Horowitz got his man
But Horowitz, founder and executive producer of Jazz Aspen Snowmass, made it abundantly clear that Dylan was alone on top of the list of performers he wanted to see on Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day Festival stage.So when Dylan’s so-called Never Ending Tour passed through Colorado two weeks before the Labor Day weekend last summer, Horowitz felt jilted. But as Horowitz heard the glowing reports from the gigs in Colorado Springs, Vail and Telluride, he became only more convinced that Dylan was the ultimate artist for the Labor Day festival, and the time to get him was now.This past spring the planets and tour schedules finally converged, and Dylan signed to perform on day three, Sunday, Sept. 1, at the eighth Labor Day Festival. It marks Dylan’s first-ever performance in Aspen and, for Horowitz, a high-water mark for a festival that has featured Steve Winwood, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Lyle Lovett and the Allman Brothers.”Our thinking all along was that Dylan was on the top of the list,” said Horowitz, who founded Jazz Aspen’s June Festival in 1991 and added the Labor Day Festival four years later. “Last year, when he came through two weeks early, we were very disappointed.”Perfect timingThough Dylan’s Colorado performances last summer were widely praised, Jazz Aspen might have caught Dylan at an even better time. On Sept. 11, several weeks after the Colorado dates, Dylan released the album “Love &Theft,” his first studio album since 1997’s “Time Out of Mind,” to universal acclaim. In February, he earned a Grammy Award for best contemporary folk album; on the Grammy broadcast, Dylan performed “Cry A While,” a song from “Love and Theft.” More recently, Dylan has been in the news with the announcement that he will star in the film “Masked and Anonymous,” playing troubadour Jack Fate, a prisoner released to play a final benefit concert.Horowitz takes particular delight in presenting two kinds of artists at Jazz Aspen: legends who have endured, like Santana and B.B. King; and younger artists, like Jonny Lang and Diana Krall, who are on the early part of their career slope. While the 61-year-old Dylan fits comfortably in the legends category, Horowitz notes that younger generations continue to find Dylan a significant musician.”For the Labor Day Festival, Dylan seemed like an anchor,” said Horowitz, who has never seen Dylan perform. “Not just for what he’s done, but for where he is now, at the peak of his craft and playing not just to the generation that grew up with him, but to this new generation wondering, what is it about this guy? There’s a lot of music that he’s been part of, and he’s sounding better than he ever has, writing very vital music. It’s amazing to have him here at this time.”Nitty Gritty Dirt BandThis year’s Labor Day Festival, which runs from Friday, Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 at the base of Buttermilk Mountain, is actually loaded with fortuitous appearances.The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which once made Aspen its prime stomping grounds, makes its Jazz Aspen debut on Sept. 2, opening for Willie Nelson. The Dirt Band, which includes Woody Creeker Jimmy Ibbotson, is on a career high at the moment. Earlier this year, the group reissued a 30th anniversary edition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” the seminal 1972 album that featured Doc Watson, Mother Maybelle Carter and Earl Scruggs, and marked the coming together of different generations of acoustic musicians. The Dirt Band recently recorded volume three of “Circle.” Guest artists for the album, tentatively due in October, include Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris, and Willie Nelson. The group has been fortified over the past year by the return of string master John McEuen.Phil & FriendsThe Labor Day Festival appearance of Phil & Friends, a jam band led by former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, could be a momentous one. It is the last date currently scheduled for Phil & Friends; Lesh has scheduled a fall tour with the Other Ones, the group that includes all the surviving original members of the Dead. Warren Haynes, the primary lead singer in Phil & Friends, is putting increasing energy into his own band, Gov’t Mule, which also appears on the Labor Day bill, opening for Phil & Friends on Friday, Aug. 30. Should the day mark the last appearance by Phil & Friends in this incarnation, and the start of a Gov’t Mule with a permanent lineup that features Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, it will be no great surprise.Nickel CreekNickel Creek arrives for its Jazz Aspen debut, on Sept. 2, at a critical juncture in their young career. The band’s 2000 eponymous debut turned heads in the acoustic world, and has sold a phenomenal 700,000 copies. The band’s mandolinist, Chris Thile, has become the young wonder of bluegrass, matching licks with the likes of Bela Fleck and David Grisman at festivals across the country. But the band’s new CD, “This Side,” released last week, is a sharp departure from the bluegrass-oriented sound, and has been panned by People magazine.And moreGroove saxophonist Karl Denson and his band, Tiny Universe, who open for Dylan, also arrive with a fresh record, “Bridge,” released last week. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, which plays a noon set on Aug. 31, released one of its finest efforts, the guest-star-packed “Medicated Magic,” earlier this year. Willie Nelson released “The Great Divide,” an album that features duets with Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt and more, earlier this year. Since her Labor Day set last year, Angelique Kidjo released the ambitious album, “Black Ivory Soul.”And with modern soul singer Macy Gray, who headlines on Aug. 31, Horowitz says Jazz Aspen continues to cover new ground.”We’ve never had an act like Macy Gray on our stage,” said Horowitz. “A super hot, young act, for whom the bullseye is the young audience. Macy Gray is a big, international pop star, whose latest album sold a gazillion copies.”With Dylan at the center, Horowitz says Jazz Aspen is getting attentionlike it never has before.”That the buzz on the festival as a whole is the biggest ever is clear,” he said. “The buzz about Dylan is the biggest buzz ever about a single performer.”Advance sales, said Horowitz, are three times the previous high, achieved last year (when headliners included Big Head Todd and the Monsters, AlphaBlondy and the Gipsy Kings), and 2000 (Lyle Lovett, Joe Cocker, the Allman Brothers). Tickets remain available for all days of the festival, and capacity has increased with the temporary move from Snowmass Village to Buttermilk. Horowitz cautions, though, that certain days, especially Sunday with Dylan as headliner, are likely to sell out the day of the show.”When we see early sales that are double or triple our previous record, we can expect we’re going to have an attendance record,” he said. “Dylan is the locomotive, but all the days are strong. Without a doubt, this is our blockbuster festival. When you’re able to build a festival around somebody as important as Dylan, it elevates everything.”Tickets for Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day Festival are available in person at the Wheeler Opera House box office, or by calling the Wheeler at (970) 920-5770; online at http://www.jazzaspen.com or by calling 1-866-JAS-TIXX (527-8499). A limited number of VIP festival passes and single-day tickets are available by calling (970) 920-4996.