Another Journey for Jazz Aspen
If the lineup for the Labor Day Festival has a distinctly different feel this year, then Jazz Aspen Snowmass hit the bulls-eye. The nonprofit organization announced on Thursday the bulk of the mainstage performers for the 18th annual Labor Day Festival, and one of the headliners for the 23rd annual June Festival, and not only are all of them new to Jazz Aspen, but virtually all of them will be making their valley debuts.”One of the biggest things we hear is, people want to see bands they haven’t seen before,” Jim Horowitz, Jazz Aspen’s president and founder, said. “That was a goal, absolutely. At the beginning of each year, we start with: Who can we get who hasn’t been here before?”While the musicians might be making their first appearances in the Aspen area, they are hardly unknowns. Headliners for the Labor Day Festival are Journey, the rock band formed in 1973; Keith Urban, the 45-year-old New Zealand-born country singer who was a judge last season on “American Idol”; and singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, who came to prominence with the 2005 album “Mr. A-Z” and whose latest album, “Love Is a Four Letter Word,” reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart.Also scheduled to perform at the Labor Day Festival, set for Aug. 30 to Sept. 1 in Snowmass Village’s Town Park, are San Francisco pop-rock band Train; the Denver alternative rock band Churchill; and the country group Little Big Town, which earned a Grammy Award last week for the song “Pontoon.”All of the aforementioned acts will be making their area debuts. Also on the bill are roots-rockers Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, who have performed in Aspen and Snowmass Village. One additional mainstage act is still to be announced.Among the headliners for the June Festival is singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, who will be making his Aspen debut. Two additional headliners have yet to be announced for the June Festival, set for June 21-23 at the Benedict Music Tent.The pop-oriented summer lineup largely leaves out the brands of acts that have proved popular at Jazz Aspen in the past: jam bands like Widespread Panic and the Allman Brothers Band, and classic rockers including Neil Young, John Fogerty, Steely Dan and Steve Miller.”It’s not Widespread leads into Dylan. But we’ve done that before. Multiple times,” Horowitz said. “It’s not a carbon copy of things we’ve done before. But we’ve covered a lot of ground over the years.”While all new to the Roaring Fork Valley, the Labor Day headliners, said Horowitz, have all proved to be strong draws around Colorado. He noted that Journey – even without Steve Perry, the lead singer who was behind the hits “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Any Way You Want It” and who left the group in the late ’90s – still sells out shows at Red Rocks, and that Mraz sold out two Red Rocks dates last year.”He’s in the Jack Johnson vein, a big Colorado act. But with more punch,” Horowitz said. Johnson, like Mraz an acoustic-oriented singer-songwriter, drew a huge Jazz Aspen crowd in 2004. “The litmus test is, is it a lineup that people from Colorado will travel for? And these are bands with big Colorado followings. Maybe not here, but they sell out Red Rocks.”The biggest booking coup for Horowitz was Jackson Browne. Jazz Aspen has been pursuing the iconic Southern California singer-songwriter for over a decade. “We’ve invited him to come every year. Literally every year,” Horowitz said. “Some years we’ve invited him for both of our festivals.” Browne’s special guest will be fiddler and singer Sara Watkins, formerly of the acoustic band Nickel Creek.Jazz Aspen institutes a few changes for the upcoming festival season. A new pricing system offers a limited number of discounted Early Bird tickets for the Labor Day Festival, available for the full three-day festival or for individual days, beginning Tuesday. Prices increase gradually thereafter.The June Festival will feature an expanded lawn party with two side stages and food booths on the grounds outside the Benedict Music Tent. The extended June Festival will include a show by the modern jazz ensemble Pink Martini on July 6 at the Music Tent. The JAS Caf Downstairs@the Nell series, running late June through mid-August, will feature jazz acts including New Orleans keyboardist Jon Cleary, the Cuban big band Wil Campa y Su Gran Union, and singer-guitarist Raul Midn.Horowitz said that giving the Labor Day Festival a different feel has come to feel like business as usual. In years past, the festival has brought in electronic dance acts, mainstream country bands and hip-hop artists.”They all feel different,” he said. “Every year is a different take. The only pattern for us is getting the biggest, best artists we can.”Tickets for both Jazz Aspen festivals can be purchased at 866-JAS-TIXX (527-8499), at jazzaspensnowmass.org, or at the Belly Up box firstname.lastname@example.org
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