If singer-songwriter Brett Dennen wasn’t opening Spring Jam 2013 with a free concert, the 33-year-old Californian would fit right in with the good-time crowd at the spring mountain festival anyway.
Dennen has become a regular on the Colorado music circuit and slopes in recent years, building a devoted Rocky Mountain fan base and shredding ample gnar while he’s at it.
His soulful, jangling songs — often compared to Paul Simon’s — are also a fitting soundtrack to the sunny lineup of happenings at Spring Jam. His free outdoor show Friday in Base Village kicks off two weekends of competitions, concerts and parties in Aspen, Snowmass and on all four local mountains.
“I think all musicians love coming through Colorado,” Dennen told me this week, between runs at Vail (he also skied two days on Snowmass). “I think Coloradans really appreciate music. It’s such a strong scene of electronic music and jam bands, and it’s great for singer songwriters.”
Dennen was dubbed a songwriting phenom upon the release of his self-titled 2005 debut, and he’s grown in scope and sound on the three albums that have followed. His stop in Snowmass is a break from recording sessions in Nashville, for his fifth album. It’s due out this fall, and he’s due back in Aspen for a tour stop then. He promises to preview some of the new material at Friday’s show.
“I think the songs are better than any other songs I’ve written,” he says. “I think they’re unique and they’re true to me and they’re songs I want to sing every night.”
ATO Records tapped Dennen to cover John Denver’s iconic “Annie’s Song” for a forthcoming tribute album honoring the Aspen folk singer. The album, “The Music is You,” features acts like My Morning Jacket, Dave Matthews and Emmylou Harris interpreting Denver’s catalogue. It is due out April 2.
Dennen points to Denver as a huge influence on his music, and to being part of the star-studded tribute album as an honor.
“It’s definitely in the fabric of the genre I’m in,” he says of Denver’s folky classics. “As a kid his music was around the house a lot. And going to summer camp, his songs were the songs we played around the campfire. The songs are sort of ingrained in my childhood. On another level, he’s an important figure in the music of the ‘70s and that singer-songwriter country rock sound, where everyone was influenced by him.”
And while Dennen feels at home in the Rockies and skiing the steeps of our resorts, he was humbled by a trek to Mount Everest base camp this winter. In November, he spent nearly a month trekking part way up Everest with G. Love. The trip raised money for the cancer nonprofit Love Hope Strength, funding a new cancer treatment center in Kathmandu.
He suffered from the altitude, and found himself sleepless and incommunicative for most of the trip.
“I’m pretty used to mountains,” Dennen explains. “But those aren’t mountains, man, those are totally something else – they turn you inside out.”
This week’s one-off show in Snowmass reunites Dennen with his four-man backing band, with whom he hasn’t played since before his trip to Nepal and his album recording sessions.
“On stage it’s going to be a love fest,” he says. “So I’m glad Colorado will get to experience it. I feel like I owe a lot to this state, they’ve always been so supportive of me.”
2013 Spring Jam Events
For more information or to register for events, visit www.aspensnowmass.com 
Bud Light Hi-Fi Concert
Snowmass Base Village
3 p.m. Michael Moon
5 p.m. Brett Dennen
This free outdoor concert in Snowmass Base Village ends the day on the slopes and kicks off the Spring Jam action.
Through March 24
NASTAR National Championships
Skiers from 45 states, aged three to 90, converge on the slopes of Snowmass to compete for national titles in various divisions of the Nature Valley NASTAR National Championships. With races running March 20 - 24, the championships celebrate alpine racing and serve as a reunion for the top recreational racers in the country.
March 22 & 29
Bud Light Big Air Friday
Fanny Hill, Snowmass
Big Air Fridays attracts competitors from near and far to show off what they’ve been practicing and attempt the freshest tricks on the hill. Athletes will showcase the newest and most progressive tricks around off of the 40-foot jump on upper Fanny Hill. The always-entertaining Friday afternoon show is entering its 11th year at Snowmass.
Fallen Friends Memorial Event
Merry Go Round, Aspen Highlands
9:30 - 11 a.m. Registration at Base of Highlands
10:30 Riders Meeting outside Merry Go Round
10:45 Practice: Scarlett’s
11 - Noon Competition: Scarletts
2 p.m. Load for group bowl hike
A goofy day on the slopes for a good cause, the 5th annual Fallen Friends is a memorial event that unites skiers and snowboarders from all disciplines to celebrate the mountain lifestyle that binds them, in honor of their fallen friends. All proceeds benefit the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club’s scholarship funds.
The event consists of bumps, rails, jumps and other features on the bottom section of Scarlett’s Run on Aspen Highlands above the Merry-Go-Round. More than 100 costumed revelers competed in the jam session last year, under the watchful eyes of a guest judge’s panel that awards prizes.
Organizers this year have added a group hike up Highland Bowl, following the competition. All participants and spectators are invited to hike the Bowl at 2 p.m. AVSC coaches will be leading the charge; first-timers are encouraged to ask for help.
Registration is open Saturday only and is $25 per person. Food and beer specials at the Merry-Go-Round during the event.
KickAspen Big Air
Gondola Plaza, Aspen Mountain
The base of Ajax gets in the X Games spirit for this thrilling annual event. It pits the best regional ski and snowboard athletes against one another, to show off their biggest tricks under the lights on a 70-foot jump at the base of Aspen Mountain. A throng gathers on gondola plaza to watch the extreme action.
March 23 & 24, 30 & 31
Terrain Park Boot Camp
Snowmass (under the Big Air Jump)
Noon - 3 p.m.
If you’ve never been in a terrain park but you want to test your grinding and jibbing skills, now’s your chance. This is the perfect opportunity to learn rails, boxes and jumps from professional coaches and athletes.
The Terrain Park Book Camp is an entry level terrain park with beginner-sized features set up on Fanny Hill. Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club coaches and athletes will teach beginners (13 and up) on how to safely slide a rail, hit a box and throw a trick. Open to children, parents and anyone interested in learning the ropes of the terrain park.
March 29 & 30
CORE Party featuring MarchFourth Marching Band and Grouplove
Downtown Aspen (Cooper & Galena)
Back-to-back nights of free concerts featuring two energetic live acts will be a surefire highlight of Spring Jam this year.
MarchFourth Marching Band plays Friday on the outdoor stage. The troupe of 20-plus performers typically brings to the stage a five-piece percussion section, seven horns, dancers, acrobats and stilt-walkers. They hit the stage in mismatched marching band outfits and play a largely instrumental blend of brassy funk, rock, and gypsy jazz. The Portland, Ore. band’s crowd-friendly performances have made MarchFourth a favorite in Aspen and across Colorado.
“We actually play in Colorado now more than we do in Oregon,” bandleader John Averill told Time Out last year. “It’s started to become a home away from home for us. The fan base is really strong.”
Grouplove, the indie darlings behind the hits “Colours” and “Tongue Tied,” take the stage Saturday night. They made their local debut at Belly Up last May, and local fans are eagerly awaiting their return.
The collective began on an artists’ retreat in Crete, and had songs going viral before they even had a name.
“People are in bands for years and years before they get fans,” Grouplove bassist Sean Gadd told TIme Out last year. “We are each others’ biggest fans.”
DJ Naka G opens both nights.
Battle in the Bowls
8 - 9 a.m. check-in at Aspen Highlands ticket office
The Helly Hansen Battle in the Bowls returns, challenging teams of two to ski/ride the many bowls of Aspen Highlands as quickly and strategically as possible on a course designed by extreme skier Chris Davenport. SkiCo will loan GPS devices to track racers’ routes.
Divisions include competitive skiers, competitive snowboarders and recreational divisions. The courses for each division will be different, with some overlapping elements. $90 per team of two; includes a Helly Hansen Battle in the Bowls base layer and afterparty at the Highlands Pizza Company.
Buttermilk Rail Jam Smith Optics Grudge Match
Buttermilk Rail Garden, below the superpipe behind Bumps
This is a snowboard-only rail jam competition, with riders going head-to-head in a 32-person March Madness-style bracket. The winner will take home $500 and a pair of Smith I/O goggles.
Register in person at Radio Boardshop in Aspen or call 970-925-9373. Registration is free.