Jonny, be good
I’m a Boston Red Sox fan – a big one. So I know what Jonny Lindner and the new owners of The Lion’s Den are going through – it’s a rebuilding year. But, as the Bosox are looking strong this season, so too, is The Lion’s Den.
This past fall, The Lion’s Den (previously Powderhounds, Gravity and Trail’s end) underwent new ownership, but held onto Jonny Lindner, better known as Jonny Mogambo.
“I’ve been playing apres ski music in Vail for nine years,” says Mogambo, who performs his apres ski show every Wednesday through Sunday from 3:30-6 p.m. at The Lion’s Den. “But I really like how The Lion’s Den is looking this year.”
Located next to the Eagle Bahn lift in Lionshead, The Lion’s Den and Mogambo offer a fun, comfortable apres ski experience to skiers coming directly off the mountain.
As I make my way to The Lion’s Den, weaving through the dangerous Presidents Day weekend crowd, I am acutely aware of the date: Friday the 13th. Vail visitors are wielding their skis in every conceivable manner, forcing me to duck and twist like a base-runner caught in a pickle.
I arrive safely at The Lion’s Den and peek in to see the reformed cafeteria filling up to the tunes of Jonny Mogambo on stage in the corner, a stuffed parrot perched lazily on a piece of wood suspended from the ceiling above him.
Donning a loud Hawaiian shirt and backwards golf cap, Mogambo’s attire seems to reflect both his laid-back attitude and the relaxing atmosphere that The Lion’s Den’s tropical/African decor attempts to convey: neon beer signs hang conspicuously next to African masks on the walls. But hey, it took the Red Sox a season to land some additional good pitching. Good thing The Den has Mogambo.
“It’s time for a shotski,” exclaims Mogambo, whose nickname came “from a bad joke and just stuck.” He reaches for an old jumping ski upon which are now mounted shot-holders. “You guys come up here and take a shotski,” he continues, nodding to a table stage-left. Mogambo plays a made-up tune about the shotski as three folks from Chicago place shot glasses in three of the holders mounted on the ski.
“They look ready,” Mogambo says, strumming his guitar. “Count with me folks: one, two, threeshotski.” The crowd cheers as the Windy City folks tip the ski up to their mouths and drink the “purple hooter” shots. Mogambo leans the ski back against the wall and begins playing a sweet rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” as the three shotskiers find their seats.
As I look around, I notice that this is definitely a tourist crowd today. There are plenty of families sitting around high-top tables and booths on the upper tier of The Den, but there are many more fun-loving, beer-craving 20 and 30-somethings on the ground level surrounding Mogambo. I see a hat reading “Chicago” on one of the men who took the first shotski I’ve witnessed since leaving Massanutten, my home mountain in Virginia. A 30-year-old in a large group wears a T-shirt bearing “Asbury Park lifeguard” over a long underwear top.
“Here’s a little song I wrote about a place y’all might’ve heard of,” Mogambo yells to the crowd. “It’s called “Telluride.'” The musician breaks into one of his originals and before long, I can see his real talent shine. Towards the middle of the song, Mogambo begins picking his guitar strings as quickly and as masterfully as Pedro Martinez picks his strike zone. The crowd is on their feet as Jonny Mogambo begins sweating and really going at it. He finally ends up breaking a string as the audience, myself included, applauded loudly.
“Wheeooo,” Mogambo breathes, wiping his forehead. “Y’all just drink among yourselves for awhile,” he says, laughing, and walks to his box to grab a new string.
When he puts the new string on and, after a new group of shotskiers sits down, Mogambo starts beating the top of his guitar like a set of bongos. He steps on a pedal and stops drumming as the beat continues. “A little live loop for ya,” he says, and begins playing Sublime’s “What I Got.”
“I like the variety of music that I get to play (at apres ski shows),” Mogambo tells me after his performance. “Sometimes I get the same requests over and over,” he says, “but other weeks I’ll play 300 or 400 different songs.”
As Mogambo and I are talking, the man wearing the Chicago hat drops his ski pants to reveal a pair of boxer shorts that read, “Be Canadian, eat beaver.”
“I got “em in Whistler,” shouts the man, who from what I can tell, is far from sober.
As the crowd is shuffling out of The Lion’s Den, Mogambo smiles. “This stuff’s great,” he says. “every day is kinda like a huge party. The general vibe is good and there’s been a lot of people up and dancing this year.”
It is going to be a great season.