ELEVATED | Revisiting the Classics
by Leslie Vreeland
Jan 16, 2014 | 1275 views | 0 0 comments | 69 69 recommendations | email to a friend | print
GLEN PLAKE became an extreme-skiing star in The Blizzard of Aahhhs, which screens at the Sheridan Opera House next Thursday, Jan. 23. (Courtesy photo)
GLEN PLAKE became an extreme-skiing star in The Blizzard of Aahhhs, which screens at the Sheridan Opera House next Thursday, Jan. 23. (Courtesy photo)
MOLLIE O'BRIEN & RICH MOORE (Courtesy photo)
MOLLIE O'BRIEN & RICH MOORE (Courtesy photo)

Mollie and Rich in Ridgway

The singer Mollie O’Brien and her husband Rich Moore play the Sherbino Theater next Thursday evening, January 23, at 7 p.m. It’s the first on a 14-stop tour to promote their new CD, Love Runner. You may know O’Brien from the duet albums she’s  recorded with her brother, contemporary bluegrass artist Tim O’Brien. “If you ever wished you could hear brand new music with the conviction and flawless vocal work of the classic Everly Brothers recordings, this album by brother and sister Mollie and Tim O’Brien is for you,” wrote music critic Richard Meyer of the siblings’ work together on “Away Out on the Mountain.” The cuts, Meyer noted, are mostly contemporary gospel-bluegrass sounding tunes with an A.P. Carter and Leadbelly song tossed in. “There is not a misplaced note.” 

On her own, Mollie has recorded several solo records (the songwriter Gretchen Peters has called her “One part Maria Muldaur, one part Suzy Bogguss and one part Ella Fitzgerald”). This is the second CD she’s made with her husband, guitarist Rich Moore, in the last three years. Before that, musically speaking, the couple lived fairly separate lives. While she toured with her brother, he stayed home in Denver and had a day job and raised their two daughters, though he still played locally with Front Range favorites including banjoist Pete Wernick and singer-songwriter Celeste Krenz. The music on their new CD spans several genres, from Americana and pop to bluegrass and country, but every song tells a story, and O’Brien’s voice is clear and soulful. She’s a master interpreter – “I’m not going to sing to my shoes,” she said of her ability to inhabit a verse – and will gladly take on lyrics ostensibly written from a man’s point of view, such as seminal folk artist Dave Van Ronk’s down-at-heel “Sunday Street,” and Randy Newman’s ominous tale of sex and obsession, “Suzanne.” “It’s such a creepy song, and we’re such big Randy Newman fans,” she said. “I thought, ‘What the hell. Let’s just do it.’” Mollie and Rich’s musical tastes range from hushed to rollicking. They should suit the Sherbino’s intimate space. 

To get an idea of O’Brien’s vocal range, visit tinyurl.com/leoc2hz and listen to the clips in the interview. For more on O’Brien, visit her web site:  mollieobrien.com. 

In Telluride: The Blizzard of Aahhh’s 

Extreme skiing was developed in the Mont Blanc region of Europe in the 1970s and 1980s. You couldn’t call it a sport – it was too perilous, and the price you paid if you fell was too high. In Chamonix, for example, Anselme Baud and Patrick Vallencant were skiing down couloirs and mountain faces, while in the U.S. for the most part, with the exception of a very few (such as a small group in Telluride, including Hugh Sawyer and Kevin and Dennis Green, who made the first descent of the San Joaquin couloir in 1982 and inspired others to ski the obvious lines throughout the San Juans) people continued to think of skiing as wooden touring skis, flimsy ankle boots and most importantly, self-contained resorts. A film called The Blizzard of Aahhh’s changed all that. At the same time, it turned Glen Plake, a former juvenile delinquent from South Lake Tahoe, into a star and changed the face of skiing. The film screens next Thursday at the Sheridan Opera House.

Blizzard was directed by Greg Stump. The year was 1988, and Stump was frustrated. “We’d been kicked out of every resort [in the U.S.] because we were jumping off stuff and skiing out of bounds,” he recalled to the producers of the skiing documentary, Steep. “We were like, screw it. Let’s go to France, where we don’t have to have insurance and they’ve got better mountains. So we beat it to Europe.” 

In France, Plake and his co-stars, Scot Schmidt and Mike Hattrup, got an eyeful. “I had never seen a glacier before,” Plake said. “I knew what a crevasse was, but I’d never seen one. I grew up in Lake Tahoe. I skied Heavenly.” The young Americans leapt right in, attacking couloirs and other radical steeps – Schmidt had a legendary run down the Aguilles du Midi, Plake wore a POV camera – with brio. The film came out in 1988, just as VCRs became popular, and so was viewed again and again by a new generation of skiers in their living rooms. “[Blizzard’s stars] got to ski lines I’d never even seen before,” big-mountain skier Chris Davenport marveled to Steep’s producers. “I’ve probably watched it over a hundred times. I think we burned through at least two VHS tapes, watching it with my friends.” “Stump’s bold integration of radical terrain free-riding, punk antics and thumping sound-tracks did much more than electrify the sagging sport of skiing and inspire a generation,” Ski Magazine said of this seminal film. “It gave birth to all-American Extreme, with a capital E.”

Blizzard may have taken flight in people’s living room VCRs, but next Thursday offers a chance to watch it on the big screen. It shows at 6 p.m., and again at 8:30 p.m. 

See Blizzard, and then rent or buy Steep. Ignore the hokey blurbs on the box (“you have to ski it to believe it!”), dim the lights and settle in. It is not a light-hearted frolic in scary terrain the way Blizzard is. But it is an over-arching history of the some of the best, most precipitous lines in the world, and the skiers who got there first. 

For a terrific overview on the history of steep skiing in the Telluride area, read Andrew Sawyer’s “Pioneers of the Steeps Set Telluride Skiing Apart,” a 2008 article in The Watch. Web address: tinyurl.com/llc3t3j. 

Pop-Up Cinema

Speaking of classic films, SPARK productions and the Wilkinson Library have teamed up to show two movies this month. The screenings are notable not only for the movies themselves, but because they’ll be buttressed by discussions with local filmmakers, who will lend their creative perspective on these influential works in a talk after the show. The first screening is tonight, when Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove will be presented by Barry Sonnenfeld, the director of Men in Black and Get Shorty. Next Thursday, John Ford’s My Darling Clementine will be introduced by screenwriter Jeffrey Price. The shows start at 6 p.m. 

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