The first day of the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Experience this past Friday started off rainy with clouds covering the surrounding mountain tops. The JAS Experience didn’t open untill five Friday so we hoped it would clear up and warm up a little by then. At five pm we got to one of the parking lots where shuttles were running back and forth continuously bringing people to and eventually from the festival grounds. The clouds had cleared and the site itself wasn’t too crowded even though the first artist stated in an hour. Friday kicked off with Andy Grammer and Train and was Ultra5280’s very first taste of the JAS Experience.
Some of the people I hung out with all weekend were longtime residents and had seen many a JAS, which meant they knew the layout and where to park and all those helpful things. We came prepared each day with lots of layers of clothing, empty water bottles to fill, sunscreen, a blanket to sit on before the site really fills up, and money for food and drinks. There was a good variety of vendors, I only tried a couple, and Bar tents with Patron cocktails, beer, wine and hard cider. Prices were decent at $6 for beer and cider, but the Patron cocktails were small, full of ice, and $11.
What was nice, was the back area of JAS on the other side of the street that offered a respite from the crowds and lines in the main stage area. This back lot was created for patrons to take a break or eat food from the various vendors (this was the only area selling food) at the long picnic tables or to enjoy your drinks from the large, shaded Patron Bar at small high tops set up in the grass. Even better was you could still hear the music from the main stage and could also see it being played on two large TVs. At the far end of this back lot was a second stage created for talented, yet generally unknown bands to play the “Outside Music Lounge”. This stage offered a steady rotation between the big acts on the main stage and introduced us to some different sounds. One such sound was an Americana band, half Nashville, half New York based JD and the Straight Shot complete with three guitarists and a violin/fiddle (I learned it’s the same instrument but the name depends on the genre being played).
There was one more JAS area to explore, however this area was for the big spenders, the VIP section. Not surprising for this type of music festival, the VIP section spanned the entire left side of the main stage lot, it was huge. Luckily I was with some Patrons who had VIP tickets and they told me all about it each night! As was clear to see from the GA section, there was a long tent lining the entire left side full of food and open bars with linen tables and flower arrangements. Outside of the color-lit tents were more of these elegant tables, some sponsored lounge tents, servers hand passing hors d'oeuvres, heat lamps and those fancy trailer portable potties. Oh to live that VIP life. . . or even just knowing someone who was living it is great (they brought me free drinks)! Thanks to red wine, my puffy jacket and the masses of people around me, I stayed cozy and content through the headlining acts despite my Phoenix roots. It gets cold up in the Rocky Mountains when the sun dips below the tips, especially as signs of Fall have already started up there.
I’m not going to describe all of the individual shows, but rather the diverse lineup we saw, and this was not only between the bands, but also within their set lists of songs! We got to hear so many amazing covers of classic hits over the course of the weekend, every headliner played at least one. Train started things off Friday night with the words, “Dearly beloved, We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…” When a band opens with a line like that you know you’re in for a ride. They played all the songs we know from the band including ones we didn’t realize are their songs. And holy cow can they play the hits! Not just their own hits, but Classic hits like “Hotel California”, “Under Pressure” and their opener, Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” starting the party of a show. Train held onto the crowd’s attention and captivated us through to the epic end when they belted out “Ground Control to Major Tom”. Wow. Train really took us on a memorable ride that I recommend you take some time.
Saturday’s headliner was the experience I had been looking forward to for months, when I first caught wind that The Killers would play JAS. They haven’t made a new album since 2012, which I’m guess is just one of the reasons The Killers only play occasionally at big shows and festivals now days. I’m pretty sure another is because their music demands a big venue with a large sound system because their sound is so large and their songs are anthems the whole crowd belts out and that make girls’ hearts melt. Especially when Brandon Flowers sung to us Saturday, “I can’t help, falling in love with you” in that Elvis impersonation no less, swoon.
Stevie Wonder was the man most of the Aspen area locals had come to see, being that he is one of the most critically and commercially successful musical performers of the late 20th century. I heard this show was nearly a decade in the making and he was paid top dollar to headline JAS. It was clearly a good choice as Sunday’s tickets sold out and brought in roughly 95,000 people. He came on around 8pm and sang and played the piano while grooving to his sound as he’s known to do. He played crowd favorites like “Superstition”, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”, and “You are the Sunshine of My Life”. After about thirty minutes he had his opener Corinne Ray Bailey come on stage and sing with him. She was in disbelief when he asked her to sing “My Cherie Amour” for him while he played piano, but her voice was stellar. After a couple of duo songs in that fashion, Stevie Wonder turned into a DJ with a stage name I couldn’t really hear but all of the hits we knew. He played oldies like The Beatles and The Temptations, to newer hits like Whitney Houston and MJ’s “Pretty Young Thing”. For the next forty minutes JAS was a giant sing-along, dance party led by Stevie Wonder!!
Our night was complete, heck our whole weekend, maybe even whole month was complete after the incredible music we had heard and performances we’d seen. What made JAS even better in my opinion was at the end of each night you could hop on a shuttle and go to sleep in a warm, soft bed instead of staying in a tent on the ground where you had just partied all day, surrounded by the thousands of people who’ve been surrounding you since the start. At JAS, each day you and those around you were refreshed and renewed (hopefully) for another magical day of music in the mountains.
Words & Photos by Tiffany Candelaria