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Music-Making in the Colorado Rockies

Monday, August 25, 2008 - 01:02 PM

The notion of Denver’s music scene left me stumped initially. Denver has a music scene? Sure, many of us who follow the music industry are aware that the city is home to the country's second-largest arts complex, home to at least 11 groups. And yes, there are a smattering of smaller clubs and theaters around town.

Still, to this music fan, the real action in Colorado has always taken place well beyond the Mile High City -- in the glamorous ski resorts of Aspen, Telluride, Vail, Breckenridge, Winter Park, and countless others. Each of these cities hosts its own summer music festival, covering every possible genre from jazz (Snowmass, Vail) to blues and bluegrass (Telluride) to rock (Commerce City) to classical (Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, etc.). There’s even an organization to organize and promote them all, the Colorado Music Alliance. Of course, the reason for this proliferation of festivals is simple: all of these ski towns need to find ways of enticing travelers during the snow-less season. One survey, taken several years ago, even reported that Colorado has more summer festivals than any other state in the country.

The Aspen Music Festival and School, at which (full disclosure) I was a student for three years, is arguably the crown jewel of the state’s summer fests. It was founded in 1949 and today features an international student body of 800 musicians taught by a faculty from major schools like Juilliard. It boasts an 1889 opera house, a modern chamber music hall, and an outdoor tent that seats over 2,000. Sure, the programming there is rather conservative and you’d be hard pressed to find cheap lodging during peak season. But the list of star performers is top-rank and nothing beats hearing music against a striking backdrop of snow-covered peaks.

Ultimately, that’s the attraction of music in Colorado. The clean, dry air, the wildflower-dappled meadows, the rushing streams – even the most mediocre performances can sound pretty darn good in such a setting.

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