Outside the Tent: Spend an Afternoon at the Aspen Music Festival

The Benedict Music Tent in Aspen is a big tent in every sense. It’s a venue that welcomes classical music aficionados and neophytes all summer long, but as we found out, you can appreciate Britten, Ravel and Brahms almost as well from a spot on the lawn – or you can take a nap and no one will be offended.


The tent is designed not only for the acoustic delight of those who can pay the $90 ticket price, but also for those who might not otherwise have access to classical music played by a full orchestra. During Aspen Music Festival & School (AMFS) concerts, the Music Tent opens its blue baffles that allow lawn attendees to listen to the works of the world’s musical geniuses.

That doesn’t mean AMFS’ lawnchair crowd are slouches. This is Aspen after all. You’ll find the well dressed crowd, aging hippies with gourmet picnic lunches, and hear accents from the East Coast and around the world. Despite the obvious displays of privilege, the atmosphere is laid back, friendly, and welcoming.  It’s the kind of crowd that prefers its classical music with a chilled glass of Riesling and some nibbles – items verboten inside the tent. Reading a book or even taking a nap during the the height of a frenzied fortissimo passage are all permissible ways to pass the time outside the tent during a concert.

At AMFS concerts there are few rules. You can bring food, wine, dogs, kids, wheelchairs and bikes. You can even walk up to the open-sided tent and peek in to catch a glimpse of the black and white clad musicians arranged in their sections or see the acclaimed artists like pianist Yefrim Bronfman mesmerize audiences.

amfs 1There is however, one rule and one rule only.  Everyone seems to know it too – from the little kids playing cards to the massive Bernese Mountain Dog passed out in the shade. There is no noise – at all, ever  – when the music is playing. So turn that broadsheet newspaper page very quietly and save the conversation for intermission otherwise all eyes will tick in your direction.

Concert-goers with tickets can turn up just before the show begins at 4 p.m., but if you want a piece of the lawn, and are picky about where you throw your blanket, like I am, get there at least an hour in advance. By showtime, there is hardly any grass bordering all the tarps and blankets.

Even if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Berliotz, the Aspen Music Festival is an enchanting way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It’s like nowhere else, it’s free, and it’s just 40 minutes from Glenwood Springs. If nothing else, you won’t find a more perfect place to take a nap.


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