On a rainy Wednesday evening earlier this summer, a handful of people piled into a cozy, cabin-like recording studio at Mad Dog Ranch and Studios in Snowmass. They watched and listened from a plush navy blue couch as, just a few feet in front of them, local Roaring Fork Valley musicians Adam McCabe and Larry Good strummed their acoustic guitars and launched into a clever, upbeat song called “My Five-Beer Plan.”
McCabe and Good performed their intimate concert, part of a summer event series hosted by Mad Dog and Aspen’s Little Nell hotel, against a backdrop of framed album covers from Glenn Frey, Jimmy Buffett, and the Eagles. Nearby, a small stuffed bear sat perched atop a large piano made from rich, dark brown wood with a sign that read: “Glenn Frey’s piano for sale—inquire within.” With its vaulted ceilings, exposed blonde wood beams, soft area rug, and snug window nook for sound equipment, Studio B feels more like an inviting living room than a recording studio.
After sitting quiet for the better part of a decade, music has returned to Mad Dog. The wooded, creekside Rocky Mountain compound was once owned by Buffett and, later, Frey, who both regularly visited Aspen for rest and artistic inspiration beginning in the late 1970s. Mad Dog’s new owner, Julie Garside, has completed an ambitious renovation of the property’s main house (where she lives), small guest cabin, and two outbuildings that Buffett and Frey used as private recording studios.
She’s preserved the storied ranch’s charm and history while simultaneously upgrading the recording studios with state-of-the-art equipment that she hopes will help launch the next generation of legendary musicians. “I really want to share it with everyone because it’s such an awesome place,” Garside says. “I’d like it to be a creative, inspiring, safe space for artists who come here to create and find unique inspiration, collaborative moments.”
Buffett bought the property in 1976, then sold it to his good friend Frey in 1990. Frey converted two log-cabin outbuildings into small recording studios, where he recorded his album Strange Weather and mixed the Eagles’ live album Hell Freezes Over. Buffett, too, produced some creative works here, writing the songs “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” “Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes,” “Gypsies in the Palace,” and two children’s books. According to Garside, the ranch also hosted some raucous, celebrity-filled parties in its heyday (naturally).
Garside, who owns a property management company and is a retired ski instructor, was recovering from knee surgery in 2015 and looking for a home renovation project to pursue when she first stumbled upon the property in a newspaper real estate ad. Intrigued, she reached out and scheduled a showing. When she arrived on-site, she immediately felt a personal connection to the lush, green property, which is surrounded by tall trees and accessible via a covered bridge that crosses Snowmass Creek. “When I stepped foot on the property, I just felt this instant creative energy,” she says. “It just felt like it’s in the ground. I feel like the property chose me.”
The ranch needed a lot of work. Though Garside had completed a few smaller-scale remodels on her own, the Mad Dog renovation was by far her biggest project yet. “Something in me felt, I needed a change. I need to do this. This is how I need to express myself,” she says.
Garside, who’s been a fan of Buffett, Frey, and the Eagles since childhood, began negotiating with Frey’s team. Though she wasn’t the highest bidder, she believes she closed the deal because she planned to bring the property back to life. The two parties signed a contract in January 2016, just two days before Frey died of complications related to rheumatoid arthritis.
As she renovated the guest cabin and the main house throughout 2017 and 2018, Garside also set up some older equipment in the two, empty on-site recording studios. In 2019, she began hosting a few private events, songwriter retreats, and recording sessions. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Garside saw a major uptick in requests for private events and individual parties, but she also used the pandemic as an opportunity to modernize the recording studios’ equipment and bring onboard Marc Meeker, a sound and recording engineer of 17 years who’s worked with the likes of the Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban.
Meeker, who was living in Nashville at the time, moved to Colorado permanently in June to become Mad Dog’s engineer. He, too, felt an instant connection to the ranch.
“There really is some magic in the studio and in the property itself,” Meeker says. “Creative types are inherently very sensitive to their environment. When you are coming in to try to reveal your most sensitive feelings or create that moment, the environment and the atmosphere means everything to them. Because if they don’t feel like it’s a safe place where they can be comfortable and create, the magic doesn’t happen.”
Since reopening this summer, Mad Dog has recorded an audiobook, voice-overs for commercials and movies, full bands, solo artists, A-list celebrities, and more. Decades later, there’s music and creativity at Mad Dog once more—and this time around, it’s open to everyone, not just rock stars. “I hope people find it as much of a sacred space as I do,” Garside says. “It’s kind of like hallowed ground.”