Summertime in Aspen is synonymous with a jam-packed festival season. As Memorial Day fades into a distant memory, Aspen’s summer high season is beginning to peep its head around the corner. The highway switchback over Independence Pass is open, eateries have lined streets and patios with tables and chairs for dining al fresco, impromptu ultimate Frisbee games are taking place in Paepcke Park, and jeans and boots are being shed like rattlesnake-skin for swimsuits and flip flops. All are surefire signs of summer in the Rockies.
Between June and September, our little Colorado mountain town becomes a high altitude Dionysian playground touting a vibrant calendar of events catering to practically every taste. Like an ice cream stand boasting hundreds of flavors and a rainbow of varieties, Aspen’s assortment of festivals celebrates an almost universal appeal to families, tourists, members of the billionaire jet set, and pragmatic mountain escapists. In the summer, social calendars are easily crammed with a full platter of unique special events, including scholarly Aspen Institute lectures, gourmet barbeques by world-renown chefs, organized bike races, stand-up comedy, and live music practically every day of the week. When the weather is warm, it is almost as if the carnival never stops.
This year’s festival potpourri is peppered with a few colorful newcomers like the first annual Woody Creek Beer Festival, the return of the Aspen Fringe Theater Fest, the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Festival, and a slack line Yoga gathering for the meditative and acrobatic. Many of Aspen’s quirky events have crystallized into time honored small town traditions, such as the Trashmasters Charity Golf Invitational, the Old Fashion 4th of July celebration, Saturday Farmers Market, and bluegrass atop Ajax every Sunday until August.
Although we certainly can’t speak for everybody, we’re mighty thrilled summer is here and the livin’ is easy. Like a bucking cowboy in the event rodeo, we’ve giddied up, branded our calendars, and wrangled down the top ten summer festivals we think are worth a hoot and a holler.
Downtown Aspen Art Festival
July 18 - 19, 2009
Hundreds of artists and craftsman from around the world converge in Wagner Park to showcase sophisticated brushwork and homespun handicrafts. The 7th annual Downtown Aspen Art Festival will feature vendors working with a variety of media including paintings, photography, sculpture, and handcrafted jewelry. During this weekend, downtown Aspen is transformed into an al fresco art gallery. Unlike other Aspen festivals, the exhibits is open to the public and free. Depending on your point of view, this family-friendly event on Saturday and Sunday is potentially more fun than an outing to Ikea, Pottery Barn, and Pier One combined.
More Information: The 7th Annual Downtown Aspen Art Festival
Rooftop Comedy Festival
July 11 - 14, 2009
Although the events do not actually occur atop of a roof, the second-annual Rooftop Comedy Festival attempts to fill the stand-up comedy void left when the HBO Comedy Festival packed it’s bags and headed to Las Vegas like a howling Raul Duke in a red, shark-like Cadillac. What once was an industry-wide mountain gathering is now reinventing itself as a grassroots laugh festival. The 2009 festival hosts the finals for the National College Comedy Competition and up-and-coming comedians like Saturday Night Live cast member Finesse Mitchell, Ted Alexandro, Robert Hawkins, and Lisa Landry.
More Information: www.rooftopcomedy.com
June 25 - August 22, 2009
Across the country, outdoor summer theater is an American tradition as venerable as apple pie and baseball. Throughout June and August, Theatre Aspen presents Broadway-caliber productions in the majestic setting of Rio Grande Park with a backdrop of Ajax Mountain. The cast of talented actors and actresses such as Joan Hess, Jamison Stern, and Sally Mae Dunn hail from prestigious on and off Broadway productions. The upcoming 2009 season includes the Tony-winning comedy The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Jay Sandrich’s hilarious four-character play Chapter Two . Throughout the summer, Theatre Aspen conducts children’s theatre workshops for young actors and playwrights and stages A Year With Frog and Toad , a family musical full of giggles.
More Information: Theatre Aspen
Every Wednesday, June 17 - August 19 at 5 p.m.
Every Wednesday night at the rodeo grounds in Snowmass, the days of Buffalo Bill and the celluloid fantasia of a John Wayne movie are relived with a dose of theatrics and bravado. The Snowmass Rodeo is a fun-filled home-on-the-range tradition and an opportunity to watch true Colorado cowboys and cowgirls climb on a fired-up horse or bull and hold on for dear life. Adults and children alike will be fascinated and entertained by the skillful saddling and lassoing during traditional rodeo events like bronco riding, barrel racing, bull riding, bareback riding, and team roping and wrangling. Before the rodeo gets underway, a mouthwatering barbeque dinner provided by the Hickory House is available. Stay afterward sunset for a hee-hawing cowboy-led campfire sing along and marshmallow roast under the star-filled mountain sky.
Jazz Aspen/Snowmass Labor Day Festival
September 4-6, 2009
Despite grumbles around town about the striking resemblance of this year’s festival to previous festivals, the Jazz Aspen/Snowmass Labor Day Festival remains a cheerful reason to look forward to the end of the summer. Citizen Cope, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Umphrey’s McGee, The Doobie Brothers, the Black-eyed Peas, The Drive By Truckers, and the headlining Allman Brothers will take the stage at the Snowmass Town Park over Labor Day Weekend. Jazz Aspen/Snowmass is also throwing another marquee festival earlier in the summer with a week-long June Festival. Scheduled to overlap with the Food and Wine Classic between June 18 – 27, the event will feature slightly more traditional jazz acts like Jamie Cullum, Smokey Robinson, Chris Botti, and Al Jarreau in the Benedict Music Tent.
More Information: Jazz Aspen/Snowmass
Aspen Summer Words: The Aspen Literary Festival
June 21-26, 2009
According to a promotional blurb on the Aspen Writer’s foundation website, O. Henry Award-winning author Pam Houston called Aspen Summer Words “… The Sundance Film Festival of literary publishing, a place outside Manhattan’s dusty bedrooms for books to germinate and grow.” Those words make our aspiring inner-Dostoyevsky tingle with delight. The 5th Annual Aspen Summer Words Festival is a five-day literary gathering where bookworms and authors meet for intimate conversations and lectures about the craft of writing and reading literature. This year’s theme is focused on an ambitious global perspective titled “World of Words.” This year’s internationally-renown guest list of literati include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ishmael Beah, Gary Ferguson, David Davidar, and Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson. The festival takes place in the beautiful The Doerr-Hosier Center at the Aspen Meadows.
More Information: Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival
The Snowmass Chili Pepper and Brew Festival
June 5-6, 2009
The 6th annual Chili-Brew festival kicks off the summer season with a sudsy habanero sizzle. After a long off-season, the warm weather party begins in Snowmass on the first weekend in June with an outdoor beer sampling, chili cook-off, and live music from Leftover Salmon with Karl Denson, Partical, and moe. Over 100 craft microbrews and premium artisan liquors are available for sampling, so adults planning to imbibe beverages should rely on RFTA when shuttling back to town. The winner of the chili cook off secures a spot in the 2009 World’s Chili & Salsa Championship.
More Information: The Snowmass Chili Pepper and Brew Festival
The 27th Annual Food and Wine Classic
June 5-6, 2009
As far as summer festivals with grandeur, pizzazz, and plenty of class, Aspen’s annual The Food and Wine Magazine Classic simply can’t be topped. In addition to being one of the world’s premiere lifestyle events, The Food and Wine Classic in Aspen is one of the many prizes of which Top Chef contestants compete to showcase their showcase their culinary prowess to an influential and affluent audience of gastronomes and foodies. This years line up of celebrity chefs includes presentations from Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Mario Batali, Michelle Bernstein, Ming Tsai, Giada De Laurentiis and Tom Colicchio, amongst scores of others. The Grand Tasting in Wagner Park is like blissful kabuki theater for chefs and epicureans as vendors prepare a scrumptious and oh-so-delightfully-gluttonous feast of wine tastings, food samplings, cooking demos, and exotic flavors worthy of Caligula or any other ravenous Roman Emperor.
More Information: The 27th Annual Food and Wine Classic
Aspen Music Festival and School
June 25-August 23, 2009
Stately aspen groves, crisp air, majestic mountain views, and the opportunity for a surreal outdoor performance have drawn all-star performers and world-class composers like Aaron Copeland, Phillip Glass, Itzhak Perlman, Arthur Rubinstein, and Igor Stravinsky to Aspen in the summertime. Each summer 750 students come to Aspen to study with the best and the brightest in the classical music world. The groups formed by the music school include the Aspen Festival Orchestra, the Aspen Chamber Symphony, and the Aspen Concert Orchestra. Performances take place throughout the summer at the Wheeler Opera House and the Benedict Music Tent. A few highlights of this year’s festival events include performances of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and Mozart's Don Giovanni, a concert with jazz vocalist Natalie Cole, recitals by violinist Janine Jansen, violinist Mark O'Connor, cellist David Finckel, and pianist Wu Han, and a special event at the Benedict Music Tent with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Edgar Meyer.
With all this talent coming through Aspen, it’s no surprise the donor list to the Aspen Music Festival and School reads like a who’s who list of American billionaires. The Aspen Music Festival is a superb and unsurpassed classical music event bringing some of the best musical talent in the world to such a small mountain town. Tickets can get quite expensive for seats in the music tent, so those on a budget should delight in finding a seat on the lawn for free.
More Information: Aspen Music Festival and School
Aspen Ideas Festival
June 29 – July 5, 2009
In a tiny town so righteously obsessed with skiing and the pursuit of pleasure, Aspen Ideas Fest is a breath of crisp, intellectually-stimulating fresh air. The Ideas discussed by over 175 captains of industry, policy makers, cultural arbiters, and innovators extends far beyond the reach of the Aspen community to the wider world. The Aspen Ideas Festival is about fostering healthy and productive dialogue through seminars, panels, debates, individual presentations, one-on-one interviews, and roundtable discussions. Past festivals have included high profile guests such as Richard Branson, Toni Morrison, Bill Clinton, and Colin Powell.
This year a number of illustrious names and personalities stand out on the 2009 attendee list: Thomas Friedman, Madeleine Albright, Michael D. Eisner, Alan Greenspan, Andrew Sullivan, Condoleezza Rice, and Sandra Day O'Connor. Hundreds of other speakers and moderators will be in Aspen over Fourth of July weekend to participate in this remarkable event. Topics for mirror relevant and timely themes found in the news cycle: “Media Crack-Up,” “Darwin’s Legacy,” “Justice and Society,” “Rebuilding the American Economy,” “The Science of Being Human,” “Innovations in Education,” “Living Digitally,” and “The Middle East.”
Organized by organized by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic Magazine, The Aspen Ideas Festival draws big crowds as great thinkers, movers, and shakers converge in the Rockies. A pass to attend just one of the three day sessions is $2450 – exponentially more expensive than a season ski pass. There is an important subtext in this price differential and analysis: the productive value of a good idea diligently set in motion by a community can impact the entire world.
Aspen Ideas Festival
Have any other events you feel would be worthy of our list? Feel free to share them in the comments!