Almost Queen, Aspen, CO, January 2011

Back in January 2011, Almost Queen played a show in Aspen, CO. We had played Aspen once before, flying into Denver and taking a smaller plane from Denver to Aspen. This time, due to weather conditions, our flight from Denver to Aspen was cancelled. The airline arranged bus service to Aspen for everyone on our cancelled flight. What a ride it was!

The conditions were terrible. Snow made visibility very poor, and the roads were icy. Our mountainous ride took all afternoon, into the evening, going up to over 7,000 feet. I could not imagine driving in those conditions, but I did feel somewhat safe thanks to how incredible our driver was. The trip was slow going. The snow was really coming down, but our driver was an absolute pro, handled every turn with grace. You could tell he knew the terrain and how to handle the bus.

At some point in the last portion of the ride, we were going up a steep climb, two lanes, not much room on the road and steep drops off to the side. I’m looking out the window on the left side, and see just ahead of us a car spins out, and within seconds spins right into our bus. There was nothing the driver could do, it all happen so quickly, and there was no where to move at all. We stopped and the incident was called in. The bus was inspected and was okay to continue. We couldn’t tell what happened to the car that spun out, it seemed like they stopped not too far behind us, but it was tough to see. Hope they got to safety. It was a danger filled ride, but our driver got us to Aspen in one piece. I thanked him, most sincerely.

The next day we’re set to play at The Belly Up, the main music club in Aspen. We have the whole day to ourselves, as load in at the venue typically isn’t until 3 or 4pm. I wanted to get outside and check out Aspen. I had heard about a John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen, and found out that it was a short walk down the road. I remember John Denver’s Greatest Hit in my parents record collection. I remember those songs, and early memories hearing the acoustic guitar. That was probably right behind Johnny Cash, Destination Victoria Station, in an old cardboard soda box of records in the closet.I heard a lot of rock and roll, and popular 1970’s country music as a kid. And Barry Manilow.

I felt somewhat compelled to stop by the John Denver Sanctuary. I asked the guys if anyone wanted to go, John was up to join in. We headed down the street and made a right turn on Colorado Rocky Mountain High Thank God I’m A Country Rd to the John Denver Sanctuary. Thinking back, it was close to a perfect day after a snow storm day, but when you’re traveling in for such a short amount of time, through the storm, it’s harder to notice as it’s happening. The sanctuary was still, filled with snow covered granite monuments etched with the lyrics to John Denver’s classics. He lived in and had a close connection with Colorado/Aspen. I could see why.

Once we finished up our visit, we still had a couple hours to kill. I thought taking the gondola ride up to 11,200 feet to the top of the mountain wasn’t a bad idea to take in the scene. I asked the other guys if they wanted to go, but no one else was up for it. I wasn’t sure when I’d be in Aspen again, and I’d never been to an altitude of that height before, so I decided to go by myself! Wow, I’m glad I did.

I hit the desk to buy a ticket for the gondola ride to the top. I wasn’t skiing or anything, as I haven’t done that in years. I had a gig to do that night, so winter sports were not on the agenda. Photography, and a beer, at 11,200 feet was. I jumped in line to get on board the gondola. I’m on a separate line as foot traveler, and they have me wait for a minute for another single rider to go up with. Soon enough, I get on board with another guy going up. He’s skiing.

While checking out the incredible view going up, I got to talking with the other rider. At first talking about where we were from, what’s happening in Aspen. Eventually, he asked what I was doing in Aspen, so I told him how I play guitar in a Queen tribute band and we’re in town to play show. He smiled and said I’ll never guess what his name is… stumped, I asked. Turns out, the guy I got on the gondola with is Brian May. He even got out his drivers license to show me. What a funny coincidence! He has the same name as the guy I ‘play’ in Almost Queen, which is the why I was there. It was a fun ride up, and I took this as a good sign for what was to come.

Since it had snowed the entire day before on our way up, the mountains and trees were covered in fresh snow. A truly majestic sight. Looking back at the pictures reminded me of how awesome it was looking out all around from the top of Aspen Mountain. Pure, awesome beauty. I’m glad I took the ride up. I hung out for a while, took a little walk around the top. Eventually hit the lodge for a beer, and was back on the gondola heading back down. After descending a couple thousand feet, I met up with the rest of the band and crew at the condo we were staying at, and told them of my adventure and meeting Brian May.

Soon enough, it was time to load in and sound check. Once the stage is set, and monitors tuned in, we usually run through about 5 different songs to dial everything in. After finishing up sound check, we checked out the backstage oxygen tank, which the venue provides to help with the altitude. We’re ready for the show!

Before we hit the stage, we walked back to the condo to relax and get ready for the show. It is ideal when we’re staying walking distance from the venue we’re playing. As we walked back, the sky lit up with a pinkish purple color as the sun set on the mountains. I took this picture…

Perfect timing to walk back.

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