The venue Boulder needs

Boulder musicians sound off on how to make the scene actually a scene

Kirsten Cohen | Boulder Weekly

The Boulder music scene has a rich history of supporting live performers and has numerous positives going for it — including great venues like the Fox Theatre, Boulder Theater, eTown and a variety of national and local acts performing on any given night. But what, if anything, would some of our local musicians and industry professionals suggest in order to make it even better?

One refrain sings clearly. Boulder needs another dedicated music venue.

Jake Schneider of Boulder-based booking and management agency Madison House thinks we may be ready for some changes. As the director of music development, Schneider is responsible for the routing and booking of tours for local and national artists across America and sometimes internationally.

Schneider believes we have a vibrant scene, but we need more venues.

“Right now, places like Lazy Dog and Shine are doing great at what they do, but a multi-genre 100- to 300-person concert venue like Tulagi’s is needed in order to support local developing artists. It could even be a blank canvas — perhaps an arts space, where each band could go in and the room could feel like it should as it relates to each band.”

In his experience, Schneider has seen university towns similar to Boulder experience good success with smaller capacity venues that cater to all demographics.

“There’s no reason in my mind to think we are not ready for another smaller-size concert venue in Boulder,” he says.

Emerging Boulder rock band West Water Outlaws is one of the few bands to break out of playing local venues and tour extensively across the nation in the past year. In 2013 they played more than 100 shows, including several at SXSW. Guitarist Blake Rooker thinks the lack of a midsize venue where all genres of bands can develop their sound is what’s missing.

“I’d really like to see a smaller venue — a 200- to 300-person room, perhaps where someone could farm opening acts.”

Rooker thinks there’s a huge jump from playing music in bars to playing larger venues. “The hardest thing about coming up in Boulder right now as a band is that jump from playing the bar set to a music set at the Fox,” he says.

Rooker suggests that a smaller venue could aid in building the music community by providing a way to bring musicians together.

“It would be great if there was a cool spot where people could hang out and get to know everyone — like a networking spot to build new bands,” he says.

Boulder-based band Rose Hill Drive owns a unique history unlike many others in our city. They have shared the stage with The Who, Pete Townsend, Van Halen, Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, Wilco, Queens Of The Stone Age and Stone Temple Pilots. Jake Sproul of Rose Hill Drive agrees that while there are a number of venues doing a good job booking local, developing artists, he also sees a specific lack of a small venue.

“There needs to be a diversity of music represented — and it gets tricky with rock,” he says. “Bands like West Water Outlaws can currently play basically at The Fox. You can book a bluegrass band in multiple places, but once you talk about rock bands, you run into difficulties with sound regulations, etc.”

Sproul feels there is room in Boulder for more live music, and that it’s important “on a really local business level. It’s our responsibility, if we are into music, to make sure that as many genres of music are happening in as many locations as possible.”

While discussing the news that Rose Hill Drive has been in the studio working on new music, Sproul pointed out the importance of developing musicians being exposed to numerous types of music and genres.

“Kids need to hear the sounds of big energy and feel it in their bones,” he says.

Matthew Fritz, manager of local jamming/jazz/ funk band Springdale Quartet sees a need for a small venue as well.

“In order to expose CU students to a different genre like Springdale, it would be great if there was a place that sold tickets at an affordable price where students who might not be old enough to get into The Fox or other venues would be exposed to different sounds,” he says.

Fritz sees a unique opportunity for local bands to fill a smaller venue as a stepping stone in their career, noting that two of the most valuable words in the music industry are “sold out.” Fritz thinks if university students hear those words enough in conjunction with a local band, they might be inclined to go see them and maybe invite their friends, too.

Aside from the possible need for another venue, there are other suggestions from area professionals.

Danny Shafer has worked in the local Boulder music scene for more than 23 years. He has worn multiple hats as a musician and a booking agent for both The Pearl Street Pub and Conor O’Neill’s.

With all that experience, Shafer has a specific set of advice for bands looking to take things to the next level.

“A lot of people think that we need more medium-size venues,” he says. “I think that may or may not be true, but we need to show that we are all doing better with what we have now, or no one will want to have a medium-size venue.”

In order to improve our local music scene in Boulder, Shafer would like to see local bands and the current venues work more efficiently together. “We really need to have musicians and venues show up for each other.”

He explains further: “The music business is one of no rules. Many times there are no contracts, staffs rotate, and communication is inefficient. I’d like to see bands take their gigs seriously — know what sound they need beforehand, have posters, show up on time, and communicate more effectively. I like to book bands that are psyched to be there.”

Shafer is quick to mention that there are numerous positives working in our community.

“In our scene, listeners appreciate original music,” he says. “I think that’s something that we need to feel great about in Boulder. People have always supported music here. I think even brand new local bands that work on their sound can really stand out quickly in this town.”

Producer and DJ Alex Botwin (Paper Diamond) agrees with some of Shafer’s observations about the positives in Boulder, and in Colorado in general. Botwin originally moved to Boulder because he saw the electronic music scene thriving — and he thought it was going to be a hotbed. Although Botwin recently moved to Los Angeles part-time in order to pursue creative projects, he will continue to reside part-time in Colorado because he loves it here so much.

“Big names have come out of Colorado, like Big Gigantic and Pretty Lights. Colorado and Boulder are great because they are somewhat flexible and forward thinking in terms of the music scene,” he says.

Monica Whittington of local band Monocle suggests finding a way to define the musical community currently, and then build bridges between Boulder and nearby towns.

“I think it’s important to be confident and strong in our community, and to extend the reach beyond our town by inviting bands from Denver and Fort Collins to play together,” she says.

Whittington likes the idea of collaborating and building a diverse and strong musical community, much like what the nonprofit band incubator Spokesbuzz is doing in Fort Collins and guitarist Inaiah Lujan of The Haunted Windchimes is doing in Pueblo.

How the music scene evolves in Boulder is anyone’s guess. One thing is clear — the sounds of local bands are out there waiting for more listeners.