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Sleeping with the Enemy

Ted AlvarezVail, CO Colorado
AE Aspen PU 10-11-07
ALL |

I’m just going to come out and say it: Aspen sucks. Okay, not really, but I had to get that off my chest after seeing “Vail Sucks” t-shirts displayed in store windows throughout town one too many times. Who started that one-way feud, anyway? You don’t see equivalent “Aspen Sucks” t-shirts in V-town, but maybe we’re just a bit above that sort of childish, back-of-the-classroom behavior. But I’d like to declare a truce in the name of cultural exchange: We have a lot to offer Aspen, and Aspen has a lot to offer us. In fact, while Vail certainly has some superior traits, that little mining town down the way possesses a plethora of unique cultural attractions that Vail can’t touch – yet. Now’s the perfect time to take an off-season trip around the bend to soak up the best Aspen has to offer. Below are just three options to start with – the rest you’ll have to discover for yourself.What do you say, Aspen? Friends?Aspen Art MuseumAny visit to Aspen should include an extended stop at the Aspen Art Museum, a globally eminent, non-collecting institution that featured some of the newest movements in contemporary art. Since 1979, they’ve hosted artworks, seminars, art talks and special events involving some of the world’s hottest contemporary artists.”We’re about international contemporary art, all the time – always moving directly ahead,” said public relations and marketing manager Jeff Murcko. “In addition to their works, we have art talks, programs of all kinds and most artists come out for their openings as well. We always want to make sure we’re engaging our audience with something thought-provoking and relevant.”Murcko thinks Aspen’s propensity for sustaining modern art has foundations in the creative community that sprang up in the ’50s and ’60s, when artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein came to work and experiment.”The town of Aspen was a cultural hub before it was a ski town,” Murcko said. “When the town was starting to boom again, a lot of those early people came to start a cultural center. Some of that sprung from dialogues on design started by the Aspen Institute. Andy Warhol published the first edition of The Aspen Magazine.”In the downstairs gallery, the museum currently hosts the confrontational marker and paint work of Israeli artist Avner Ben-Gal, which runs through this weekend. The upstairs gallery features a unique series called “Sculptors Drawing,” in which world-renowned sculptors have displayed their 2-D drawings and paintings instead of the sculptures they’re known for. The exhibit includes artists like Matthew Barney, Teresita Fernandez, Anne Chu, Keith Edmier and Ricky Swallow.Upcoming shows include a showcase of 100 local artists of the Roaring Fork Valley, from Aspen to Glenwood, beginning Oct. 25. Beginning Dec 14, Karen Kilimnik comes courtesy of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia; her art will be featured on the 2007/08 lift tickets at Aspen as part of an ongoing joint project between the museum and Aspen Skiing Company.Artworks that reside in the Aspen Art Museum’s lower gallery hang in a spacious, stark room with gleaming wooden floors; the upstairs gallery is a tighter, L-shaped hallway that provides an intimate look at a featured series.(For more information, visit http://www.aspenartmuseum.org.)Wheeler Opera HouseBuilt in 1889 and burned down and restored twice since then, the Wheeler Opera House is arguably the cultural center of Aspen. Today it hosts everything from live music to plays to film premieres. This weekend’s tribute to John Denver is sold out, so early ticket purchasing is encouraged.Upcoming events include humor columnist and monologuist Barry Smith’s one-man show “American Squatter” on Oct. 20, where he details his “misspent” youth in Mississippi, California and England. Nov. 1 brings Festival in the Desert, which highlights Malian sensations Tinariwen and Vieux Farka Toure, two fierce Touareg bands that combine pulsing tribal music with hard-bitten rock. Suzanne Vega pops in on Nov. 20.The Wheeler Opera House itself is a beauty to behold, with antique curtains, wood finishing and old-school detailing to make architecture buffs swoon. The revamped soundsystem, however, is top-of-the-line and incredibly high-tech. The Wheeler also screens art-house movies that can be nigh on impossible to find in mountain communities, thanks to the Wheeler Film Society. Upcoming titles include the critically-acclaimed Iraq-war doc “No End in Sight,” French classic-to-be “My Best Friend,” and Danny Boyle’s (“Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later”) sci-fi opus “Sunshine.”Aspen local and Wheeler Opera House employee Molly Milroy has a theory as to why Aspen retains such cultural cachet.”I think first and foremost, the biggest difference with Aspen is that it started not as a ski town, but as a mining town,” she said. “The miners created a legacy, and over the generations those families created a legacy, which combines and makes it more of a community.”(For more information, visit http://www.wheeleroperahouse.com.)The Belly UpSplit between a few venues, Vail is no slouch when it comes to bringing quality musicians to town. But Aspen’s Belly Up is a singular live-music legend for good reason: They bring an insane amount of high-caliber, top-shelf artists to an immaculate, 450-seat venue.”I have to give the majority of the credit to the Aspen audience – there’s something special about the place and the people,” said Michael Goldberg, who’s owned and operated the Belly Up for three years. “We’ll have an audience that will pay to see these high-quality acts, and Aspen has traditionally been a live-music town. I’ve been coming here since the late ’60s, and we’ve always had bands stopping by, so locals have a certain taste and expectation for live music. You augment that with a longer tour season and a shorter off season, and both artists and fans are hungry to make shows happen.”Goldberg admits that Aspen’s glitz helps in attracting high-wattage artists: Seal, who usually plays arenas, has performed for two years running because he’s already vacationing with his wife Heidi Klum and their children. In fact, scores of artists get punch-drunk on both the town’s amenities and the Belly Up’s top-flight sound and light setup: Repeat performers include Chris Isaak, Jimmy Buffett, Social Distortion’s Mike Ness and Damian Marley. “Sometimes these artists become almost like family,” Goldberg said. “They gotta want to be here for something other than the money. Damian Marley, who’s friendly with my son, tells him ‘you gotta tell me if someone plays (the Belly Up) more than five times,’ because he wants to perform here the most.”Past performers are as varied as B.B. King, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Cake and John Legend. Even in the traditionally slow off season, the Belly Up will feature hip-hop sensations Atmosphere, Nellie McKay, Michelle Shocked, Ghostface Killah and Rakim, and Chris Cornell.”I had the opportunity to see B.B. King at the Belly Up, and it was phenomenal,” said Milroy. “That setting was unbelievable – it was so small, and something different to see a legend in such a small place.”(For more information, visit http://www.bellyupaspen.com.)Shrinking off-seasonDespite their many differences, Vail and Aspen do have one glaring thing in common: a shrinking off-season. “I love off-season – locals take the place back,” Goldberg said. “I’m sure that’s something people can relate to in Vail. Off-seasons the struggle, but in our third off-season we’re really getting a read and seeing the crowds stay bigger, longer.”To experience Aspen’s cultural glories with locals and like a local, the culturally curious should dive in as soon as possible, before the idea of “off-season” becomes just a memory.”Every year it’s less and less quiet,” Milroy said. “I love off-season in Aspen – but don’t write that, because then people will come here in the off-season.”Sorry, Molly. Consider that payback for the “Vail Sucks” tee – now we’re even.Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or talvarez@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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