10 Things To Do While Visiting The Aspen Music Festival

<p>Leslie Smail/CPR Classical</p>
<p>The Aspen Chamber Symphony rehearsing at the Aspen Music Festival and School, conducted by Alexander Shelley.</p>
Photo: Aspen Chamber Symphony Rehearsing At Aspen Music Festival And School
The Aspen Chamber Symphony rehearsing at the Aspen Music Festival and School, conducted by Alexander Shelley.

Heading to Aspen Music Festival and School this summer to enjoy a concert? Let CPR Classical help guide you to what you should see and do as part of your experience.

Best fuel to start your day? You have a long day of sightseeing and concerts to go to. Better start off right with some great breakfast eats. There is no shortage of top notch breakfast options in Aspen, but here are two stand outs.

Winner: Poppycocks Cafe. This Aspen institution began in 1971 as a place for great crêpes and a little gossip (hence the name). Crêpes are still a highlight of the breakfast menu, but a close second are the oatmeal buttermilk pancakes - a good choice if your day includes a calorie-burning hike.

Runner Up: Paradise Cafe. Billed as “Aspen’s Sweet Spot”, there is often a line out the door in the afternoon and evening for their delicious made-from-scratch cookies and gelato, but head to the cafe in the morning for a great cup of coffee and the green chile burrito that locals say is the best in town.

Best quick bite to eat before the concert? Friday night concerts at the Aspen Music Festival start at 6 p.m., which leaves the concert-goer in a quandary? Do you plan for an early bird dinner at 4:30 p.m. or wait until the concert is over when you might be ravenous? We split the difference with a recommendation for quick eats pre-concert and a post-concert nosh later in the list.

Winner: Limelight Lounge Happy Hour. If you’ve spent the day at the renowned Aspen Art Museum, then you’ll be just a few blocks from a local’s favorite - the lounge at the Limelight Hotel. Happy hour runs 3-6 p.m. and the menu includes $12 pizzas and some of the most affordable beer and wine prices in the valley.

Runner Up: Hickory House BBQ. As the sign says, the Hickory House has the “best ribs in Colorado.” The Hickory House doesn’t open until 5 p.m., so maybe save the full rack of ribs for another trip and opt instead for the pulled pork.

Best hike to see the sights but not wear you out before the concert? Sure, you could hike to the top of Red Mountain for incredible views, but chances are you might nap through that evening’s concert. Luckily, there are some wonderfully scenic and EASY strolls that will immerse you in the sights and beauty of Aspen without completely wearing you out before the evening’s concert.

Winner: Maroon Bells. Is there any more iconic picture of Colorado than you standing in front of Maroon Bells? We think not. Don’t tell your friends, but you hardly have to “hike” at all to snap this stunning photo. To help limit the throngs of people who want to do exactly what you’re doing, Aspen closes the parking lot in the summer and instead brings people in by bus. Of course, you can hike as long as you want but if all you want is the photo, you’ll just need to make sure your bus-mates don’t photobomb your shot.

Runner up: The Roaring Fork River Trail. This easy trail begins near the Weller Campground on the east end of town and follows the Roaring Fork River into town. It’s only 1 mile round trip.

Best way to get to the concert? The music festival offers limited parking, but why drive when you can taxi for free? The city of Aspen launched a free taxi service with a small fleet of electric vehicles that services “from the Roaring Fork River to the base of Ajax Mountain” a few years ago. Download the app and away you go!

Winner: Downtowner Taxi Service. Download the app ahead of time.

Runner up: Bus. The Roaring Fork Valley has a robust bus system (free!) to help keep traffic and parking woes limited.

Best place for après-concert? OK, we made up that word. But in a town that is known for it’s amazing après-ski venues, we figured there were a good two (or ten) places to venture post concert for drinks and appetizers.

Winner: Steakhouse No. 316. The concert was great but LONG and now you’re starving. A perfectly cut filet just might be what the doctor ordered. Or perhaps the Cowboy Ribeye because, of course, you are in Colorado. Reservations recommended. $$$$

Runner up: Meat and Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop. This is a local favorite. Assuming you’ve just heard a wonderfully enriching concert, why not extend the coziness to a shared board of fresh cured meats and cheeses topped off with a dessert board of freshly made cookies.

Best place to catch music students? With 600 music students in town, you’re bound to run into them nearly everywhere -- with and without their instruments. If you really want to delight in seeing kids in their own environment, while perhaps getting a view of the next Joshua Bell or Yo-Yo Ma, here’s where you’ll likely find them.

Winner: The Bucksbaum Campus of the Aspen Music Festival School. This is ground zero for student activity. Students practice here, take master classes, meet up and play with other students. Take a guided tour of this stunning, new $80 million campus designed by local architect Harry Teague who also designed the Benedict Music Tent.

Runner Up: New York Pizza. This second-story pizza joint is a favorite of locals and students. The pizza is great and priced so students can afford it. Best time to go -- LATE night. New York Pizza is open until 2:30 a.m.

Best place to find serenity in Aspen? Aspen in the summer is all about serenity. From the soothing sounds of the Roaring Fork River, to the strains of Mozart or Schubert that seem to float in the air, it’s not hard to find some zen in Aspen. Here are a few choice spots:

Winner: the lawn outside the Benedict Music Tent during a dress rehearsal. Find a shady spot for your blanket and picnic and get an insider's view on how music is made. The best part is that it’s free!

Runner Up: The John Denver sanctuary. Denver lived in Aspen after scoring a hit with “Rocky Mountain High” until his death. Spend some time walking through this lovely rock garden while you sing along to his songs (the rocks helpfully have some of the lyrics inscribed in them.)

Best place to catch student performances? There is music everywhere in Aspen in the summer! Sometimes students will just find a quiet spot to practice. Sometimes you’ll see them busking on the streets. Wherever you see them, the music will be terrific!

Winner: The top of Aspen Mountain on Saturdays. Ride the Silver Queen Gondola up on Saturdays for the weekly student performances at 1 p.m. Take in the breathtaking vista at 11,000 while you relax on the lawn (or bring a chair). The gondola ride will cost you $25 but the concert is free.

Runner up: Any old street corner in downtown Aspen. One moment you’re standing on a quiet street corner, the next a pop up concert is happening right next to you!

Best place to catch the classical version of American Idol? Becoming a professional classical musician isn’t for the faint of heart. Competition is fierce and coaching can be brutally honest. With 600 music students and dozens of top notch faculty members, there are ample opportunities to be a fly on the wall in the making of the next great classical star.

Winner: Opera Scenes Master Class at the Wheeler Opera house on Saturday mornings. Rising stars of the opera stage perform and are “judged” by Aspen Opera Center’s Director Edward Berkeley, who is renowned for his wit, humor and spot-on coaching.

Runner Up: Dress Rehearsal for the Aspen Chamber Symphony. These morning rehearsals are an insiders guide into how a masterpiece comes to life on stage for a fraction of the regular concert price. Sit close so you can hear how the conductor coaches the performers (many of them students) and soloists.

Best place for “stargazing?” In the winter, Aspen is filled with Hollywood stars and supermodels hitting the slopes. In the summer, the “stars” are from classical music and the world of politics and diplomacy who are there for the Aspen Ideas Institute. This summer you are likely to see classical violin superstars Gil Shaham and Sarah Chang, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, guitarist Sharon Isbin, pianists Jonathan Biss and Joyce Yang among others. Political dignitaries include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg. Keep an eye out because you could see them anywhere in Aspen, but try these hotspots.

Winner: The Aspen Institute. The Aspen Institute is located next to the Benedict Music Tent and Harris Concert Hall. Stake a spot on the bench between the two and you’ll no doubt see a classical music superstar wander along, or take the path from the Benedict Music Tent to the Aspen Institute for a better shot at seeing national and international dignitaries.

Runner up: Hotel Jerome’s newly remodeled “Living Room.” This is THE place to see and be seen in the winter, so our fingers are crossed that it’s great for stargazing in the summer as well. Even if you don’t see anyone famous, it’s a super chill place to relax.