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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

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.

Majority in tax survey favors new tax on short-term rentals

Nearly two-thirds of Aspen voters surveyed favor a new tax charged to guests who rent out vacation properties on a short-term basis, according to poll findings released this week.

The Aspen City Council will use the results at its work session Tuesday to help inform its decision on whether to bring an excise tax question to voters in the November elections.

The findings showed 63% of the respondents favored a short-term rental (STR) tax of some kind, and 36% opposed.

The survey was conducted July 18-24 by Frederick Polls of Salt Lake City. Findings also indicated that support for the excise tax dropped when its rates went higher. The majority of the support landed on tax rates of either 9% or 13%; the maximum rate proposed was 20%. The survey results are contained in a memo to City Council in advance of next week’s meeting.

“Yes, voters feel STRs are negatively impacting neighborhoods, the sense of community and the availability and price of housing in Aspen,” according to Frederick Polls’ summary of the results. “They also feel that short-term renters are not paying the full cost of their impact on Aspen services or their fair share compared to other commercial business operations. The vast majority offering a use for new STR money would prefer it go toward more housing for local residents and workers. Also, some see an STR tax as a way to limit or discourage tourism.”

Those opposed to an excise tax on STRs “have strong anti-tax feelings, believe tourism is good/essential for the Aspen economy, don’t trust government to spend new tax money wisely … (or) to amend the land use code and establish the vacation-rental permit fee … or feel that STRs (and their property owners) already contribute a fair and sufficient amount of taxes,” the summary said. “The open-ends suggest there is a great deal of emotion and intensity of feeling on both sides of this issue.”

A 13% tax rate, which if voter approved would take effect Jan. 1, would generate an estimated maximum of $10.7 million in taxes proceeds for the city, according to city documents.

Where those dollars go was also addressed in the survey, with 63% behind affordable housing, 20% for infrastructure and 16% favoring environmental programs.

“A majority of Aspen voters consistently support some form of new STR tax, with a hard core of one-third of voters consistently opposed,” said the summary. “That opposition could climb into the mid-40s if this issue becomes a matter of ‘fairness”, given STR renters already pay the same sales and lodging tax as visitors staying in hotels.”

The debate over short-term rentals — which are stays of no more than 30 days — and their impacts on Aspen intensified in December when the five-member City Council placed a temporary ban on new STRs through Sept. 30. During that time, the council examined ways to contain an industry it says has run amok and depleted the housing inventory, strained services and put traditional lodges at a competitive disadvantage.

The current combined sales-tax rate in the city is 11.3%. Tack on an additional 13% for short-term rentals, and guests would be paying 24.4% in taxes for each overnight.

There were 322 participants in the study — 280 through a text survey and another 42 through telephone interviews.

Here’s a sampling of the feelings expressed by survey respondents concerning taxing guests of short-term rentals.

  • “Houses should be used for people who live here, but, in the case that they are used for short-term rentals, I think money should go back into our community.”
  • “Going to make vacationing in Aspen just that much more expensive for the average person.”
  • “We need reasonable-priced, short-term rentals in Aspen … the hotels are so expensive.”
  • “I own a hotel! Need I say more? Short-term rentals are threatening my business.”
  • “This is private enterprise and brings in more tourist dollars into the local economy with a bigger spend. Why discourage this?”
  • “Because our town is out of control with growth and expansion, all is impacting our infrastructure, roads, water usage, utilities, air pollution, police staffing, sheriff dept., public health, etc.”
  • “Short-term rentals are exacerbating the housing crisis.”
  • “Makes our community more exclusive and expensive and creates greater economic disparity.”
  • “Short-term rentals are changing the fabric of our neighborhoods.”
  • “Good way to create more revenue off of home owners making a profit off of their second homes.”
  • “Government overreach.”
  • “Sounds like a great plan for the wealthy second homeowner; but, as a resident, if I need help defraying the high cost of living here and renting, several times helps pay off my mortgage.”

The City Council took action in June to create a vacation-rental permit program that takes effect Oct. 1.

For traditional condo-lodges, like The Gant, for example, there is no restriction on guest nights, and one permit can cover the entire lodge. Condo-lodges also also will need lodge-exempt permits, which are $148.

Two types of STR permits are available for owner-occupied units.

One permit limits owner-occupied units to 120 rental-nights annually. Another permit, for both non-owner-occupied and owner-occupied residential properties, has no limitations on guest nights per year. Properties under the deeded ownership of limited-liability companies will not be eligible for the permit. The owner-occupied permits come at a cost of $394.

If the council favors taking the excise tax proposal to voters, two more City Council hearings will be held this month to approve the ballot language that would advance to Pitkin County for certification to be placed on the November ballot.


Walking the gilded path downtown with the Aspen Historical Society

Winding through a three blocks of the Downtown Core, the Aspen Historical Society Downtown Walking Tour focuses on exploring what the business district was like during the mining era, harkening back to a time when Aspen was the third-largest city in Colorado, behind only Denver and Leadville, and produced a sixth of the nation’s silver.

Aspen’s has gone from home of the Ute to a bustling mining city to nearly a ghost town and back to the thriving ski town community it is today.

Aspen Historical Society Vice President of Education and Programming Nina Gabianelli emphasized that Aspen has much more to offer than just the ski resort.

“We are not a ski resort. We’re a community that has a ski resort,” Gabianelli said. “We are first and foremost a community with a ballet company, an opera company, a theatre company, a contemporary art museum, a film festival, in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, 15 minutes to wilderness. It’s this incredible mix of everything mishmashed together.”

Rather than emphasizing dates and other information with no emotional connection, Gabianelli, who created the Downtown Walking Tour, designed the tours to focus on the personal aspect of Aspen’s history. When creating the tours, Gabianelli worked with the National Association for Interpretation’s guidelines for how to be a guide and how to put together a tour that uses interpretive methods that contribute to the thematic purpose of the tour.

“I’m more interested in people understanding the story of how we grew, of how the town actually was founded with the idea of taking care of each other, this supporting each other that we still have in Aspen today,” Gabianelli said.

Part of what makes Aspen unique is its role as a melting pot of people who have been drawn to Aspen because of its spectacular setting and natural resources, she said.

“Aspen is about people from different backgrounds, different nationalities, different finances, different politics, gathered together in this special place because of the beautiful resources that are here: the mountains, the rivers, the music, the hiking, the biking,” Gabianelli said. “This destination of where we are — that one road in, one road out — has over the years played to our benefit and our detriment, but the benefit being that we grew as this incredibly unique, self-supporting community.”

Winding through a three blocks of the Downtown Core, the Aspen Historical Society Downtown Walking Tour focuses on exploring what the business district was like during the mining era, harkening back to a time when Aspen was the third-largest city in Colorado.
Aspen Historical Society/Courtesy photo

Aspen has seen four key stages in its development: home to the Uncompahgre band of the Ute tribe, a mining town, a ranching town and of course, today’s economy centering around the ski industry.


The transition between the area as primarily the home of the Northern Ute tribe to a mining town was far from smooth. In 1880, Gov. Frederick Pitkin forcibly removed the Ute people, who had maintained a nomadic existence in the area for generations from the land, sending seven tribes to three reservations across Utah. 

Today, Skyler Lomahaftewa remains the sole member of the Northern Ute tribe who still lives in the Roaring Fork Valley. Lomahaftewa and Gabianelli travel to schools throughout the valley to educate students on the indigenous history of the land.

The Aspen area is a historical reminder of trauma for many Ute people of their forcible removal, according to Gabianelli, based on conversations she has had with members of the tribe. However, Gabianelli said Lomahaftewa is hoping to bring some of his indigenous culture back to Aspen.

With the changes Aspen has seen throughout its history, the essence of Aspen’s culture has changed as well.

The ghost town of Ashcroft, just outside of Aspen, is a popular spot for local history buffs.
Aspen Historical Society/Courtesy photo

“It seems to me as if people were much more interested in the success of their new community, making sure that everything was successful right in supporting each other (in Aspen’s early years),” Gabianelli said. “Although I do believe we still have a bit of that here, I do think it gets diverted into, ‘What’s great for me?’”

Still, the supportive environment found among Aspenites has endured to some extent throughout the decades. The volunteer fire department, founded in 1880, is emblematic of the lasting community of neighborly care that Aspen has had since its founding.

“​​Our population may boom and bust, things may come and go,” Gabianelli said. “We’re always going to argue about transportation, we’re always going to argue about housing. … We just need to move forward as we can, supporting each other rather than fighting each other.”

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.


Andrea Chacos: The road to constitutional equity

To understand what women are up against and the length of time it takes to move the needle, you need to look no further than the century-long battle by the suffragists to pass the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.

Regardless of its eventual ratification by a two-thirds majority, 13 states continued to argue that women lacked the mental capacity, expertise and useful opinions about political issues to vote in elections, according to the National Women’s History Museum. 

Mississippi finally became the last state to officially ratify the 19th Amendment in 1984. By then, Susan B. Anthony, a leader of the women’s rights movement, had been dead for 78 years. 

Not surprising, many who fought against the 19th Amendment were part of societal structures of wealth, privilege and political power, encouraging them to keep things status quo.

One anti-suffragist was Josephine Jewell Dodge, who was a founder and president of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. She argued that, if women became enfranchised, they would become uglier, less feminine and less desirable to men. She considered suffrage unnecessary because women already had some civil rights.

Suffragists were made out to be demonized, unattractive man-haters, like the propaganda facing modern-day feminists — and, obviously so, because no one takes kindly to agitators.

The next major milestone for women I never learned about in school was the eventual passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Labor activists lobbied for decades to end wage discrimination and fight for equal pay for equal work.

However, 60 years after the law passed, women continue to earn only 84% of what men do, according to the latest data from the Pew Research Center. Closing the loopholes that make it hard to narrow the gender wage gap is harder than explaining to a Proud Boy how women are kept marginalized in society.

Women reluctantly understand inevitable setbacks when it comes to fighting for their rights, and there’s no better reminder than the rolling back of Roe v. Wade on June 24. The historic 1973 Supreme Court ruling stated that women had the constitutional right to a safe, legal abortion.

Now, the court voted 6-3 to overturn a precedent because Justice Samuel Alito stated for the majority opinion that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak.” 

Regardless of your personal convictions, this is a devastating blow to women everywhere. We will undoubtedly spend years arguing fetal viability, the will of G-d and why a woman should or shouldn’t have control of her own body without ever talking about the real issue: constitutional equity and the semantics routinely used against women.

It’s like the “medical issue” men successfully argue when they need Viagra at 80. Women aren’t afforded that language because intercourse is a “lifestyle choice”, and contraception is not protected the same way as an octogenarian’s hard penis. 

Roe v. Wade is no longer about abortion rights but has become another way to keep women farther from control of their own self. We’ve collectively dismantled what we’ve been working centuries to attain. And, that’s equal support under the law.

Reversing Roe v. Wade put a woman’s right to choose back in state control, and, if history is any indicator, it may take 100 or more years to get it back.

We must vow to stay the course and chip away at the system cleverly designed to reinforce a woman’s unequal footing. And, if you don’t see that women are struggling under the current laws that have benefited men first and foremost, I’m not too threatened by you in the long run. We’ve got this, no matter how long it takes.

Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair. She can be reached at www.andreachacos.com.

Snowmass author and former cult member encourages readers to live life to the fullest

Renee Linnell aims to transform people’s lives by taking them from ho-hum to fulfillment.

And, she certainly hasn’t lived an average life. In 2018, she published “The Burn Zone,” a memoir about getting ordained as a Buddhist monk in 2010, then being brainwashed by a Buddhist cult — after graduating magna cum laude with a double degree from New York University; at age 33, she joined the cult, burned almost everything she owned and, after nearly seven years in the cult and breaking away, became suicidal.

Her new memoir, “Still on Fire,” Linnell recounts her hard-learned lessons from years of bad choices and crushing blows. Through it, she hopes to help others find, and live, their passion.

Her overarching message: “Stop making excuses for why mediocrity is okay for you and take the leap into a life that you love,” she said.

Her story speaks to all kinds of people and experiences, from those suffering from illness or loss to those struggling with financial hardship, overwork or fatigue from the pandemic and other recent tragedies.

Linnell draws from 49 years of experience, encouraging readers to trust their instincts, as well as the Divine, and follow their heart by finding gratitude and joy in the present moment. Her definition of happiness involves being present in, and appreciating, “all the tiny moments that we miss right now when we’re continuously looking forward to living a happy life.” 

In addition to breaking free from a cult, Linnell understands loss; her father died on Thanksgiving Day when she was 15. Then, after more than 12 years of conflict and estrangement, her mother disappeared; days later, Linnell discovered her mother had drowned in a hotel bathtub. Linnell also knows about financial loss; she lost hundreds of thousands of dollars after a nasty lawsuit with a business partner she met in a karate dojo.

After carrying around shame for years, she made peace with her flaws and failures and focused on living life to the fullest. 

“We shouldn’t be afraid of our stories,” she said. “And we shouldn’t see anything that happened to us as ‘wrong.’ We are in these human bodies for such a brief period of time. Why hide who we are?”

“Still on Fire” reflects on the decisions she made, what it takes to open up to love, pleasure and even mystical possibilities and how to be whole and free. It reviews the pointlessness of trying to get others to see our point of view; why people attract others who treat them poorly and how to stop abandoning ourselves to please others; and how life is an ongoing adventure, in which none of us are alone, but rather, backed by “something bigger than ourselves.”

She talks about how most people are afraid of the unknown, so they create “safe,” or familiar, environments as adults, which can ultimately trap them in unfulfilling lives.

“What we don’t realize is that the deep soul pain that comes with ‘being stuck’ is much more painful than whatever we would experience if we jumped into the unknown,” she said. 

She views her trials and tribulations as rites of passage, which taught her that she can handle whatever life brings. Through her healing, she has learned to stay present to the gifts each moment offers.

“The empowering realization that I can survive whatever life throws my way helps me relax into the present more often — and the present is where all the power and magic lies,” she said.

She also touches upon how quantum physics “is finally confirming what saints and shamans have been saying for thousands of years: our thoughts create our reality,” which is why she believes it’s useless to try to force others to see our point of view.

Renee Linnell’s new memoir, ‘Still on Fire.’
Courtesy photo

“Most people are too afraid and are only able to see through a new point of view after life has come along and smashed them around a little. Words don’t teach, only life experience teaches,” she said. “It is so much easier, kinder and more efficient to allow people their point of view and to use our energy instead to be a living example of the ways we wish to teach.” 

She encourages the subtle art of self-love: “making healthy, self-loving, self-nurturing choices in every moment. It’s as subtle as leaving 15 minutes early so we’re not stressed and angry in traffic, or checking in with our body when it’s time to choose food to see what our body really wants as nourishment. It’s not criticizing inside our mind, when we look in the mirror, when we make a mistake. Self-love takes constant vigilance and practice. It’s treating the child inside of us the way we wish a parent, friend, co-worker, the world or a lover would treat her/him.”

That said, she doesn’t believe we’re supposed to be happy all the time, because we wouldn’t know pleasure if we didn’t know pain. Rather than avoiding pain and clinging to pleasure, she advocates learning “to be in awe of the human experience,” and even noticing glimmers of joy and peace during despair.

“If we could see lows and painful moments of our lives as necessary parts of our Divine Plan, we could surrender into them and allow the pain to cut through us, hollowing out more space to eventually hold more light, remembering that this too shall pass,” she said.

She says it’s healthy, and makes sense, to believe in divine intervention and instructs people to start by being present.

If you go…

What: Author Renee Linnell’s ‘Still on Fire: A Memoir’ release event, in collaboration with Explore Booksellers

When: 5:30-7:30 p.m. Aug. 16

Where: The Aspen Hive, 429 E. Cooper Ave.

“When we pay attention to what is unfolding in front of us in each moment, we don’t miss the rainbow or the butterfly or the string of green traffic lights just when we need them most. We notice the lyrics that we most need to hear in the song playing in the store we just entered,” she said. “The more we notice, the more they will appear — the same way when we decide to buy a certain car or pair of shoes, we start to see them everywhere.”

Overall, she encourages people to turn pain into purpose, partially by luxuriating in everything that you might miss on earth if this was your last day. In addition to savoring the little (and big) things in life:

“All we can do is take the next step that feels right, that feels thrilling,” she said. “And trust.”      

‘Don Giovanni’ relevant for #metoo era: Notorious opera takes the AMFS stage

Based on the legend of Don Juan, and directed by Chía Patiño, this comedy and morality tale “tells the story of an irresistible yet irredeemable playboy whose escapades lead him along a path to his own destruction,” according to the AMFS website. The opera was selected by Renée Fleming and Patrick Summers, as were the student artists of AOTVA.

Recently, Jane Glover sat down for an interview with the AMFS president and CEO, Alan Fletcher, for a recording of the program “High Notes,” in partnership with Aspen Public Radio, to talk about the opera and the famous story within it.

“The subject is appalling,” Glover said. “It’s about ‘Me Too,’ isn’t it? It’s about the way horrible men treat women. It’s about a murder and all sorts of harassment and mental problems, as well. And yet, it is billed as a comedy.”

And the opera was considered modern when it was written. Glovers said that, historically, operas were based on history or Greek and Roman plays. What Mozart and his contemporary Da Ponte did, as outsiders, according to Glover, was unite in their ability to view society and analyze human behavior and hold up a mirror to the audience. “Don Giovanni” is an example of this exploration.

“Absolutely everybody who comes under the influence of Don Giovanni is damaged by this man, who is still somehow made to feel incredibly attractive. This makes (the narrative) a problem in whichever age you set it,” she said.

The irony of the challenging subject matter alongside a masterpiece is not lost on Glover.

“As with all Mozarts, the music is phenomenal. Every line is genius; it’s like Shakespeare,” she said. “That’s what art can do for you.”

No stranger to high art forms, Glover has conducted all the major symphony and chamber orchestras in Britain, as well as orchestras in Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia.

If you go …

What: ‘Don Giovanni,’ conducted by Jane Glover, featuring singers of the Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS program (AOTVA)

When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18

Where: Benedict Music Tent

Tickets: $50 and $85

More info: aspenmusicfestival.com

Also in demand on the international opera stage, Glover has appeared with numerous companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden and English National Opera, among many others.

A Mozart specialist, she has conducted Mozart operas all over the world regularly since she first performed them at Glyndebourne in the 1980s, and her core operatic repertoire includes Monteverdi, Handel and Britten.

“Jane is special in that she has both style and musical intelligence in her conducting,” said Patrick Chamberlain, AMFS vice president for artistic administration. “The chance for our singers to learn from a true scholar and teacher is so important, as is what she brings to the full performance. She brings such authority and humor and wisdom to the music of Mozart. It’s going to be a great night.”

Another inspiring summer of dance: DanceAspen closes out Vail Dance Festival in style

The 2022 Vail Dance Festival came to a close Tuesday night at the Ford Amphitheater, but the experiences continue to echo — both in the community and nationwide — through the dancers themselves.

Known for its artist collaboration and its ability to wow audiences with some of the best dancers and companies in the nation, this summer’s dance festival presented innovative choreography, three dance companies new to Vail and a host of inspirational events and performances during its 12-day stint.

Artist-in-residence and New York City Ballet soloist Roman Mejia talked about how he learned to pace himself and get through “a lot of hard dance” during the festival, at Dance for $20.22 Tuesday night. At 22, he’s the festival’s youngest artist-in-residence.

He excelled at George Balanchine’s “Tarantella” there same night, delivering a stronger performance than his part in “Other Dances” on Opening Night. He fully danced “Tarantella” with control, power, ease and joy, as if it were choreographed just for him.

Meanwhile, Tiler Peck showcased the exact kind of lightness, grace and strength that makes people fall in love with ballet. The pair was brilliant in the invigorating ballet piece.

Roman Mejia and Tiler Peck in George Balanchine’s ‘Tarantella’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust.
Christopher Duggan

Even before “Tarantella,” Dance for $20.22 had audience members on their feet. The night opened with fellow artist-in-residence Caili Quan’s “Press Play,” which she originally choreographed for BalletX as a Zoom film during the pandemic, to portray the “feeling of coming together to dance the night away.”

Four artists from DanceAspen, a company barely a year old created by former dancers of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performing company (after its restructuring, due to challenges the pandemic brought) showed just how technically and artistically skilled they are through the fun piece. Though they had already performed it during Opening Night and Sunday at the Vilar, it just never gets old. Between Quan’s innovative choreography and the dancer’s skill (which, right from the start caused one man next to me to audibly exclaim “wow” over a dancer’s balanced control), “Press Play” set the tone for a night of amazing artistry.

Similar to their great offering of “Piéce d’Occasion” on Opening Night, Robbie Fairchild, former principal at the New York City Ballet, joined Dorrance Dance company member Byron Tittle in a spectacular tap piece, punctuated by Fairchild’s soaring leaps. Each presented an entertaining style that brought plenty of audience members to their feet.

An excerpt from “Underscored” hardly looked like it was “in process,” as three dancers from Ephrat Asherie Dance and guest artist Dario Natarelli crushed it with a blend of tap, African-American and Latinx street and social dance. Natarelli’s mad skills tapping complemented his graceful side, which often made it look like he was effortlessly gilding (or skating) across the stage.

Natarelli, who was born in Vail, talked about his rich experience at the festival in a casual conversation after the show.

“I learned a lot (from the festival), especially this year,” he said, adding that Ephrat Asherie Dance opened up a new world to him in terms of sharing house dance. “It was like being an artist-in-residence.”

Just before “Tarantella,” DanceAspen gave another stellar showing, this time through the gorgeous and intricate intertwining of “in the end.” Set as Katherine Bolaños’ retirement performance after dancing with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet for 18 years, she and partner Blake Krapels danced it with the expertise and grace of the seasoned professionals they are. Violinist Min Tze Wu accompanied the pair on stage in the viscerally moving piece.

Tuesday’s audience received quite a treat for their affordable ticket not only before intermission, but also after, when festival dancers offered their world premiere, “I Made This for You.”

Chris Thile and festival dancers in ‘I Made This for You’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan

Choreographed by Justin Peck, various dancers from different companies intermingled in a fascinating blend of house, ballet, contemporary and more. As dancers transitioned in and out of solos, trios and group formations, the seamless movements imparted a communal feeling and flow.

Bluegrass musician Chris Thile of Punch Brothers joined the dancers on stage and often took center stage, giving the audience a special concert, belting out vocals and masterfully playing the mandolin like no one’s business.

Thile ended with a wonderful version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”; and, even though the festival sadly came to an end, it was all right because the fulfilling evening promised another great summer to come in 2023.

Justin Peck and Patricia Delgado in ‘I Made This For You’ at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan
Tiler Peck in George Balanchine’s Tarantella at the 2022 Vail Dance Festival. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust.
Christopher Duggan