When Belly Up Aspen opened in 2005, DJ Z-Trip performed over the debut weekend. Now, as the town’s beloved music venue celebrates 15 years, he’s played there more than any other person or band. We caught up with him to give us the birth story and to hear how Belly Up has grown up.
You played Belly Up opening weekend; do you remember how the show was booked? I had just finished playing an outdoor stage in the snow in the center of Aspen alongside The Roots for the X Games, when a guy approached me. He told me he really liked the music I was playing, and asked if I’d be into playing his club—a club that hadn’t actually opened yet. The date was going to be in the next few days. That person was Michael Goldberg [Belly Up’s owner].
What were your first impressions? After our conversation at the stage, I asked if I could see this club. I remember walking across the street and down these stairs into a room that was still very much being worked on. There were these small two- to three-person construction teams working on all sorts of stuff. People were sawing wood and painting. I mean the bones were there, but I wasn’t too sure if the place would actually be ready in time. When I walked in to sound check a few days later, the place looked perfect! I couldn’t believe my eyes. The show went off and everyone had a blast. We developed an incredible friendship after that moment.
Do you have a favorite show or memory from the years playing at Belly Up? There are so many, it’s hard to pick. I loved when we convinced Michael Goldberg to sit in on the drums and jam with us for a show we had with Michael Franti. Really, it’s all those little unexpected freestyle and jamming moments though. The sets that run over time because the vibe is so strong and nobody wants it to end. That room has such a unique energy to it; there’s always an opportunity for something rare and unexpected to go down.
How has the club evolved over the years—audience, technical aspects, etc.? It’s funny, every time I come back they’ve just added or redone something. New lights, new sound, new lasers, new pictures on the wall. It’s constantly evolving and growing. I’ve watched this intimate venue go from sawdust and fresh paint to being one of the most up-to-date and elaborate rooms to play in. It always sounds and looks amazing. It’s been great to see the growth and be a part of that process.
It’s the same with the artists that’ve played there over the years. I remember how challenging it was early on for Michael to convince some of the big stadium acts to play there. I mean, ‘intimate club in Aspen, Colorado’ doesn’t immediately scream ‘Wow!’ on paper. But, to his credit, once he got them there, they all saw his vision, and now they all come back over and over.
How has your relationship with the Goldbergs—Michael and his sons, who also run the club—grown? I love the Goldbergs! I consider every single one of them family. I’ve shared a lot of very special times with all of them over the years. It’s been great to watch the boys grow up and come into their own too. I’m honored to have played such a huge role in their lives musically through it all. I also can’t forget Steve [Goldberg, Michael’s brother] and the Belly Up in Solana Beach. I moved down to San Diego a few years back and it’s been great to get to hang out with Steve more, and have the other Belly Up in my own backyard.
Why do you keep coming back? It’s the love. Aspen always shows me so much love every time I play out [here]; I’m humbled by it. Belly Up feels like home to me. I’ve met some of the most incredible people there over the years, and we’ve shared some unforgettable life-changing musical moments. It’s always growing too; I love meeting new people after I play who tell me it’s their first time seeing me. I’ve actually had some of those same people drive from other states or fly in from other countries just to see me play there because the vibe is so special in that room.
Are there any other fun stories you can share? I have so many really good ones to share. But, I think it’s probably best to save those ones for the 20-year anniversary.
Photography by: Michael Goldberg