By Damien Alexander Williamson | May 22, 2015 | People
With his Gravity Productions, Joey Stokes is elevating Aspen's social scene with creative, locally focused events.
When Joey Stokes speaks of “incredible experiences,” he knows what he’s talking about: The Snowmass native is a former competitive snowboarder and an avid BASE jumper and skydiver.
Producing a wildly successful Aspen Highlands Closing Day fête—where thousands of costumed revelers gather to celebrate the end of the ski season—would undoubtedly lend credibility to even the most unseasoned event planner. But for Gravity Productions cofounder and Snowmass native Joey Stokes, the April party was the culmination of a year spent changing the perception of what an Aspen event can be. It also marked the beginning of a summer of collaborations aimed at bridging the gap between ski bum gatherings and sophisticated soirées.
“We’re offering something that didn’t exist before,” he says. “Most events in the valley feel formulaic, not rooted in the community— the festivals are [importing] talent. What we’re trying to do is showcase the creativity from within.”
Stokes and his partners transformed this year’s Highlands event from booze bash to conversation piece, where a shimmering, 24-foot geodesic dome on the snow sat alongside flame-throwing canons, and the music kept the undulating wave of dancers transfixed as the bacchanal persisted well past dusk.
The event has opened the door for Gravity to collaborate this summer on a yoga series, speaker talks, and dance parties on the roofs of the Aspen Art Museum and the Wheeler Opera House. The team will also throw a two-day, freedom-themed event at the Crystal Palace on July 3 and 4, featuring performances from local and globally renowned electronic musicians, burlesque performers, magic acts, and other visual and performing artists. On August 1, they will produce a one-day festival for Wilderness Workshop, a local nonprofit protecting Aspen’s surrounding wilderness.
After graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder, Stokes returned to Aspen and began working in restaurants. He spent mornings and off-seasons attending or working at festivals across the globe (the UK’s Glastonbury, Nevada’s Burning Man, and more)—experiences that would come to influence his own productions. For Stokes, the true goal of the company became to get the outside world to look beyond Aspen’s wealth and mountain landscape, and to see it for the vibrant, creative community that it truly is.
Gravity’s inaugural events—a pair of inclusive, elaboratelynamed dance parties—took place over Winter X Games’s 2014 weekend, a made-for-TV affair when bars, venues, and homes are rented out by major brands. Locals are quite literally left out in the cold as athletes and action sports insiders breeze past long lines to celebrate in style. “Everything is exclusive, flooded with hype, and sponsors effectively run town for three or four days,” says Stokes. The community response to the parties was overwhelmingly positive, and the events laid the groundwork for Gravity’s White Wolf Party this spring, from which the Crystal Place event slated for Fourth of July weekend took its inspiration. “[White Wolf] was a way for us to show that a party can be more than just a show with a drink in your hand,” says Gravity cofounder Reuben Sadowsky. “It can be a place to have a conversation, to participate rather than watch. [Aspen hasn’t] had an event like this for decades—where everyone feels like they are part of the party.”
Ultimately, Stokes wants to craft events that distill the finest aspects of the Roaring Fork Valley. “In Aspen we have an epic environment, a wealthy patronage, and a very intelligent crowd,” he says. “Our events are a way of tying all those together. People are spending less money on material goods and more on incredible experiences. We want to provide those incredible experiences.”
photography by bILLy rooD