A homecoming by John Oates at the Wheeler Opera House
Longtime Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Woody Creeker John Oates is back home for the holidays, headlining the historic Wheeler Opera House for his first show since 2015.
Oates, who lived here full-time for about 25 years before moving to Nashville and playing The Wheeler regularly, is planning a set of songs and stories stripped down with Nashville guitarist Guthrie Trapp on Wednesday.
From August through December, Oates went on a massive national post-vaccine tour with Darryl Hall, performing their hit parade of soul and pop classics.
“It’s a big production, video screens and everything,” Oates said last week in the Wheeler’s basement offices, noting the “minor miracle” of playing 23 full-scale shows during the pandemic. âWe were really happy with it. And after I was done, I just wanted to do the exact opposite. I wanted to go from big production with everyone, the bells and whistles, the trucks and the buses, and I wanted to go in the more organic and direct way of playing. Just sitting there with a guitar and singing with no amps, no gear, nothing.
This is exactly what he was doing in his living room in Nashville with Trapp shortly after the Hall and Oates tour ended.
âWe said, ‘Why can’t we just do this? Let’s bring the living room to the world, âOates recalled.
They did a few little shows in Nashville, then booked a series of shows in Colorado over the holidays.
âAny excuse I have for coming back here, I’ll take it,â Oates said. “Every time I come back I realize how Woody Creek still is our home.”
Oates and his wife, Aimee, had their Woody Creek home on the market for several years when they moved to Nashville. They shot him during the winter before the pandemic. Oates said he was relieved they did, as it allowed them to spend long periods here during the year and the shutdown of the live music industry and, did he said, to reconnect with the community of Aspen.
Oates is also working on the reestablishment of the 7908 Aspen Songwriters Festival, which he founded and hosted at the Wheeler from 2010-2012 and brought together artists including legends like Allen Toussaint and David Bromberg with Sam Bush, Keb Mo and Shawn Colvin. In March, he led the virtual Oates Song Fest 7908 via Nugs.tv – a fundraiser for Feeding America that drew everyone from Bob Weir and Dave Grohl to Jewel (and Darryl Hall, of course). He lit a fire under Oates to bring him back to Aspen.
Oates said he and Wheeler director Lisa Rigsby Peterson were considering the launch this winter, but backed off. They are now looking at the start of 2023.
âNow we have enough time, really,â he said. âIt’s just a matter of logistics. â¦ I subtly spread the word to many of my friends and musicians. Everyone who has done so in the past immediately jumped on board.
Aspen, of course, has changed dramatically since Oates first arrived in town in the late 1960s on a student trip to Temple University, hitchhiking from Denver and staying in a Hippie dorm near elevator 1A and skiing 10 inches of fresh powder the first morning.
“We were like, ‘OK, this is a miracle,'” Oates recalls.
He still loves the place and thinks he has retained its “central character” because he has seen the surfaces evolve.
âThere are some things about Aspen that never change,â he said.
For decades, living here on and off since the late 1970s and settling in Woody Creek in the early 1990s, Oates was a telemark skier whose connection to Aspen was the backcountry and the slopes. Now 73, he gave it up to avoid injuring himself (âI want to go out for a walk,â he laughed.) Today, he only practices Nordic skiing.
âItâs the best exercise ever and Iâm not going to hit a tree,â he said. “It’s my fashion right now.”
He is also in the midst of a fertile creative period. In addition to touring with Darryl Hall, Oates reached his peak in his solo career about a decade ago when he started the “Good Road to Follow” project, digging into America and pop music history. . This led him to tours with the Good Road Band – which included Trapp – and the well-received 2018 album “Arkansas”.
Following this route, Oates and Trapp aim to create a “musical journey through time” at the Wheeler with renditions of songs from early 1920s and 1930s American pop music through blues and soul through to the Hall and Oates era. .
âApproaching these songs really made me a better player,â Oates said. “I really had to dig and go to the stake to make a pile and learn some of these songs.”
The long, forced break from touring due to public health restrictions has also fueled Oates creatively, he said.
Among the projects that cropped up during this year was the remote collaboration with Colorado filmmaker EJ Forrester to write five songs for the upcoming independent film, “Halfway to Somewhere,” written by better-known former Aspenite Patrick Hasburgh. for writing and directing “Aspen Extreme”.
“He asked me if I would write a song, I wrote a song, and he said, do you want to write another one?” Oates said. “And it ended up being a major project.”
Time on the road also allowed him to do yoga, hike Nashville, write, listen to music he hadn’t been connected with in decades, collaborate with Zoom. and kick off what ended up being the Oates Song Fest.
âI don’t think I ever had a year off from when I started as a professional musician in 1971,â he said. “So it was intimidating at first and weird, like, ‘I’m just going to stay home? And then I kissed him.