Cultured Après Ski

15 Don't-Miss Performances in Aspen This Season

The local arts scene stays strong throughout the winter, with theater, jazz, live music, and film.

By Todd Hartley December 4, 2019 Published in the Holiday 2019–2020 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Violinist William Hagen will perform at Winter Music in February.

Having earned a reputation for its excellent productions of dramas like Of Mice and Men and Equus, Carbondale’s Thunder River Theatre Company (TRTC) may understandably want to cut loose with a comedy every now and then. Hence, The Doyle and Debbie Show (Dec 5–21).

The tale of Doyle, a washed-up country star who has been through several Debbies in his time, is “a hilarious country-western musical theater spoof,” says Corey Simpson, TRTC’s executive artistic director. “One review called it ‘Spinal Tap with a twang.’”

Sounds like fun. 

Later this winter, Simpson and company will return to drama when he directs Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge (Feb 20–March 7). On New Year’s Eve, Broadway star (and former Aspenite) Beth Malone will carry on the theater’s wonderful Diva Cabaret series with a new show. 


The aptly named Alphonso Horne will lead his band, the Gotham Kings, at JAS Café.

As it nears its 30th year in 2020, Jazz Aspen Snowmass (JAS) brings back some past favorites for this winter’s JAS Café series, including vocalist Niki Haris (Dec 21–22), singer Curtis Stigers (Feb 13–14), and singer, percussionist, and band leader Poncho Sanchez (March 6–7).

“For our big anniversaries, we invite back the crème de la crème,” says JAS President and CEO Jim Horowitz. “The people that have had the greatest reception.”

Imagine, then, how good this season’s JAS first-timers must be.

One of them, Alphonso Horne and the Gotham Kings, who will play Wintersköl weekend (Jan 10–11), is steeped in the traditions of hot jazz and New Orleans second line. “He’s a high-energy young trumpet player and a great entertainer,” adds Horowitz of Horne. “It’s danceable New Orleans rhythm—there’s even a great tap dancer in the band.”

The Little Nell & the St. Regis


A Theater Masters play reading last winter

One of the more quietly successful traditions in Aspen, Theater Masters returns for its 18th year with a longer name and a slightly revamped program. The Take Ten 2020: First Look Festival features new 10-minute plays selected from Theater Masters’ Aspiring Playwrights Education program and performed by a local cast. 

“Audiences not only get an up-close look at these never-seen-before plays but will be thoroughly entertained by new and seasoned actors from around the Roaring Fork Valley,” says Daisy Walker, Theater Masters executive artistic director.

 In another new twist, this winter’s event will also feature a staged reading of a commissioned play—inspired by a topic from the Aspen Ideas Festival—from Theater Masters’ Visionary Playwright program.

January 23–26, venues TBA


A longtime staple of Christmas week, Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings moves to a new time slot with four nights of critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated films.

“People have family and friends in town, and there are too many events going on over the holidays,” says Susan Wrubel, Aspen Film’s executive and artistic director. “We decided to see if early January works better, and for the most part, people seem pretty psyched about it.”

The change comes with one concession: the lineup, which will be announced in December, will still feature big-name movies, but fewer of them. Also, the traditional matinee screenings may end up on the cutting room floor. Says Wrubel, “Nobody wants to come off the mountain.” 

January 4–7, Wheeler Opera House and Isis Theatre


The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW) may have lost its temporary space last spring, but that doesn’t mean the Basalt nonprofit is sitting idle while its new home, The Contemporary, gets built two blocks away.

On the heels of fall’s successful Pumpkin Jazz—10 bands, 10 locales—TACAW is gearing up for a similar, but even bigger, event this winter or spring. “We’ll try to do two nights this time,” says TACAW Artistic Director Marc Breslin. “One night in downtown Basalt and one night in Willits, so you get to see everything.”

In the meantime, look for TACAW’s Random Acts of Culture series, which holds events in unexpected places—restaurants, galleries, outdoors—about once a month. And get ready for a spring groundbreaking party for The Contemporary.


Lucky Chops will play at the Wheeler.

As the last performer in this season’s On the Rise series, presented by the Wheeler Opera House, Lucky Chops, an ultra-funky, five-piece brass band out of New York City, seems ready to rock the house. After first gaining a following through its videos, the group has now performed in more than 25 countries since forming in 2006. 

“They are just so high energy, and they make you get excited about their music from the minute you start hearing them play,” says Wheeler Executive Director Gena Buhler.

Later this winter, don’t miss the Aspen Laugh Festival (Feb 19–22), with headliners Second City, Norm Macdonald, and Trevor Noah, as well as a host of other shows at the Wheeler and the Limelight Lounge.

December 7


The Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) doesn’t usually give its Winter Music recitals a theme like its summer programming, but it should just go ahead and call this season’s slate “The Gang of Four” (or, possibly, “Isn’t It Romantic?”).

“The composers who appear in our 2020 winter season—Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, and Mendelssohn—would often hold salon evenings in their homes,” says AMFS VP for Artistic Administration Asadour Santourian. “They came together to share music and, in some instances, dedicate works to each other.”

William Hagen (violin) and Albert Cano Smit (piano) will kick off the series of music from these great Romantic-era composers with a violin sonata from Schumann (as well as some Beethoven and Stravinsky). 

The next week, renowned pianist Joyce Yang will perform Schumann, Chopin, and Liszt. Then one of Aspen’s favorite duos, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, will close the series with sonatas from Mendelssohn and Chopin (and pieces from Bach, Beethoven, and Albéniz).

February 6, 13, and 20, Harris Concert Hall

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