Aspen is rich, but perhaps not in the way you’re thinking. A good portion of our town’s notorious wealth has been invested in a thriving arts, cultural, and culinary scene that in the warmer months blossoms with a season of festivals, soirees, and events to rival that of anyplace else in the world—certainly of any community its size. And after a two-year hiatus, summer, as Aspenites once celebrated it, is back. From the Aspen Music Festival to Ideas Fest to the Food & Wine Classic, at press time the town’s most-cherished annual summertime rituals promised a triumphant return to prepandemic times.
In fact, the surfeit of options creates a curious conundrum for any would-be reveler. Whether it’s discovering a new author through an Aspen Words reading, hearing a favorite musician at a Jazz Aspen Snowmass concert, or sampling vintages at the Snowmass Wine Festival, navigating through the umpteen options can be overwhelming. So we’ve curated this guide to the season, highlighting old favorites and new voices primed for rediscovery or revelation. Decide which summertime flings you crave the most, then go out and embrace the arts-and-culture riches in Aspen like it’s 2019 again and the world is your oyster—or Strottarga Bianco caviar.
Weaving Sonic Threads
Aspen Music Festival and School,
June 30–Aug 21; aspenmusicfestival.com
For more than 70 years, Aspen audiences have cherished multiple weeks of live classical music each summer, with daily performances by the international students and faculty of the Music Fest’s school and by world-renowned guest artists. Concerts take place in the Benedict Music Tent (the festival’s signature venue) and in neighboring Harris Hall, alfresco atop Aspen Mountain, and at smaller venues throughout town.
The theme this season—the final one programmed by longtime VP of artistic administration Asadour Santourian, who left for the Tanglewood Music Center earlier this year—is “Tapestries: What We Talk About When We Talk About Ourselves.” “It’s music that speaks with a personal voice,” says Alan Fletcher, AMFS’s president and CEO. Among the many programs that reflect that theme, several also intertwine other connections, whether among artists or through notable collaborations with other Aspen arts or cultural organizations.
Alums Meet Up
Celebrated violinist Gil Shaham’s parents came to the Aspen Physics Center every summer when he was a kid; Shaham would eventually come for studies of his own at AMFS. On July 17, he’ll team up with another, more recent AMFS alumnus—cellist Sterling Elliott—for Brahms’s Double Concerto. Then on August 19, another notable AMFS alum, cellist Alisa Weilerstein (her parents were faculty members, too), will play Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto No. 1; conducting the accompanying Aspen Chamber Symphony will be alumnus Roderick Cox, who, says Fletcher, “is going to be a superstar very shortly—only five years ago, he was a student here.”
Threading Music with Words
The first Sunday concert of the season (July 3) features baritone Rod Gilfry and soprano Renée Fleming (who also codirects AMFS’s opera program) performing composer Kevin Puts’s evocative The Brightness of Light. “I guarantee you people are going to go crazy for how beautiful, and how romantic, this piece is,” says Fletcher; it’s based on letters that painter Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz once exchanged with each other.
Our Favorite Things
It took two years of negotiation with the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization to secure the rights for a concert production of The Sound of Music (July 25–26). To bring the hills alive, AMFS partnered with Theatre Aspen, which stages a Broadway cast. The performance, with full orchestra, will include students from AMFS’s opera program and young local vocalists, too.
Mariachi and Movement
The free family concert De Colores (July 27) promises a vibrant program that’s the culmination of AMFS’s three-day mariachi workshop for local middle- and high-school musicians. Performing with a professional mariachi band, the students will also be joined by local youth in Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s Folklórico ensemble. The casual format will include food trucks, mezcal tastings for adults, and creative workshops hosted by Anderson Ranch Arts Center and the Aspen Art Museum.
Like Father, Like Son
Pianist Jeffrey Kahane (also a noted conductor) will solo with the Aspen Chamber Symphony for Heirloom, a piano concerto written by his son, composer Gabriel Kahane. The piece explores three generations’ relationship with various musical genres and “highlights how music talks about who you are and who your family is,” says Fletcher. Mahler and Mendelssohn round out the August 12 program.
Multitude of Strands
The season culminates on August 21 in immense fashion with Berlioz’s Requiem, which Fletcher calls “one of the most spectacular works in all of classical music.” It requires a double orchestra, a triple brass section (which will ring the Music Tent interior), and two choirs—“it’s probably the biggest production we’ve ever done,” says Fletcher. Talk about a large tapestry.
From Sea to Shining Sea
Korean-American pianist Min Kwon commissioned some 70 composers to write pieces based on “America the Beautiful” for a project that she debuted last summer. The compositions “cover the whole map, from celebrations to social criticism to elegies,” says Fletcher, who is also one of the contributing composers. For this program (Aug 11) cohosted by the Aspen Institute, Kwon will play several of the pieces, then talk about the project.
5 artists we look forward to discovering at JAS’s June experience
The Baylor Project
June 24, Limelight Aspen
Married duo Marcus and Jean Baylor are, says Horowitz, “phenomenal musicians. She’s a jazz singer with some R&B and a little bit of soul—she’s got sauce—and her husband was the longtime drummer for the Yellowjackets. They have the chemistry of love in their band, and you can feel it.”
June 24–25, Felix Roasting Co.
This blues singer and guitarist is young “but has an old soul,” says Horowitz. “He’s absolutely fantastic. I know people are going to love him.”
Eleanor Dubinsky and Dario Acosta Teich
June 24–25, Here House
Horowitz learned of the pair when he was walking down the street in Provincetown, Mass., last September. “I heard this music, a beautiful voice and guitar pouring out of a hole-in-the-wall bar or restaurant,” he recalls. “These two are very original, very inventive.”
July 2, Aspen Art Museum
Not many people got to see this band when it played a JAS Café in 2020 due to pandemic capacity restrictions. Now the South Carolina–based quintet returns, performing jazz tinged by Gullah, “an old Black seafaring culture,” Horowitz says. “They play a bouillabaisse of music—it’s hard to put in one box—and are very charismatic.”
Aug 19, Aspen Art Museum
This up-and-coming traditional jazz vocalist has a “drop-dead gorgeous, melt-you-warm-like-honey kind of voice,” Horowitz enthuses. “She’s the type of young artist we like to grab when they’re in the front end of their career.”
Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience (June 23–26), JAS Cafés, and Labor Day Experience (Sept 2–4); jazzaspensnowmass.org
It’s hard to talk to Jazz Aspen Snowmass president and CEO Jim Horowitz and not be drawn in by his enthusiasm for every show the organization, now in its 30th season, presents—especially when the performers are ones you may not be familiar with.
Of course, the thousands of concertgoers who flock to Snowmass each year for JAS’s Labor Day Experience need no convincing to see celebrated headliners like Stevie Nicks (Sept 4) and Chris Stapleton (Sept 3)—or a double bill of buzzy artists like Leon Bridges (whose Belly Up show last fall sold out in about a nanosecond) and Black Pumas (Sept 2).
But the June Experience, especially, invites discovery for fans of jazz, blues, soul, funk, world music, and gospel. With 15 artists playing more than 40 shows at 10 venues—all within a short walk of each other—“the listener is rewarded by the willingness to wander,” Horowitz says. “It’s about moving and grooving and getting from place to place.”
Likewise, the summerlong JAS Café series consistently sells out based on its reputation for showcasing top-notch talent, even if they’re not (yet) household names.
Free for All
Snowmass Free Concert Series,
June 16–Aug 25; gosnowmass.com
Every Thursday evening for much of the summer, a sea of humanity toting chairs, blankets, and picnic baskets descends on Snowmass Ski Area’s Fanny Hill, ready to settle in for both the social scene and the music. The popular series celebrates its 30th anniversary this season, and longtime local Don Chaney has emceed more than half of the shows over the years.
“I love it when families come over from one of the hotels for something to do and then are just so into the show by the end,” he says. “That’s what’s so great about it. Most of the audience doesn’t know who they’re watching, but by the end of the show, they’re fans.”
Along with venue enhancements and two new bars set up in shipping containers (no outside alcohol is allowed), this summer’s 13-concert series features acts like the Freddy Jones Band (Aug 11) and Pimps of Joytime (Aug 25). Chaney says he’s particularly looking forward to Hot Buttered Rum (June 16), MarchFourth (June 23), and Hazel Miller (Sunday, July 3, for an Independence Day celebration).
The top 5 Snowmass Free Concerts of all time
(as considered by Don Chaney)
“John Prine, in the early 1990s, is still one of my favorites. I wondered if everybody on the hill realized the legend they were watching. They did—he owned the audience.”
“When Leftover Salmon played [in 2004], it was pouring down rain, with nobody there. I went backstage and said to [singer and guitarist] Vince Herman, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to do this show.’ He said, ‘If there’s anybody out there, we’ll at least start.’ There were three hippies under a giant umbrella. Vince said, ‘Alright, we’ll go out, and we’ll play.’ Within 45 minutes, probably 1,000 people were on the hill. Vince gave free CDs to anyone who took off their shirt and slid down in the mud toward the stage.”
“The speaker stacks were blowing over from the wind, and in the middle of a guitar solo, Robben Ford  pushed one of the stacks back in place so it wouldn’t fall on the bass player—and he never stopped playing the whole time.”
“Here Come the Mummies . I was close, but I never figured out who was in the band [members always wear disguises]. But they are supposedly the most in-demand session musicians around.”
“Bonerama [2008, 2021] plays classic rock covers on trombone. I got them to play ‘The Ocean’ by Led Zeppelin.”
Anderson Ranch Arts Center Recognition Week,
July 11–16; andersonranch.org
The campus of Snowmass Village–based Anderson Ranch Arts Center, a collection of restored cabins on a former sheep ranch, becomes a hive of activity in summer, with artists in residence, workshops for adults and kids, and guest lecturers. The hum intensifies mid-July during Recognition Week, when a renowned artist is honored during a series of events. With some additions this season, the week will bring even more vibrancy to this one-of-a-kind creative center.
This year’s honoree: Yinka Shonibare CBE , the London-based, Nigeria-raised multimedia artist whose work explores issues related to colonialism and class while challenging ideas of cultural identity. A signature element: the incorporation of wax-dyed batik fabrics into many of his pieces. Shonibare will speak about his work while at the Ranch and be fêted at a gala on Thursday.
New to Recognition Week are mini-workshops—three-hour versions of the Ranch’s acclaimed weeklong studio seminars in ceramics, printmaking, photography, wood carving, and textile dyeing—that make the experiences more accessible to those with limited time (or budget). Other events include a daylong Critical Dialog program that examines photorealism.
Plus, the Ranch’s Annual Art Auction and Community Picnic—a longtime tradition that includes live and silent auctions, music, and vittles—moves from early August to the Saturday that wraps up this celebratory week. While at the Ranch, explore the 10 new sculptures added to the permanent outdoor exhibit that debuted two summers ago.
Aspen Art Museum Mountain/Time, through Sept 11;
Not familiar with time-based media? You will be after visiting the museum this summer, where the buildingwide exhibit Mountain/Time showcases works from a dozen artists who use film and video in experimental ways. Each immersive installation plays with conceptions of time (including history) and also geography as the artists examine themes of storytelling, community, migration, and more.
(Bonus: the museum will be a dark, cool place to escape summer heat.)
Guest curator Chrissie Iles, from New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and a specialist in time-based media, looked to the nearby mountains for the exhibit’s framework, as the geologic layers of the peaks around Aspen express the passage of time over millions of years. “It became very clear that the mountains were a part of an archive,” says Iles. “They have deposits from an ancient sea, and I started thinking about the mountain as a holder of memory.”
Using pieces on loan from the Whitney and from time-based media collector (and part-time Aspenite) Robert Rosenkranz, Iles, with curators Anisa Jackson and Simone Krug, assembled a body of works that reflect—or sometimes upend—concepts of time. For example, Mohawk artist Alan Michelson projects archival footage of a Native American parade in quadrants on a red trading blanket; the images progress counterclockwise through the squares, referencing time as cyclical, rather than linear.
Other installations equate geological excavation with the task of digging through archives to present a new understanding of the past. In this vein, Kandis Williams mashes up images of Oskar Schlemmer’s 1926 Bauhaus ballet, archival Black dance clips, and modern-day footage to re-examine ballet. And Mark Leckey looks at marginalized communities in northern England through found images from underground dance halls during Margaret Thatcher’s term as prime minister.
Even the iconic aspen tree comes into play, as the curatorial team considered a grove’s massive, interconnected root system, which functions as one giant organism. “There’s no beginning, middle, or end—it’s a network of community,” notes Iles. “It seemed an important metaphor for works in the exhibition.”
Echoing this type of system, BOB (for Bag of Beliefs) is a serpent-like, artificially intelligent life form created by artist Ian Cheng that evolves in response to viewer interaction. Through an app, you can elicit different reactions from BOB by “offering” it something in its virtual video environment. Out of those reactions, BOB continually changes.
Apart from the museum, the exhibition includes other events, including films at the Arts Campus at Willits in Basalt and Carbondale’s Crystal Cinema, an alfresco performance of Korakrit Arunanondchai’s Itinerant Cinema, and screenings outside the Smuggler Mine that will include works by multimedia artist Cauleen Smith, who is doing a two-week residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center and researching local geology.
Aspen’s rural mountain location informs the exhibit, allowing viewers to think and absorb what they see, says Iles. “It is quite remote and gives a sense of contemplation that puts things in perspective,” she explains. “That allows the artworks to do their work in a way. They have time and space around them.”
In keeping with the theme, the museum’s façade will be used to stage another summer exhibition: My Dear Mountains (through Oct 9), a site-specific installation by Gaetano Pesce that covers the entire building in a three-dimensional wrap that represents a mountain landscape at sunset. A major difference from what lies inside? This piece is frozen in time.
Theatre Aspen, June 27–Aug 23,
Sept 10–15; theatreaspen.org
Now in its 39th season, Theatre Aspen presents Broadway-caliber productions in the cozy confines of a 199-seat tented pavilion adjacent to the John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen’s Rio Grande Park. “Summer theater is there to bring joy to people,” says director of artistic planning Britt Marden. To that end, the company’s two main summertime productions dramatize real-life stories in the context of feel-good entertainment, she adds: “These shows do that in a time when we really need it,” adds Marden.
As for those two shows, one of them, the megahit Jersey Boys (Aug 1–23), is what Marden calls “the quintessential showbiz musical,” based on the career of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The score is packed with familiar numbers like “My Eyes Adored You” and “Oh What a Night,” and “you’ll walk out humming songs,” predicts Marden. Lesser known, but equally compelling, is Gypsy (June 27–July 23), “one of the greatest shows ever written,” says Marden. Hannah Ryan, who was a resident director of Hamilton, directs this story of female empowerment, inspired by Gypsy Rose Lee.
Countering the established musical vibe, Theatre Aspen’s annual, multiday Solo Flights festival (Sept 10–15) features staged readings of some half-dozen one-person shows, all in their early stages of development. “The genre has blown up in the past few years,” says Marden, fueled, in part, by the solitary creative process of the pandemic. The lineup won’t be announced until later this summer, but here’s where you may discover the next big thing.
Yet another way to enjoy theater up close and personal: Theatre Aspen’s Summer Cabaret Series (July 10 and Aug 7, and Aug 14 with Dance-Aspen) at the Hotel Jerome. To see potential stars of tomorrow, check out one of the organization’s youth productions of Twelfth Night, James and the Giant Peach, and Bright Star.
A Feast of Films
Aspen Film, various dates; aspenfilm.org
Local cinephiles know to set aside several days each fall for Aspen Filmfest (Sept 27–Oct 2), which presents a slew of indie films—features and documentaries, international and domestic, with the lineup announced a few weeks before the festival’s debut.
But screens aren’t dark this summer. In addition to putting on its own festivals and monthly presentations at the Isis Theatre, Aspen Film frequently collaborates with other local arts groups and venues. For instance, view family favorites like Up and Sing 2 on Saturday evenings in July outside the Collective at Snowmass Base Village and the Grateful Dead documentary Long Strange Trip at a drive-in showing at the Snowmass Rec Center (Aug 7).
Prefer your cinema a bit more provocative? Here House’s Socrates Café offers two films on foster care and immigration, plus guided discussion, June 20–22. Meanwhile, the New Views Documentaries and Dialogues series, presented with the Aspen Institute, will screen thought-provoking docs, followed by conversations with special guests, at Aspen’s Isis Theatre on July 18 and 25 and August 1. A free double bill (Aug 9) with the USC Shoah Foundation features two family-suitable animated shorts related to Holocaust stories.
And Aspen Film partners with Anderson Ranch Arts Center to show what may be the only Colorado screening of The Art of Making It (June 29 at the Ranch). Winner of an audience award for festival favorite at SXSW this spring, the documentary follows a group of young artists—some of whom have deep relationships with the Ranch—as they strive for success in the ever-changing art world. A panel discussion with several of the artists in the film and producer Debi Wisch will follow.
Aspen Ideas Fest,
June 22–July 1; aspenideas.org
After a two-year, pandemic-induced pivot to a virtual platform, Aspen’s headiest intellectual confab of the year returns to the Aspen Institute campus. The festival convenes dozens of today’s leading thinkers—policymakers, artists, business leaders, scientists, activists, academics, elected officials, and more—to consider a wide range of societal issues through panel discussions and presentations. This year, more programs will be held in outside venues across the campus.
Divided into three separate sessions, Ideas Fest starts off with the Health program track (June 22–25), with presentations focused on one of six themes: hope, disruption, get smart, influence, pleasure, and security. Festival sessions 1 (June 25–28) and 2 (June 28–July 1) have their own core themes: heat (as in climate change), power, connection, trust, money, and beauty.
Among this year’s presenters are actress and writer Selma Blair, Slack cofounder and CEO Stewart Butterfield, Instagram VP of fashion and shopping partnerships Eva Chen, All Things Considered cohost Mary Louise Kelly, author Pico Iyer, former supermodel and writer Paulina Porizkova, University of Chicago president Paul Alivisatos, Talking Heads frontman and musician David Byrne, Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf, and NBC News chief White House correspondent Kristen Welker.
Full passes are spendy ($2,200 for the Health track, $5,000 each for Festivals 1 and 2), but keep an eye out for individually ticketed events, which will be announced shortly before the festival begins. Plus, new this year is a digital pass ($50) that gives you access to recordings of selected in-person sessions (June 27–30), as well as live, virtual-only Q&A sessions with some of the speakers.
Aspen Words Writers in Residence,
through Oct 18; aspenwords.org
Each summer, a handful of fortunate writers are selected for Aspen Words’ May through October residency program; each writer gets to spend three weeks living and working at a fabulous location in Woody Creek, sponsored by the Catto Shaw Foundation. While here, the writer will also give a community talk, and copies of their books or other works will be available through the Little Free Library box outside Aspen’s Red Brick Center for the Arts. Need a summer reading list? Follow along with this season’s Writers in Residence.
Jamaica Baldwin’s first book, Bone Language, will be published next year. In the meantime, look for her poems in Prairie Schooner, World Literature Today, the Adroit Journal, and Missouri Review. She covers topics like race, politics, and her successful battle with cancer. Author talk, July 21, Red Brick Center for the Arts
Savage Tongues, by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi. The writer’s third novel forthrightly examines coming of age and the devastation that ensues after an Iranian-American teen goes to Spain in search of her estranged father. Author talk, Aug 17, Red Brick Center for the Arts.
Tochukwu Okafor, a Nigerian writer who now lives in the US, will be working on his debut novel in Aspen. Find his stories in Best Small Fictions 2019, the Guardian, Transition Magazine, and Columbia Journal. Author talk, Sept 22, Pitkin County Library.
The West Will Swallow You, by Leath Tonino. In this collection of essays, Tonino, who splits his time between Vermont and Colorado, chronicles his adventures across the West, with the landscape and the natural world playing powerful roles. The writer will hike over to the residency from his home in Crested Butte. Author talk, Oct 18, The Arts Campus at Willits.
Food & Wine Classic in Aspen,
June 17–19, 2022; classic.foodandwine.com
For the first time since 2019, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen will resume its rightful place at the top of Aspen’s summer, devouring the entire third weekend in June. However, regular attendees of Aspen’s biggest and best culinary affair—produced by Food & Wine magazine—will notice a few changes for the positive, some of which evolved from the festival’s scaled-back version held last September.
For starters, 25 percent fewer passes were available (as usual, the fest is sold out)—that makes it a scarcer ticket, sure, but it also means those who attend will have more elbow room at the Grand Tastings to sip on albariño in the Wines of Spain tent, say, or nibble on artisan chocolates. Also, there will be one less round of afternoon seminars, allowing for more down time after the midday Grand Tasting and less rushing around between venues. With close to 60 seminars, however, there’s still plenty to choose from—and, reflecting the wider embrace of the outdoors engendered by the pandemic, more events will take place in outside spaces, including the welcome party at the Hotel Jerome.
Also on tap: more than two dozen first-time-at-the-fest presenters, including chefs, sommeliers, restaurateurs, and other culinary experts. Longtime spokesperson Lori Lefevre says it’s the biggest list of new talent she’s ever seen in her years of working with the Food & Wine Classic. It’s also likely the most diverse list. Among them, look for Texas chef and restaurateur Tiffany Derry (Roots Chicken Shak and Roots Southern Table), noted pastry chef Paola Velez, wine director Carlin Karr (Frasca Hospitality Group), Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern, and even former NBA star Dwyane Wade, who has his own wine company.
One new seminar, “Wait, Wait, Do Tell Me—The Restaurant Edition,” produced by Food & Wine’s pro division, features five restaurateurs dishing on what it’s really like to run a kitchen during the pandemic. “It’ll be a mix of funny anecdotes and some deeper lessons in how restaurants have changed,” says Lefevre. “It’s an opportunity to bring consumers into the greater conversation.”
Looking to detox at some point during the weekend? Nonalcoholic beverages and plant-based food, both trending at the moment, will be available at the Grand Tastings. On a hot June afternoon, an alcohol-free hazy IPA from Athletic Brewing may be just the ticket.
Snowmass Village Culinary Events,
July 30–Sept 17; gosnowmass.com
Aspen doesn’t lay claim to all of the summer culinary happenings in the upper Roaring Fork Valley; Snowmass Village also offers a variety of ways to celebrate the best in food and drink throughout the season.
Cochon 555’s Heritage Fire,
At this annual carnivore’s delight, some 20 chefs from around the state roast or grill heritage-breed whole animals over open fires on Fanny Hill, then serve up the meat in creative small plates, accompanied by craft beer, wine, and cocktails.
Fans of crisp, refreshing hard cider love this event, which brings more than two dozen craft cideries from Colorado and beyond to the Snowmass Mall for an afternoon of tasting and music.
An eclectic mix of outdoor games, gear displays, live music, and crafts for sale, this festival also includes tastings from breweries, distilleries, and winemakers.
Snowmass Wine Fest,
For 20 years, the Rotary Club of Snowmass Village has put on this popular grand tasting of premium wines, plus food from local restaurants, live music, and a wide-ranging silent auction.