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Experience The Best of the Genre with Jazz Aspen This Summer

Andrew Travers | Illustrations by Margaret Gribbell McLain | June 18, 2019 | Lifestyle

The organization’s June Experience transforms into a walkable multivenue festival.

Cha Wa performs at the Aspen Art Museum
June 20.

Downtown Aspen will transform into a jazz promenade this summer when the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience migrates from its longtime home in the staid and cavernous Benedict Music Tent to a half-dozen smaller venues downtown that will host more than 30 concerts from June 20 to 23. “Everyone will find their own experience,” Jazz Aspen Snowmass founder Jim Horowitz says of the reinvented four-day festival.

The June Experience is pivoting away from the pop stars that have been June’s drawing point in the past, instead betting on quality and variety in a walkable multivenue affair showcasing 12 headliners.

The Taj Mahal Quartet at Belly Up Aspen, June 22

Offering one-day and four-day passes, Horowitz wants to make the festival a vehicle for musical discovery. He looked to the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans and Aspen’s long-gone HBO Comedy Festival as models.

The June Experience opens at Belly Up on Thursday, June 20 with New Orleans funk band Cha Wa—nominated for a Grammy this year—and includes luminaries like jazz singer Patti Austin (The St. Regis, June 21) and Taj Mahal (Belly Up, June 22), and something of a JAS Café greatest hits collection from the last decade.

Wycliffe Gordon and Friends at The Little Nell, June 23

The festival is showcasing cafe standouts like young YouTube star-turned-global phenomenon Jacob Collier (Aspen Art Museum, June 21), singer-trumpeter Bria Skonberg (The Little Nell, June 21; The St. Regis, June 22) and calypso master Etienne Charles (Aspen Art Museum, June 23).

Each venue is designed to have a unique vibe: The Aspen Art Museum’s rooftop space is laid out for a dance party and programmed with a mix of world music from the likes of Afro-pop bassist Richard Bona (already a superstar festival act in Europe). The Nell is set up in the well-established JAS Café layout as a jazz listening room. The St. Regis venue—the Velvet Buck bar with a breakout wall pulled out to expand it—is “somewhere in the middle,” as Horowitz puts it, configured for lively performances from Austin and Jose James, who wowed at the cafe last year with a soulful tribute to Bill Withers.

Patti Austin at The St. Regis Aspen Resort, June 21 and 22

Belly Up, the only June Experience venue that’s a full-time music club, will host two-show runs from the immortal bluesman Taj Mahal and Booker T. Jones (of Booker T. and the MGs). Next door, in the tight quarters of Victoria’s Espresso and Wine Bar, expect a packed standing-room party and late-night funk-centric shows from Jamison Ross and Organ Freeman.

After what promises to be a wild late show in the Victoria’s space on Friday, Ross, a 2017 alum of the JAS Café, will change modes to join trombonist Wycliffe Gordon for a more traditional set at The Regis on Sunday. “He is a monster,” Horowitz says of Ross. “He is real funky, but he can do jazz, soul and R&B.”

In the center of it all is a VIP tent on the Silver Circle Ice Rink. The experience there will be comparable to the patron tent of recent years at the Benedict, with catered meals and an open bar. (The tent will also be open to the public for talks from June Experience musicians on Saturday and a New Orleans-style jazz brunch on Sunday).

Horowitz hopes this is only the beginning for the new June Experience. For next year, he hopes to add yet more venues and artists. “In five or 10 years, it could be like Food & Wine,” he says. “It would be everywhere.” June 20-23, three-day pass from $175 (individual event tickets available), times and locations vary


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