Playing Flamenco guitar before a masked, socially distanced 30-person audience at Aspen’s Mountain Chalet is worlds away from Miguel Espinoza’s bohemian roots traipsing around southern Spain with his gypsy community.
But the experience will be a cathartic one for the renowned guitarist and his namesake band, the Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion, which will perform on the downtown lodge’s rooftop at 7 p.m. tonight and tomorrow.
The show is part of a live music series, named Rooftop333 — after the chalet’s 333 E. Durant street address — that the family-run hotel launched this summer in response to the myriad musical and cultural events that were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mountain Chalet owners tapped Tamara Goldstein to produce the debut series.
Goldstein, a longtime pianist with the Aspen Music Festival of School who traditionally resides at the hotel throughout the summer, said Friday that she made it her mission to find the most talented musicians who she knows personally and who live in the area or are within driving distance.
For this weekend, the Denver-based Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion fit that bill: Founded by Espinoza in 2018, the group uniquely melds jazz, flamenco, classical Indian and Cuban musical styles to create a wildly enchanting and, at times, haunting reverberation. The albeit limited Aspen audiences will be privy to Espinoza on the guitar, Dianne Betkowski on cello and Mario Moreno on conga and timbale. Additionally, the full band members include bassist Randy Hoepker, saxophonist Lynn Baker and tabalist and cajonist Andy Skellenger.
“Each of us have reached a very high level in our art forms, so there’s a lot of complicated lines and interesting rhythm structures,” Espinoza said in a phone interview Friday while en route to a gig at Vail’s Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. “It’s really delightful.”
As an only child raised in Denver by a single mother — a prominent Chicana muralist — Espinoza was more or less conditioned to also embrace art at an early age. Childhood photos show a diaper-clad Espinoza hugging a Mickey Mouse-themed guitar. By the age of four, Espinoza began to hone his technique; at nine years old, PBS flew him to San Francisco to perform his first recital.
“I was pretty serious about the art form at a young age,” Espinoza said. “My mom was always busy in her studio painting, listening to classical music, so I was alone practicing guitar. … I followed by bliss.”
At 16, Espinoza left home for Spain to apprentice with flamenco maestros and eventually tour with troupes of musicians and dancers.
“It was an era of learning flamenco before YouTube,” Espinoza said. “I had to go to the source and taste the food and drink the wine and experience the life and the culture.”
While accompanying dance classes for extra cash in Madrid, Espinoza became acquainted with the gypsy community. A number of artists shared Espinoza’s single flat in the Spanish capital, which was also a welcome spot for other traveling musicians. As a collective, the gypsies ate, drank, danced, made music and traveled.
“Once you get in with the gitanos, you become like family,” Espinoza said. “It was a really fun time.”
Although Espinoza calls Denver home, he still travels extensively for work — that is, until the novel coronavirus halted life earlier this year. The band’s Vail show on Friday night was the first time Espinoza played live music before an audience since February.
“It’s been very difficult financially, morally. It’s been really hard,” Espinoza said of the past five months. “We had tours set up for the summer, and they all got canceled. It’s been devastating. But having the opportunity to come up to Aspen is now like a breath of fresh air. We’re so excited.”
Tickets to this weekend’s Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion shows, which are capped at 30 patrons, are $45 apiece and selling fast, Goldstein said Friday.
After informally hosting a few shows earlier in July, Rooftop333 launched officially last Sunday, with a second performance Monday, with the acclaimed Takács Quartet.
Goldstein introduced the strings quartet jokingly, she recounted, saying something to the tune of, “Normally, they would be playing in Carnegie Hall — but here they are, gracing us at Rooftop333.”
Up next for the inaugural rooftop music series are the Carpe Diem String Quartet (Aug. 7-8) and the Weiss-Requiro Cello Duo (Aug. 9-10). Tickets to the shows are $40 each and can be reserved by calling 888-925-7797.
Mountain Chalet owner Craig Melville said he had a “why not?” attitude in offering live music in a safe and socially distanced setting on the hotel’s expansive, 2,400-square-foot rooftop.
Guests of the hotel, which this weekend is at 100% occupancy, traditionally visit Aspen for its summer musical offerings, Melville said Friday.
While the concert series isn’t filling rooms — or making the hotel money — the chalet owner enjoys providing the community with a little live entertainment right now.
“It’s another one of our great money-losing ventures we’ve undertaken,” Melville said with a laugh.