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Celebrating Culture

Our annual midsummer Culture Issue always brings back memories of my first trip to Aspen. At the time, as a young college student, I had two heroines in my life: the artist Georgia O’Keeffe and this intriguing woman I had been hearing about named Elizabeth Paepcke. I got my first glimpse of Aspen’s grande dame when I attended my first concert at the Benedict Music Tent. She stood out from the crowd with her piercing blue eyes and elegant white chignon—it was the way she confidently dressed and her presence.

Janet O’Grady


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Though Aspen traces its history back to the silver mining days of the 1880s, its modern incarnation began with the Goethe Bicentennial Convocation and Music Festival, which Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke and his wife, Elizabeth, convened here in 1949. The Paepckes had a dream they called the “Aspen Idea.” They wanted to create a retreat where people could combine intellectual and artistic pursuits with an appreciation of the outdoors. To this then-remote town came great artists and thinkers, such as Albert Schweitzer, Thornton Wilder and Jose Ortega y Gasset. Many people today don’t realize that Aspen began as a summer cultural mecca, long before it became known as a world-famous ski resort.

The renowned Aspen Music Festival and School was an offshoot of that first Goethe Festival and the Paepckes’ original vision. Those ideas have long guided and influenced my vision of this magazine, especially our midsummer Culture Issue. Aspen Magazine has always been, and continues to be, an arbiter of culture for its namesake town and the influential people who call it home—or even visitors, who identify with the values and pursuits of Aspen and become deeply involved with the community and its organizations.

For this issue’s main feature story, “Musical Metamorphosis,” we worked down to the wire to photograph the new building of the AMFS’ campus, located up the beautiful Castle Creek Valley. The building, designed by the locally based, but internationally known, architect Harry Teague (no stranger to our pages; he also designed Harris Concert Hall at Aspen Meadows), brings the AMFS into a new era. The festival’s highly competitive school brings young and promising musicians from around the world to Aspen every summer. What the audience particularly loves is seeing the students perform with world-acclaimed musicians. A great Aspen tradition—for people of all ages—is bringing a picnic and sitting on the lawn outside the Benedict Music Tent on Sundays. And while Aspen Magazine features celebrity covers from time to time, we have also prided ourselves in producing artful, graphic covers over the years, like this one, featuring the exterior of the campus’ new building.

This particular edition also delves into our town’s distinct local traditions, and includes sports and nature, as well as food and wine: All are part of our DNA. Take our story on the Aspen culture of camping, written by Master Sommelier Sabato Sagaria. In “Culinary Camping,” Sagaria shows how this beloved getaway has changed and how it has melded with our food- and wine-obsessed town and its residents.

Or, take the bike scene. Aspen has long attracted both elite athletes and athletic enthusiasts (read about it in “Tour de Force”), and this is particularly true in the world of cycling. And for good reason: Our little resort town is surrounded by open roads, high-altitude climbs, sweeping and stunning mountain views, and passionate individuals. And the lofty Aspen Idea has evolved into what locals like to call the “daily double” in summer: a bike ride up the Maroon Bells, Castle Creek or Independence Pass, followed by a stroll to the Aspen Meadows Resort for a concert, a lecture at The Aspen Institute or an exhibit opening at the Aspen Art Museum, Anderson Ranch or any outstanding local art gallery.

Aspen has changed much over the decades since the Paepckes first brought their vision here to create an Athens or a Salzburg in the American Rockies, but many core values and experiences remain that are as timeless as the shimmering aspen trees that surround our high-altitude paradise. And that is the culture of Aspen.