For as long as modern-day Aspen has drawn visitors, summer has been a season of brilliant landscapes, outdoor recreation, and a breadth of music, theater, dance, and other arts events matched by few, if any, other mountain towns in the world.

This bounty of cultural riches presents a welcome dilemma: How to fit in everything you want to attend? On some days, it can be tempting to just throw in the towel and retreat to a high peak. But you’d regret it, as evidenced by our guide to 26 of the best events to put on your Aspen agenda this summer—when culture really does run the gamut.

Arctic Inspiration

Percussion Installation
August 7, Aspen Music Festival, David Karetsky Music Lawn

Instead of the usual crowd of picnickers listening to the Aspen Music Festival Sunday concert, imagine 75 percussionists spread across the grass outside the Benedict Music Tent. The piece they’ll play as an ensemble is called “Inuksuit,” after a stone cairn used by native peoples of the Arctic—a bold idea that comes from Pulitzer Prize–winning composer John Luther Adams, renowned for his soundscapes relating to the environment. Adams has written that the massive undertaking “is haunted by the vision of the melting of the polar ice, the rising of the seas, and what may remain of humanity’s presence after the waters recede.” No matter how you interpret it, the performance should be an unforgettable sonic experience. aspenmusicfestival.com, 970-925-9042 —G.L.

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The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies’ An Evening on the Lake benefit.

Benefits with Friends

Throughout the summer

While Aspen’s cultural nonprofits deliver urban-caliber programming in a small-town setting, the annual events that help support them can be even more intimately exceptional. Mingle with like-minded culture lovers while supporting a worthy cause (most organizations also offer robust educational programs) at one or more of these summer soirées. This year’s benefit (June 22) for literary nonprofit Aspen Words (aspenwords.org) features a conversation between award-winning author Ann Patchett and Lucy Kalanithi, whose late husband, Paul, penned the best-selling memoir When Breath Becomes Air, in which the young neurosurgeon confronts his mortality after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Toast the art of nature at Hallam Lake, the setting for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies’ (aspennature.org) magical summer benefit, An Evening on the Lake (July 14), with conservation scientist and Emmy-nominated TV host M. Sanjayan as keynote speaker. A Feast of Music (Aug. 1) is the appropriately titled benefit for the Aspen Music Festival and School (aspenmusicfestival.com)—it’ll be an evening of dance-inspired musical performances at the Hotel Jerome. The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s (aspensantafeballet.com) gala, Dancing with the Aspen Stars (July 29), showcases a fierce ballroom dance competition between pairs of company dancers and local luminaries. Friends of Jazz Aspen Snowmass (jazzaspensnowmass.org) take the stage at Belly Up for an evening benefitting the organization’s music education programs (July 17). And the Aspen Institute’s (aspeninstitute.org) benefit dinner for its Socrates Program (July 9) includes what should be an insightful conversation between Pulitzer Prize–winning writer and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson. —C.L.

Collaborative Effort

Smokey Robinson
July 2, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Aspen Music Festival, Benedict Music Tent

As they have in recent years, Jazz Aspen Snowmass (JAS) and the Aspen Music Festival have teamed up to present the final show of JAS’s June Experience (yes, yes, we know it’s actually July). The iconic Robinson, former head Miracle and vice president of Motown, is bound to bring down the house. With a legendary career now in its sixth decade and know-them-by-heart classics like “Tears of a Clown,” “I Second That Emotion,” and “Going to a Go-Go,” he has had a profound influence on popular music as a performer, writer, producer, and executive—and he still sounds tremendous today. jazzaspensnowmass.org, 970-920-4996 —T.H.

Diva

Renée Fleming
July 3, Aspen Music Festival, Benedict Music Tent

Superstar soprano Fleming, also an Aspen Music Festival and School alumna, will perform one of her signature programs, Richard Strauss’s exquisite and moving “Four Last Songs,” on a bill with the Aspen Festival Orchestra under Robert Spano’s baton. And there’s more. Fleming, who has conquered the opera, symphony hall, and Broadway stages, will also conduct a master class July 5 in Harris Hall and that evening will be the guest of honor at one of the Music Fest’s top-dollar Intimate Artist Dinners. After this year, Fleming plans to retire from staged opera productions, so there will be fewer chances to catch the celebrated diva in action. aspenmusicfestival.com, 970-925-9042 —G.L.

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Carrie Mae Weems

Engagement Party

Summer Series: Featured Artists & Conversation, with Carrie Mae Weems
July 21, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Schermer Meeting Hall

Photographer and visual artist Carrie Mae Weems is a powerful storyteller of modern existence, investigating issues of race, family, class, sexism, and politics. The recipient of this year’s National Artist Award from Anderson Ranch, she will present her work and worldview at a free afternoon lecture. That evening, Weems will be honored at the annual Recognition Dinner, which this year is also part of the Ranch’s 50th anniversary celebration. andersonranch.org, 970-923-3181 —B.S.

Faith Healing

Interfaith Leadership: Nurturing a Religiously Diverse Democracy
July 8, Aspen Institute, Paepcke Auditorium

The Murdock Mind, Body, Spirit Series hosts this lecture by Eboo Patel, author, force of nature, and member of President Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships. Patel has electrified an international youth movement advocating for interfaith cooperation, as well as compassion, environmental stewardship, and hospitality. He’s likely to present a frank discussion on religion, society, and politics in this contentious election year. aspeninstitute.org, 970-544-7935 —B.S.

Gender Bender

As You Like It
August 19–21, 26–28, and September 2–4, Hudson Reed Ensemble, Galena Plaza

To mark the 10th anniversary of its free Shakespeare in the Park productions, Aspen’s beloved local theater troupe returns to the newly renovated Galena Plaza for Shakespeare’s uproarious tale of Rosalind and Orlando in the forest of Arden. Hudson Reed Ensemble founder Kent Reed will direct the production, which includes one of the Bard’s most iconic speeches, “All the world’s a stage.” hudsonreedensemble.org, 970-319-6867 —T.H.

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Gabriel Orozco

Honor Displayed

Gabriel Orozco
July 29–December 18, Aspen Art Museum

Contemporary Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco, who will receive the Aspen Award for Art at this year’s ArtCrush museum gala, rose to prominence in the early 1990s and has continued to produce thought-provoking paintings, photographs, and sculptures ever since. He is a master of polarities, expressing profound philosophies through quotidian experiences. His work balances an intensely intellectual approach—whether exploring complex geometries, mapping, or political theory—with a sense of delight and chance. Both new and existing works will be on display. aspenartmuseum.org, 970-925-8050 —B.S.

Inside Look

Aspen Theatre Fest
August 15–25, Theatre Aspen, Hurst Theatre

This mini-residency provides an opportunity for an invited team of emerging theater artists to spend two weeks in Aspen—supported by Theatre Aspen’s staff, facilities, and resources—to work on a project. Theater lovers, meanwhile, get an intimate peek at the process of creating a production for the stage through open-to-the-public readings, rehearsals, and a final performance of a work in progress. As of press time, this summer’s artists were still being chosen, but the two-year-old festival already has a good track record: the inaugural show, Alice by Heart (from the creators of the hit musical Spring Awakening), hits New York later this year. theatreaspen.org, 970-925-9313 —C.L.

Joke Book

Writing with Wit and Whimsy
June 20, Aspen Words, Belly Up

Attracting some of the country’s top writers to lead its workshops, Summer Words, the flagship event of literary nonprofit Aspen Words, is just as valuable for those who simply love a good turn of phrase. Or a funny one. Among this year’s public events, authors Maria Semple (Where’d You Go, Bernadette) and Dean Bakopoulos (Summerlong) explore the craft of humor writing, sharing how and why making readers laugh gives meaning to a work. aspenwords.org, 970-925-3122 —C.L.

Kinship Creators

Summer Series: Featured Artists & Conversation, with the Haas Brothers
August 11, Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Schermer Meeting Hall

Artistry runs in the family for twins Nikolai and Simon Haas, who grew up with a father who sculpts, a mother who sings opera, and a brother who acts. Over the past six years, the duo themselves have become design-world darlings, turning out an eclectic range of furniture and art from their Los Angeles studio, ranging from fur-topped stools with animal-inspired legs to a new series of Seussian sculptural objects featuring South African bead artistry. Their free lecture promises to give some insight into their decidedly offbeat worldview. andersonranch.org, 970-923-3181 —T.H.

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Gipsy Kings

Latin Rhythms

Gipsy Kings, featuring Nicolas Reyes and Tonino Baliardo
September 4, Belly Up Aspen

An international sensation since bursting on the scene 25 years ago, these flamenco-salsa-pop superstars have toured relentlessly but somehow never made it to Aspen’s own musical institution, Belly Up. That ends Labor Day weekend when the Kings make their debut for a show that is sure to sell out quickly. These talented Frenchmen of Spanish background have come to define “world music”; if you like virtuoso guitar work and catchy rhythms, go see why. bellyupaspen.com, 970-785-8500 —T.H.

Most Anticipated

Stevie Wonder and Duran Duran
September 4, Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, Snowmass Town Park

“Stevie Wonder plus Duran Duran is the biggest single day in JAS history, by far,” says Jazz Aspen Snowmass president and CEO Jim Horowitz. The legendary Wonder makes his Aspen debut, and his local appearance will be one of just three U.S. shows booked so far this year. As for the ’80s icons he’s sharing the bill with, Duran Duran is on an international tour for their new album, Paper Gods. Break out the dancing shoes, then tease your hair, smudge on some eyeliner, and nab tickets before this one sells out. jazzaspensnowmass.org, 970-920-4996 —T.H.

Nature’s Canvas

Plein Air Festival, August 7–14

In its first iteration last summer, the Red Brick Center for the Arts’ celebration of plein air painting was so successful that it’s now become the nonprofit’s flagship event and fundraiser. And for good reason. The weeklong festival features Colorado’s best plein air artists painting in various scenic locations around Aspen, including the downtown pedestrian mall, and culminates with a three-day exhibit and sale of their work—the perfect marriage of art and the great outdoors. aspenart.org, 970-429-2777 —C.L.

Odyssey on the Ivories

Jonathan Biss
August 2, August 16–17, Aspen Music Festival, Harris Hall

The Beethoven piano sonatas have been a force in pianist Jonathan Biss’s life for many years. Now he’s chosen Aspen for the launch of what will be a three-year odyssey to play all 32. This summer, the young master will perform 14 of them, including the famed “Moonlight Sonata,” across three different concerts. He’ll complete the cycle over the next two summers. aspenmusicfestival.com, 970-925-9042 —G.L.

Prodigy

Joey Alexander
August 6–7, JAS Café, Cooking School of Aspen

Jazz Aspen Snowmass’s popular JAS Café says hello to a brand-new additional venue at the recently opened Cooking School of Aspen. Each evening’s early show includes a three-course meal prepared at the school, but the real star is Alexander, a 12-year-old piano prodigy from Indonesia whom Wynton Marsalis called “my hero” and JAS president and CEO Jim Horowitz says “may be the closest thing that jazz has had to Mozart, ever.” Save room for this tasty treat. jazzaspensnowmass.org, 970-920-4996 —T.H.

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Lynn Goldsmith and friends

Question Identity

Artist Proofs: The Looking Glass
July 8–August 6, The Art Base Annex

For 10 years, photographer Lynn Goldsmith examined issues of self, beauty, and sexuality through her fascinating project The Looking Glass, a series of elaborately conceived self-portraits that represent various fictional narratives. “There are a lot of different levels of self-perception and how we want others to perceive us,” she says. Each multilayered piece took months to produce, as Goldsmith manipulated as many as 100 photos to appear as one image. Now, in her first local show at Basalt’s Art Base, she displays 20-some artist proofs from the series. Goldsmith will give a talk about the exhibit on July 14. theartbase.org, 970-927-4123 —T.H.

Retro Jazz

Leftover Cuties
July 14, Snowmass Free Summer Concert Series, Fanny Hill

With a catchy Prohibition-era jazz sound and a charismatic frontwoman in singer and ukulele strummer Shirli McAllen, this Los Angeles–based quartet burst onto the scene when the Showtime series The Big C chose the song “Game Called Life” as its theme music. Two critically acclaimed albums later, McAllen and crew are an impressive get for a free show. gosnowmass.com, 970-922-2233 —T.H.

Status Quo Challenged

The Revolution Will Not Be Gray
July 1–October 16, Aspen Art Museum

Many acts of protest are statements of refusal to either accept or cooperate with the existing state of affairs. But why is it that as a society we give more attention to arguments framed in absolute, black-and-white terms? Is it that the gray area in between is too complex? With works by 10 artists from past and present, this exhibit explores the nuanced and direct language of protest and the power of the human voice to change the world. aspenartmuseum.org, 970.925.8050 —B.S.

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The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performs Re:play

Twentieth Anniversary

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
July 8, July 12, Aspen District Theatre

The acclaimed dance company kicks off the summer of its 20th-anniversary season with this diverse three-part performance, called simply “Program A.” The evening opens with the troupe’s high-energy premiere of Little mortal jump, a comical and fast-paced experience from choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. Fernando Melo’s Re:play takes a dramatic, intense turn, while the program closes on an uplifting note with the exuberance and joy of Nicolo Fonte’s The Heart(s)paceaspensantafeballet.com, 970-925-7175 —B.S.

Unexpected (and Highly Anticipated) Pairing

An Eclectic Evening with Robert McDuffie and R.E.M.’s Mike Mills
August 11, Benedict Music Tent

Why choose between classical and rock music when you can get both in a double-superstar package? Violinist Robert McDuffie, a perennial Aspen favorite, joins former R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills to play Concerto for Violin, Rock Band, and String Orchestra, a McDuffie commission written by Mills. It’s not the first time the two childhood pals from Macon, Georgia, have performed together; McDuffie had a friend arrange R.E.M.’s song “Nightswimming” for strings, and he and Mills (on piano) played a memorable rendition at Mercer University in 2009. Pieces by two other stars—Tchaikovsky and John Adams—round out the bill in Aspen. aspenmusicfestival.com, 970-925-9042 —G.L.

Virtuoso

Midori
July 13, Aspen Music Festival, Harris Concert Hall
July 17,
Benedict Music Tent

One of the most beloved violinists on the planet (and an Aspen Music Festival and School alumna) will return to town after a long absence for a pair of performances. For the first, she’ll present Bach’s Sonata No. 2 and Partitas 1 and 3; at the second, she’ll be the soloist on Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, accompanied by the Aspen Festival Orchestra with Vasily Petrenko conducting. aspenmusicfestival.com, 970-925-9042 —G.L.

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Stupid Kid

World Premiere

Stupid Kid
June 11–12, Aspen Fringe Festival, Aspen District Theatre

Broadway scribe Sharr White (“One of the hottest American playwrights right now,” says Aspen Fringe Fest founder David Ledingham) premieres his latest work after bringing down the house with The Other Place and a new play lab at last year’s festival. Stupid Kid, commissioned by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, tells the darkly comic tale of Chick, a man who arrives home from prison to find his family under the thumb of dangerous Uncle Mike. aspenfringefestival.org, 970-925-1928 —T.H.

X-tra Curricular

June 24–29, National Take a Stand Festival, Youth Orchestra of the West
Aug. 23–25, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Aspen Music Festival, Benedict Music Tent

Though programmed by the Aspen Music Festival, these special concerts take place outside its regular season. The regional youth orchestra camp, part of a national initiative to cultivate musicians from underserved communities, mentors talented young players from the western United States. The project was inspired by El Sistema, a Venezuelan program that aims to create social change through music and has produced, among others, Los Angeles Philharmonic music and artistic director Gustavo Dudamel. The camp culminates in a free concert on June 28 conducted by Robert Spano. In late August the acclaimed Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Manfred Honeck, performs three different concerts. Much-lauded violinist (and conductor) Pinchas Zukerman, who attended the Aspen Music Festival and School as a teen in the 1960s, and clarinetist Michael Rusinek, currently an AMFS artist and faculty member, appear as soloists in works by Berg, Bruch, Bruckner, Mahler, Mozart, and Strauss. aspenmusicfestival.com, 970-925-9042 —G.L.

Youthful Energy

Throughout the summer

A playground for all ages, Aspen is especially rich in cultural opportunities for kids. New at the Aspen Art Museum (aspenartmuseum.org), the Teen Design Challenge prompts 12- to 14-year-olds to design an artwork or product to change the world (July 18–22). The Red Brick Center for the Arts (aspenart.org) offers an unprecedented seven kids’ camps this year, including its first pre-K session (June 28–July 1). At Anderson Ranch Arts Center (andersonranch.org), 10- to 13-year-olds explore applying beeswax to create nature-inspired pieces in the new Encaustic Experience (Aug. 8–12). And the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (aspennature.org) offers new kids’ photo workshops at Hallam Lake (Our Forested World, July 19–21) and Rock Bottom Ranch (A Look at Sustainable Food, July 26–28). Meanwhile, the Aspen Music Festival and School (aspenmusicfestival.com) stages two free family concerts (July 21, Aug. 18) and the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (aspensantafeballet.com) offers a family matinee (July 9 and 21) that’s a one-hour version of its evening performance. This year, Theatre Aspen’s (theatreaspen.org) annual children’s production is Dear Edwina (July 15–Aug. 13), a musical comedy about the joys of growing up. And kids can learn about dark matter and quarks at the Physics Is for Kids Family BBQs on Wednesdays at the Aspen Center for Physics (aspenphys.org). —C.L.

Zany Premise

Buyer & Cellar
July 7–August 19, Theatre Aspen, Hurst Theatre

As if the venue weren’t enough of a draw—a cozy tent tucked into a corner of a park, surrounded by ponds, wildflowers, and greenery—Theatre Aspen’s summer lineup includes one of the more interesting shows to grace the local stage. This award-winning one-man comedy tells the absurd, multilayered story of a struggling actor who works in an underground mall of quaint shops in Barbra Streisand’s Malibu basement, where the star is the only shopper. theatreaspen.org, 970-925-9313 —C.L.