Live music, an in-person festival and a post-vaccine milestone for Aspen

A crowd dances to the music of New Orleans Revue in the ballroom of Hotel Jerome at the JAS June Experience in downtown Aspen on Friday, June 25, 2021. The event includes four nights of live music at varying venues throughout the downtown core. The Hotel Jerome checked vaccine cards and concert tickets simultaneously to keep attendees safe and healthy during the musical experience. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

With howls of joy from stages and smiles on mask-less faces filling crowded dance floors, Aspen marked a milestone in its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic Friday night as concert-goers flocked to the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience.

The music festival, running through Sunday, hosted multiple concerts in five downtown Aspen venues on Friday and celebrated its first night of public shows, the return of indoor concerts and the first major festival here since before the pandemic. In 2020, Jazz Aspen was unable to stage its annual June or Labor Day festivals.

“It’s so nice to be without a mask and to see people,” said Albert Small, from New York, attending the New Orleans Roadshow Revue concert at the Hotel Jerome with a group of New Orleans music fans. “We’re ready to get up and start dancing.”

He said it was his first concert since before the pandemic struck the U.S. some 15 months ago.

Lilly Webber, a Jazz Aspen music student who lives in Carbondale and is headed to Portland State University to study French horn in the fall, was celebrating her first post-COVID indoor concert alongside her family at the Jerome.

“I’m so happy, it just feels really good to be here,” she said, minutes before Dumpstaphunk took the stage, noting that she’d already road-tripped to Red Rocks Amphitheatre to see Leftover Salmon. “I want to dance and I hope it’s really good music.”

The mood at the early shows on Friday was festive as fans re-acclimated to dancing with strangers and events without social distancing.

The festival is operating without mask or distancing requirements, but is mandating that at least 80{ccba7a2b95b607a22ddf747fd2dfd32aff224073631da9265f095c812cbfd265} of each show’s audience show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and the remainder show proof of a recent negative test.

“Everybody’s excited to be back for live music,” Jazz Aspen senior vice president Andrea Beard said early in the evening at the Jerome. “And they’re being very patient and understanding about the vaccination requirements and test requirements, which is great.”

Beard reported that, as of Friday, 96{ccba7a2b95b607a22ddf747fd2dfd32aff224073631da9265f095c812cbfd265} of ticket-buyers had been vaccinated.

The festival set up a rapid testing site at the Red Brick Center for the Arts on Friday to accommodate unvaccinated concert-goers who had not gotten tests elsewhere. Beard said more than 30 people had used the site.

Entrances to concerts appeared to move smoothly at the early shows on Friday, with concert-goers asked to show their physical vaccine card or a photo of it on their smartphone as they queued up to venue entrances, where most used e-tickets for no-touch scanning.

Beard said the crowds were a mix of locals and repeat Jazz Aspen patrons along with many newcomers.

“I think there are a lot of new people in town and they’re coming to try out Jazz Aspen for the first time and hopefully we show them a good time,” Beard said.

A 6 p.m. performance by Bettye Lavette at the Wheeler Opera House sold out on Friday evening, but walk-up tickets were available — by scanning a QR code at the entrance — for performances at Belly Up, the Hotel Jerome, the Little Nell and Local Coffee.

Saturday’s performances include The Motet, Jamison Ross, the New Orleans Roadshow Revue, Badi Assad and Ulysses Owens Jr.’s Generation Y.

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