous of Aspen.

Comparing oneself to others has never been a good idea. There are various religious texts that have a lot to say about this.

Let’s start with an ancient Buddhist work, the Dhammapada. It’s a collection of sayings of Gautama Siddhartha Buddha, who lived sometime around 500 BC. Many of the texts speak of “clinging to nothing,” and “calling nothing our own.” Chapter 16 states: “Those who hold nothing dear and have nothing have no fetters.”

Thinking you have something in comparison to the homeless — or nothing compared to your neighbor with the private jet — doesn’t really gain you anything.

The Bhagavad Gita, one of the foundational texts of what is called Hinduism, was written somewhere between 200 BC and 200 AD. It also speaks to the issue of nothing versus something. It calls this world of material manifestation maya, or illusion; all of existence (prakriti) is an illusion. 

A later arrival on the scene is Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva, another Buddhist work written sometime in the 8th century AD. Shantideva goes so far as to say we are nothing because we have no self. This also signifies the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism teaches a god-self — the atman — whereas Buddhism teaches that we don’t have a self because we are nothing. Nothingness, or sunyata, becomes a major teaching in later Buddhism (Zen, Pure Land, Mahayana, Tibetan, etc.).

The Bible has more than a few words on this issue, as well. In the New Testament, we find James 4:14 asking the question, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Then, there are the words of Jesus (Matt 7:25): “Do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you drink, not about your body, what you put on it. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”  

Any kind of self-satisfaction we might get because we have more stuff as compared to others (the homeless) or dissatisfaction we might get because we have less stuff (private jets, $10,000 handbags) is really about letting yourself get wrapped around material things.

Our neighbors, Clint and Kate, lost their house and two parents in a catastrophic fire last month.  (See the story by Rick Carroll in the July 27 issue of The Aspen Times.) The photo of them sitting together holding hands — still recovering from a devastating tragedy yet smiling into the camera — said it all.

It’s not material things that mean the most in life. It’s the intangible things, like love and relationships. Clint and Kate are homeless now, but, I’ll bet they have something that a lot of people would gladly trade a house for.

David Hale earned a Joint Ph.D. from the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology in Philosophy, Religion and Cultural Theory. He is a lecturer in philosophy at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, where he teaches two classes a semester. His dissertation was solicited and published under the title of Of Nomadology: Religion and the War Machine. He lives in Snowmass, where he works full time as a contractor and lives with his wife, Susan, dog-child Bodhi, and two cats, White Kitty and Black Kitty.