Jazz Aspen Snowmass Music Festival: Aspen, CO: September 2-4, 2011: Review


Kyle Risner and Laura Millerick

Ah Aspen, CO, where the beer flows like wine, hot dogs and caviar can be served at the same restaurant, and where, for the 20th year in a row, the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Music Festival returns for three amazing days of music. This past Labor Day weekend found the Ultra5280 staff up in the mountains for this rather unique festival. It was unique mostly in the sense that there was a clear divide amongst the people. There were those that came up there for the wide-range of music and others that came only to be seen. This fact became apparent when looking at how big the VIP section was, with almost half the ground were dedicated to the VIPs, which were significantly fewer in number. I feel that the wide-range of musicians selected to play at the festival this year is what attracted me the most. There was everything from country, rock, reggae, soul, electronic, dubstep, dance, etc. They had three stages set up around the grounds, the main stage, the Outdoor Magazine stage, and a new Electronica stage. I was impressed with the spacing of the lineup, which allowed very minor overlap between bands to ensure the most viewing opportunities.

Day One was a shorter day then the other two, being that it was a Friday. We got there early enough to see Sorry for Partying finish up their set. We didn’t spend much listening as we took the opportunity to explore the area and get set up for the first main stage act of the evening, Thievery Corporation. We also just had to scope out all of the VIP perks that we got with our press passes. Can I just say that Aspen knows how to have a buffet? This was no middle school cafeteria food, there was miso-glazed Chilean Sea Bass, Venison, Duck, Sushi.... oh and an open bar sponsored by Patron.

Thievery Corporationreview

Paper DiamondFoster the People’s - Pumped Up Kicks

Girl Talk,

Day One Winner: Girl Talk.

As if it was even a question; he brought the crowds, he brought the energy, and he brought excitement that kept us going all weekend. There haven’t been many shows I’ve been to where 2 1/2 hrs feels like a matter of minutes, and Girl Talk left me asking for more.


Wash, rinse, repeat. That’s what music festivals feel like to me, and I love it. Get up, wash off the grime from the day before, find some food, stretch the soreness from the night before away, grab the camera and head to the festival. We decided to get to the festival grounds around 3pm on Saturday. Even though the show itself started at 1pm, JAS did something that I haven’t seen before, where they had the openers playing at two different set times. This was very conducive to my sleep-in nature and still allowed us to see all the performers for the day. We got through the will-call and security lines with time enough to see Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses playing on the main stage. You may recognize Ryan Bingham for his his song “The Weary Kind” from the movie “Crazy Heart” which won him an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Critics’ Choice Award. The Dead Horses play a soulful country/Americana music that you can tell comes from the heart of Texas but still warms the souls at the high altitude of Aspen. Knowing that day two was bringing a slower and more relaxed atmosphere than day one, I was interested to see how the crowds would react. They didn’t disappoint the crowd, and there was never a time when I didn’t see smiles faces or Coors cans being clinked together. Ryan played for a solid hour or more which provided a nice welcoming environment for day two. They did a great job owning the big stage and they seemed to be a group of musicians that are comfortable playing to both large crowds as well as small bar venues.

The Congress

Rodrigo y Gabriela

Nit Grit

Day 2 Winner: Rodrigo Y Gabriela

For us, Steely Dan may have been the crowd-pleaser and what sold tickets, but the duo from the Mexican streets warmed the hearts of those in attendance more than Steely Dan ever could. I could probably listen to those two all day long and never tire. They played honestly and extensively, and they were the memorable show of the day.


Day three began almost as a reset of days one and two, with infinitely more cowboy hats.  Seeing as the closer for the last day of the festival was the tremendously popular Zac Brown Band, this could only be expected.  We arrived in time to see the soul group Fitz and the Tantrums, fresh from Los Angeles.  Their success with the Aspen crowd can be attributed one hundred percent to their female vocalist/tambourine player Noelle Scaggs, who did not stop moving for their entire hour-long set.  She constantly invited the crowd to stand up and dance, and most were happy to oblige.  They were popular with the Aspenites, and could best be described as energetic and fun. and we definitely enjoyed watching them.

“Say Hey (I Love You),”

The sold out night concluded with headliner The Zac Brown Band, who brought their country/rock sound to the main stage.  Most people in the crowd seemed to know what to expect from the group, and they didn’t disappoint.  With two people on guitar, one on bass, a fiddle player and a piano player, The Zac Brown Band has everything you’d expect from a good country group.  They played with great energy, using the light show to their advantage and mixing song variety well. I was secretly hoping that Jimmy Buffett  would show up for the song “Knee Deep” which the two recorded together. I knew it was a long shot and Buffett would be more likely to show up on the shores of a Florida show then the hillsides of Aspen, but Zac and the crew still rolled through the song flawlessly, despite the absence of Mr. Margaritaville. I love bands that use the addition of any classical string instrument, but more often then not they strings are always drowned out by a bass or heavy drums. Luckily, the sound was perfect for Jimmy De Martini (violin and vocals) as he played hard and fast and got the crowd behind him, clapping in unison. Zac Brown Band is on a fast rise in popularity and is getting play on radio stations that are not traditionally country. It was exciting to be part of a crowd that was continually thanked by the young band that stated, “you spend your hard earned money to allow us to do our job, and we thank you for that, we play for you”. Here is to the successful future of the Zac Brown Band.

Day 3 Winner:  Michael Franti and Spearhead
Though the headliner was definitely The Zac Brown Band,  Michael Franti and Spearhead was so much more memorable and, for lack of a better word, fun.  No one else all weekend went to so much trouble to involve the crowd or keep the energy flowing than Spearhead.  Though everyone else was entertaining, Spearhead was an experience we won’t soon forget.