Music abounds in Boulder, despite lack of venues

Non-traditional concert venues make up for lack of dedicated space

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The Fox Theatre’s empty summer calendar said it all, but then came the official word: The venue was closing for the summer, and the reason given was “roof repairs.”

“The Fox has been in existence for 20 years, so it’s time,” says Shannon Bock, a spokeswoman for Z2, the Fox’s parent company. “We picked June and July, because that’s definitely our slower season.”

The students may be out of town, but do they need to take live music with them? We all know that Boulder’s economy leans heavily on each year’s influx of new students and their parents’ money, but does the vitality of our arts depend on them as well?

The Fox’s closing rekindles a conversation Boulder musicians and promoters often have with each other, and that is the lack of venues in Boulder. The Fox and the Boulder Theater — and Chautauqua Auditorium and Macky Auditorium, to a degree — keep a steady influx of national acts coming through town, but there is a distinct lack of a 100- to 200-person venue in town where local acts can stretch their wings and start developing an audience.

But there is hope for the local music scene. A number of restaurants, coffee shops, record stores and bars around town are moving tables and display cases to the sides and hosting live music anywhere from once a month to twice a weekend.

“I think there is a lack of venues in Boulder, and that will change. That will turn itself around,” says Danny Shafer, a long-time Boulder musician who also books bands into two Pearl Street bars, the Pearl Street Pub and Conor O’Neill’s. “But let’s make the best of what we have right now.”

Boulder Theater

Weekends at the Boulder Theater are booked solid this summer in part to compensate for the Fox’s closing, as old-school acts like jazz guitarist Bill Frisell play within weeks of newer acts, like electronic dance DJ Porter Robinson. It’s a massive venue for local acts, though — about 1,000 people fit for standing-only concerts — so most local bands are out of luck, and on the bill are mostly touring national acts, with the occasional local group, like Technicolor Tone Factory and Eminence Ensemble, thrown in for good measure.

Highlights: Victor Wooten Band, July 12; James Murphy’s DJ set, Aug. 2

Absolute Vinyl

Playing at Absolute Vinyl, a record store east of Foothills Parkway on Arapahoe, is a blast. Owner Doug Gaddy pushes aside the record display cases, creating a small stage on the store’s carpet. Bands play surrounded by art — colorful and famous records adorn the walls, and weird stuff, like a starched disco shirt, hangs from the ceiling. Gaddy hosts bands there once or twice a month, and here you can find music that other venues book rarely, from experimental jazz to — gasp! — actual rock bands. There may not be alcohol, as it’s a record store, not a bar, so the store provides an atmosphere focused entirely on the music.

United Interests Sound Studios

UI Sound Studios is a production studio that’s in that strange white building on the corner of Maxwell and Broadway. It’s a relative newcomer to the concert game, and events there are still pretty informal, says Evan Reeves, the studio manager. There’s a show the first or second Friday of every month (alas, UI is taking July off as well), and the band and audience squeeze into the recording studio for the show. There’s usually an opener, Reeves says, and the shows are short — they aim to end the performances 90 minutes after the first song. Almost 60 people can watch the performance, and there’s rarely a cover, just a suggested donation.

“It’s not so tight that you feel that you’re choking or something,” Reeves says, acknowledging that things in the studio can get pretty intimate. “It’s really very similar to hanging out in your living room listening to some great music.”

Highlights: Faceman — With Eye and the Arrow, June 1


The Emich triplets that own and operate Shine have a history of hosting live music at their restaurants, so it’s no surprise that Shine now hosts music two or three nights a week.

“We know the local music scene well, since we had Trilogy for almost 10 years and did shows about five times per week,” says Jill Emich, who books bands for the restaurant. “When we sold we noticed and heard a lot of feed back

from musicians that there was a strong need for smaller venues to promote local artists and we wholeheartedly agreed, and so we were excited to create Shine and incorporate the live music.”

The room where they host concerts is pretty glorious, too. It’s a separate room walled off from the restaurant and lounge, and when it’s standing room only, Emich says about 150 people can fit into the space.

“Singer-songwriters and folk music work well in the room,” Emich says. “We do a monthly Troubadors series with up to eight singer-songwriter folk acts, and we also have monthly songwriting competitions. … We host some hip-hop reggae and world beat. We have done opera events and theatertype performances like burlesque that incorporate live singing and DJs. It is a great space for performance art like that.”

Highlights: The Ladies Cabaret and Variety Show, June 6

Conor O’Neill’s, Pearl Street Pub

We’re lumping these two Pearl Street bars together since Shafer does the booking for both and books the same sort of bands into both venues.

“Both places, [the bands] can be fairly similar,” Shafer says. “The bands that I like to book are bands that are into it, bands that are into playing, into their music, still creating and evolving. I like to book bands that are playing out other places that are part of the musical scene and community.”

The Pub hosts bands in the room just inside the entrance, and the bands at Conor’s play on a stage next to the bar in the back. Jam bands find a home at both places, as well as folk, funk and the occasional rock band.

Highlights: Springdale Quartet at Conor O’Neill’s, June 23; George Nelson Quartet at the Pearl Street Pub, June 11

There isn’t enough space to list all the venues in Boulder, but don’t forget that the Brick House (next to the Lazy Dog Sports Bar & Grill), the Mountain/Southern Sun, The Laughing Goat, Caffè Sole, the Dark Horse and even the Sundown Saloon occasionally offer live music.

Boulder’s music scene might be going through a rough patch, but there’s hope.

“Boulder’s been through so many phases with clubs, and there’s always a worry that there’s not going to be anywhere to play,” Shafer says. “There is a lack right now, and it’s really hard right now for musicians in some ways. So we need to be looking deep.”