ESPN’s Winter X Games return to the Buttermilk ski area in Aspen January 28 through 31. The festival, which started in 1995, showcases the world’s top athletes in extreme iterations of winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling. The culture surrounding the event and the sports themselves encompasses certain clothing styles, products and music. X Games festivities feature not only sports competitions, but major concert events, as well; this year’s musical lineup includes several marquee names, including Deadmau5, Nas, Run the Jewels and Twenty One Pilots.
While that roster reflects what’s hot in EDM, hip-hop and alternative pop, not everyone connected to the X Games feels that those sounds represent the winter-sports world.
“We are the worst generation,” says Danny Davis, a professional snowboarder and onetime TransWorld Snowboarding Rookie of the Year. “Eighties music sucks. Nineties music sucks. But it’s better than this. Our generation sucks.”
That was Davis’s response when asked how he feels about the prevalence and popularity of electronic dance music. Davis, who is 27, has been on the professional snowboarding circuit (Dew Tour, X Games, Grand Prix) and earning medals, awards, obnoxiously large checks and trophies for a decade. He’s sponsored by brands such as Martin Guitars and has ridden mountains around the world, including with pioneers like Terje Haakonsen, but he doesn’t name-drop or brag. After all, success could be whisked away from him at any moment — as it nearly was in 2010, when a drunken four-wheeling accident left Davis with a broken pelvis and prevented him from earning a spot in the Vancouver Olympics.
Around that time, Davis began to garner attention for his efforts off the slopes, as part of the “Frends” community. He, snowboarder Jack Mitrani and others joined together to spread a message of positivity and inclusivity within a culture of competitive sports that promotes individuality. The Frends effort paid off with various tours, snowboard camps and publicity, but Davis wanted something more, and in 2011, the Frendly Gathering — an annual music festival co-organized by Davis and Mitrani in southern Vermont — was born. The fest has hosted Rob Garza, Beats Antique, Twiddle, Lotus, Lake Street Dive and many others, but Davis says the event is less about getting his favorite artists to play than it is about bringing people together to enjoy the music.
A history of snowboarding can be traced through the music associated with the sport. From the first snowboarders banned from chairlifts at Mt. Baker in Washington in 1982 to the massive spectacle of the X Games taking over Aspen this weekend, boarders have found resonance in a melting pot of genres. Slopes in the ’90s pounded with punk rock and reflected the grunge and metal scenes exploding out of the Pacific Northwest. As boarding became more accepted on mountains across the country and more people gained access to the sport, non-traditional “mountain music” took over. Circle Jerks were replaced by A Tribe Called Quest, and DJ Premier’s anthemic beats became the soundtrack for big air.
For Davis, however, it’s always been about rock and roll; he’s adamant that organic instruments and the sounds they create are better than today’s mainstream pop and electronica. And while he enjoys popular contemporary band Alabama Shakes, Davis is mostly into jam bands of a previous era, particularly the Grateful Dead.
“Newer bands just don’t do it the same,” he says. “I just like live music. When I go to see a show, I like to see a show. I’m not super-interested in buttons being pushed.”
In 2012, Davis teamed up with Burton Snowboards and the Grateful Dead to create a series of boards emblazoned with some of the band’s iconic imagery, including the skull and roses, Steal Your Face and terrapin art.
Davis plays music himself, preferring stringed instruments such as guitar, mandolin and banjo. Would he ever make the leap from the slopes to the stage? He laughs off the idea of playing in an actual band. “Jack Mitrani always wants us to play in a band, but I have no interest. Playing on stage freaks me out. I’ll leave that to the professionals.”
This past year, Davis purchased a Hammond organ, but he admits that he never bothered to learn how to read music, and says that owning and playing the instrument are more for personal enjoyment than practice. One gets the sense talking to him that endeavors are never undertaken for “practice,” but rather because they are “awesome,” “fun” and “rad.”
Although Davis says that playing music on stage would rattle his nerves, riding a halfpipe in front of a live audience and millions of viewers tuning into ESPN and NBC doesn’t faze him. “That’s not a stage. That’s a mountain, so it’s easy,” he says.
Nor does it sound as though Davis is planning a career change from athlete to music promoter. “When I was younger, I thought about how cool it would be to do it,” he says, “but now that I’ve done [the Frendly Gathering] for five years, [I know that] putting on events is hard work.”
He applies this understanding to the work that must go into organizing the X Games.
“I think what they’re doing is trying to make a cool event to really bring people out,” Davis says. “You’re not exactly going to the beach when you’re out there watching a halfpipe contest. You’re out there in the cold.”
That’s not to say that Davis wouldn’t make some changes if the booking duties were up to him.
“I think someone along the lines of Nas [is good]. Someone else I would bring is a Neil Young, Allman Brothers, or some kind of classic rock,” he says. “And maybe a soul kind of thing, like Charles Bradley or Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, for some good dancing.
“Why is rock and roll timeless?” Davis continues. “I ask myself that, always. When will this new genre come...that will blow our minds? The first time someone made fire, it was the first time anyone had seen it. And it’s hard to re-create.”
Nas and Run the Jewels
8 p.m. Thursday, January 28, Buttermilk Mountain, Aspen, 970-925-1220.