Arts Spot

Better Than Hipster

Justice Snow’s emerges as a performance venue that’s both eclectic and sincere.

By Michael Miracle July 1, 2014 Published in the Midsummer/Fall 2014 issue of Aspen Sojourner

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When Justice Snow’s opened in early 2012, its artisanal cocktails, throwback décor, and waiters in vests and bow ties gave Aspen its first sustained taste of a hipster scene. Now, just two years later, the restaurant’s arts programming—live music, a literary parlor, and the Salon Series—has grown into something genuine and special.

“Playful and authentic was what we were looking for,” says Justice Snow’s proprietress Michele Kiley. “We wanted something more intimate and available. Our space is all about community.” Key to creating that community has been music; performances are frequent (Wednesday and Sunday evenings through September) and free. Regional and national acts booked by local singer-songwriter Jackson Emmer, who regularly performs at Justice Snow’s himself, are diverse and consistently top-notch. July’s performers include the “intergalactic afro-cowboy” of Free Peoples (July 27) and the “whiskey rock” of Charles Ellsworth (July 30). (Check for August and September’s acts.) Of the musicians performing mere feet from patrons at the bar, Kiley says, “There’s a tenderness and a vulnerability. It forges a connection with a listener. It makes people pay attention.”

They’re paying attention to poetry, too. Standing-room-only crowds have turned out for the free literary parlor, which occurs every other month. Poetry curator Alya Howe borrowed the concept of a “poetry brothel” (“more latitude, more audience participation, more giggling, more delight” than a “straight-up poetry performance,” she says) from cities like New York and Chicago. She puts particular emphasis on young local poets, though more established artists, such as James Navé, perform and teach workshops as well.

And then there is the Salon Series ($25). The first Sunday in September, December, and April, six acts perform in a single evening. Past salons have included timpani players, sacred gongs, cake makers, and formal Argentinean tango dancers, among others.

It all makes for a night’s ride that can range from touching to funny to exhilarating. As Emmer says, “Nothing says that the best performances can happen only at the big venues. Compelling art can happen anywhere.”

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