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Music Festivals 2019

The Aspen Music Festival and School, Snowmass Summer of Free Concerts, and Jazz Aspen Snowmass define the summer soundscape.

By Todd Hartley May 31, 2019 Published in the Summer 2019 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Image above: the lawn outside the Benedict Music Tent. Photograph courtesy Aspen Music Festival and School

Aspen Music Festival and School
June 27–August 18

What’s more quintessentially Aspen than sitting on the lawn outside the Benedict Music Tent on a Sunday afternoon with family, friends, or even one’s pooch? The folding chairs or blankets have been positioned, the picnics unpacked, the wine uncorked. The mood is upbeat and expectant. As the first notes of the orchestra wash over the crowd, bringing conversation—and phone use—to an exquisite hush, listeners lose themselves in the magic of Mozart, or Mussorgsky, or Mahler, or a thousand other masters whose works have been celebrated here over the last 70 years. Meanwhile, inside the tent, ticketholders are treated to the sight of some of the world’s finest musicians producing that beautiful music. 

A key component of modern-day Aspen’s cultural makeup, the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) attracts more than 650 students from around the world and presents some 400 concerts and events over its eight-week run. It’s impossible to imagine a summer in Aspen without it.

This year’s theme: Being American. “We decided to pay tribute to the uniquely American feel of our music festival,” says AMFS President and CEO Alan Fletcher. But don’t expect merely a greatest hits compilation of well-known pieces. “While it will be a treat to hear the familiar American sounds of Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein, and Barber, it will also be exciting to hear vibrant new voices like George Walker, Gabriela Lena Frank, Wynton Marsalis, and Philip Glass,” adds Fletcher. To those ends, seek out Gershwin’s Catfish Row: Suite from Porgy and Bess (June 28, performed by the Aspen Chamber Symphony), Lena Frank’s Three Latin American Dances (July 3, Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra), and Marsalis’s Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra (Aug 7, Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra).

Bach, twice as nice: Fans will get a double dip of J.S. Bach at Harris Concert Hall on two nights that collectively feature all six Brandenburg Concertos, conducted by Nicholas McGegan, longtime music director of San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. July 10 showcases concertos Nos. 1, 3, and 4, as well as the Concerto for Three Violins. On July 11, the program includes concertos nos. 2, 5, and 6, plus Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins. 

AMFS students play on the mall.

For Broadway buffs: Regale in three nights of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music at the Wheeler Opera House (July 11, 13, and 15), presented by the Aspen Opera Center. And celebrate vocal music at Harris Hall (July 18) with Red, Hot, and Blue: A Cabaret Evening from American Song to Broadway, when Opera Center performers will sing works by Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and more. 

A sonic celebration of the Bauhaus centennial: The AMFS is part of a yearlong commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus school, with events around town. The Aspen Festival Orchestra’s July 14 program includes an excerpt from Gunter Schuller’s Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee, inspired by paintings from the Bauhaus artist.

Seismic shift: The Percussion Collective, a group of young artists led by marimba guru Robert Van Sice, performs Christopher Theofanidis’s Drum Circles (Aug 11). Co-commissioned by AMFS and several symphonies, this concerto for percussion and orchestra includes a spatial component, as the Collective and the Aspen Festival Orchestra’s own percussion section surround the other musicians.  

Burns bonus: A post-season special event (Aug 20) brings renowned documentarian Ken Burns to Harris Hall for a preview of his newest series, Country Music, which covers the history of this archetypal American art form. 

Insider tip

Venture beyond the tent. The 2,000-plus-seat Benedict Music Tent, as well as Harris Hall, get the lion’s share of the festival’s big concerts; go off the beaten path with affordable—often free—music at a variety of venues most people don’t even think of. “We present many master classes and informal events on our Bucksbaum Teaching Campus,” says Fletcher. “Concerts at the Aspen Chapel have a special, intimate feeling and are always free. Our series on the roof terrace of the Aspen Art Museum is very popular. It’s one of the most beautiful spots in town, and there’s great food and drink.” 


Thursday evening concerts at Snowmass always draw crowds.

Snowmass Summer of Free Concerts
Thursday evenings, June 13–August 22, 6:30 p.m. 

Known for drawing a great mix of established names and rising stars in primarily rock, funk, and Americana, this almost-30-year-old series has been a true workhorse of the valley’s music scene. Held on a gentle lower slope of the ski area, the concerts are where you’ll find locals from up and down the valley catching up over shared picnics, while kids Hula-Hoop at the back of the crowd or get their faces painted. Stake out a spot with a decent view of the stage; with that you’ll get a panoramic background of Snowmass’s peaks, part of the Roaring Fork Valley, and the occasional rainbow. Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village

The Snowmass Rendezvous Craft Beer Festival takes place before the first free concert at Snowmass.

Concert for a cause: The summer’s second bonus Saturday, July 13, marks the inaugural Rock for a Reason, a benefit show for a host of local charities with Skip Martin, one-time member of Kool & the Gang, leading a soul and funk revue band. 

Beer before music: This summer’s first bonus Saturday, June 8, kicks off the free concert series in conjunction with the popular Snowmass Rendezvous Craft Beer Festival (, a gathering of more than 30 craft brewers from all over Colorado for an afternoon tasting on the Snowmass Mall. Then catch roots rocker Brent Cowles and the indie-folk sounds of opener Heavy Diamond Ring. 

Most anticipated show: Along with providing a blast of ultra-tight funk from beyond the crypt, the members of Here Come the Mummies dress in full regalia, never reveal their true identities, and put on a memorable show. Rumored to be comprised of some of Nashville’s best session musicians, the Mummies will have the Fanny Hill crowd up and shaking their bones come July 4.   

Here Come the Mummies


Insider tip

Do bring your own picnic (the Artisan packs a great to-go roast chicken meal); extra layers for when the sun goes down; and a rain jacket to fend off the occasional short showers. Don’t bring—as they’re not allowed—outside booze (reasonably priced drinks are sold on-site) or your dog.



JAS Labor Day Experience

Jazz Aspen Snowmass Experiences
June 20–23, June 29, August 30–September 1

For 28 years, nonprofit Jazz Aspen Snowmass (JAS) has consistently supplied great music and big-name acts for what’s now two annual festivals. The Labor Day Experience in Snowmass Village is the single biggest musical event of the season, drawing crowds of 10,000 and more to hear rock, pop, and country mega-stars on a mammoth stage in Town Park. The lower-key June Experience, which focuses more on traditional jazz, debuts a new format this year, with acts playing in multiple venues around downtown Aspen. 

H.E.R. appears at the Labor Day Experience.


JAS June Experience 

After a decade at the Benedict Music Tent, this weekend of shows morphs into more of a free-flowing affair in Aspen’s downtown core. The format takes a cue from the late, great US Comedy Arts Festival, where audiences moved among multiple venues. “If it works according to plan, there will be combustion between musicians and audiences,” says JAS President and CEO Jim Horowitz, who envisions crowds spilling out of one show and carrying their enthusiasm into the next. Buy a three-day pass for general admission into all shows; single-day passes and limited single-show tickets will also be available.

Venues include the Aspen Art Museum, coffee and wine bar Victoria + Co, The Little Nell, Velvet Buck at the St. Regis, Skye Gallery, Belly Up Aspen, and the Hotel Jerome garden (for a Sunday gospel brunch). Among the dozen-plus acts to check out: Cha Wa, a 2019 Grammy nominee for best regional roots album; young British phenom Jacob Collier; legendary Afro-pop musician Richard Bona; Grammy-winning vocalist Patti Austin; and trumpeter Bria Skonberg. The fest returns to the music tent for one show in collaboration with the Aspen Music Festival and School (Gregory Porter Tribute to Nat “King” Cole, June 29). 

Luke Combs plays during the Labor Day Experience.



JAS Labor Day Experience

It could be that we have short memories, but it sure seems like this fest outdoes itself every year. This year’s lineup of headliners—Weezer (Aug 30), John Mayer (Aug 31), and Sting (Sept 1)—not only packs serious star power, but between the opening-night alt rockers and the two sex-symbol-rock-gods-for-their-generations, the shows appeal to a broad spectrum of tastes and ages, with high-profile opening acts like Portugal. The Man (Aug 30), ZZ Ward and Luke Combs (Aug 31), and Turkuaz and H.E.R. (Sept 1). The only changes to the format this year will be minor expansions to two VIP areas and an additional night of the Silent Disco at the JAS Village. “It’s a great way to hang and party after the main stage closes while the crowd disperses,” notes Horowitz.

Insider tip

Last summer the JAS Academy relaunched after a 10-year hiatus; this summer, the all-scholarship program, now a partnership between Jazz Aspen Snowmass and the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, expands from one week to two. Catch emerging stars in the JAS Academy Big Band, directed by Christian McBride, at the Aspen Art Museum on August 18; keep an eye out for other performances earlier in the week, too. And, of course, don’t overlook the summer-long JAS Café, with performances from John Pizzarelli, Arturo Sandoval, Catherine Russell, and more at The Little Nell, the St. Regis’s Velvet Buck, and the Aspen Art Museum.


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