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The Belle of BellyUp Aspen

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

“At the end of the day, looking out on 15,000 people from the side of the stage…that energy makes it worth it every night.” Thought not an official rock star, BellyUp General Manager Kimberly Kuliga has lived a rock and roll lifestyle.

Before coming to Aspen, she was on the road with Aerosmith, Christina Aguilera, Jewel, Van Halen and a multi-year run with the Eagles. “I had a connection, through my sister, with Aerosmith. I was hired on to develop a program called the ‘Velvet Rope,’” shares Kuliga, now 37, smiling at the way back when 20-something recollection. “ We’d create these VIP fan experiences, to get the scalpers out of the picture; fans would get to see it all, photos, go backstage, get seats in the first five rows and get a VIP party, complete with food and alcohol.” She was on the road for 8 months putting the Velvet Rope into action; the program was a big hit, and Kuliga soon headed out to recreate it for Christina Aguilera, and Jewel.

“I was on a month-long tour with Jewel, when the Eagles called. They needed someone to manage their ticketing from the road. That turned out to be a several year adventure. Then, I joined the Van Halen Tour in 04, millions of dollars in ticketing, dealing with the media, finances; I was definitely the ticketing bitch with those bands,” she says, laughing.

“Being on the road was an amazing experience. I’ve been from RVs with an ex-boyfriend, and a rock star with an eating disorder, to G-4 jets and entourages in the nicest hotels in the world. I was part of a police escort, going 90 MPH to the airport – it was insane to have that kind of experience. I never thought I’d be on a jet with Joe Walsh, or dodging Eddie Van Halen’s kisses! This one night, an artist sent the manager to this remote little KFC near the venue, to make sure the chicken was fried right,” she says, shaking her head, recollecting some of the more over the top tour moments.

“I miss the people on the road, the most; they’re like family. You share more with them than with most people in your life,” she says. “And the catering. I miss the catering!”

She turned 30 on the road with Aerosmith in Wichita, Kansas; she’s been a lot of places, with a lot of famous people, but endlessly traversing small-town America on a tour bus eventually lost its luster. “You sacrifice a lot of your life, touring…you get to feel like a rolling stone after awhile; you miss going to a coffee shop and having people recognize you, and say hello,” she reflects.

Kuliga hails from small-town Massachusetts, herself, with and a degree from Springfield College in sports biology and psychology. A competitive runner in high school, ranked 27th in the nation in her heyday, she was weaned on sports and competition. “My dad was an athletic director and football coach; my siblings and I were brought up always having to participate. I didn’t know any differently.”

Jobs in fitness, sales and marketing eventually gave way to a career in music and her eventual road to Aspen. She first came to the valley in her early 20’s, to meet up with some friends in the mountains. A sales and marketing opportunity on the Front Range once again brought her to Colorado, before Aerosmith steered her elsewhere for an ongoing change of venue. She returned to Aspen while on tour with the Eagles and met BellyUp owner Michael Goldberg over dinner at his restaurant, Matsuhisa.

Entering the Live Music ZoneEntering the Live Music Zone

“He somehow convinced me to work in this crazy place,” she says, with a chuckle, pointing around her office to the newly lengthened to-do lists of a general manager, who oversees production, marketing and overall operations. “You know, I got into the music industry from a business standpoint,” she observes; “maybe that’s why I’ve been successful with it, because I’ve viewed it as a business, not necessarily a passion.”

In 2005, she joined the club as marketing and events coordinator, helping the venue grow and expand both its goals, and its set list, over the years. “Michael (Goldberg) has a great vision for this place. We want to educate people about new music. We want to make a music community out of this town, and focus on getting people to value the music, value it enough and trust us enough, to buy a ticket and head to the show,” she explains.

Many locals, more and more each year, head to nation-wide music festivals like Austin City Limits and Coachella, where new indie music is ripe for the listening. And the BellyUp wants to bring that music to Aspen.

“We’ve been throwing a lot of free shows this year,” says Kuliga. “There are some great acts building and we want to have them play here; maybe they’re not quite a ticket selling show yet, but we want to get people in the room to get to the know the band. It’s one of the best clubs in the country. We have state of the art lighting and sound; Ralph, our sound engineer, has been doing it for 25 years,” she continues, commending her staff and co-workers on making the club so fantastic.

As for Aspen itself, there’s no place like Kuliga’s newfound home. “I used to joke, I’d have to head back on the road to sober up, after being in Aspen, she says, with a laugh. “But truly, Aspen is surrounded by such beautiful nature and energy; you really get to explore the backcountry. I grew up in the woods, running around and for me, there’s such a balance here: you can hike with the dogs in this incredible nature, find good jeans, then eat out at Matsuhisa!”

She got into the biz for the biz, so to speak, but not surprisingly, she’s become a big music aficionado. “I love electronic music, and hard house, MGMT, David Gray…I like it all. And I come here on my nights off; where else can you hear Public Enemy, Crystal Method, Jane’s Addiction and B.B.King, all in one week?”

And where else would you see the GM doing backbends on the bar, or splits on the dance floor? “Put a wig on me, and I turn into someone else,” Kuliga confesses. “It’s Aspen. I want people to have fun. I try and lead by example.”