Interview: Governor Hickenlooper on why (and how) he wants to support Colorado music

Categories: Interviews

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Photo by Jonathan Shoup. More here.
John Hickenlooper at his 2011 inauguration.
Colorado Governor John Hicknlooper has long been invested in the culture of the state. As Denver's Mayor, Hickenlooper was a common sight at things like art gallery openings and concerts, and his roots in the community include co-founding Wynkoop Brewing Company in LoDo.

He has spent the past three and a quarter years as governor, which is both his most visible role to date and also the one that has him representing the broadest population. When Mayor Hickenlooper spoke effusively about local bands and their importance to the city, he was likely to meet with the approval of the majority of his constituents. Governor Hickenlooper must address the concerns of a much wider group, one that includes plenty of people who would rather there was no overlap between rock 'n' roll and their elected officials.

Yet Hickenlooper continues to stand behind things like The Fray and Red Rocks as integral parts of Colorado's identity. He has gone so far in recent years as to repeatedly claim that Denver has more live music venues than Austin or Nashville. The statistic raised our eyebrows, both because it seemed surprising and because it's not something every governor would go out of his way to talk about. So we asked him to tell us the origin of that figure, how he sees his role in supporting the arts and to describe a few of his favorite Colorado concerts.

Kiernan Maletsky: You have been talking about how there are more live-music venues in Denver than in Austin or Nashville, and we thought that was a surprising statistic, so we started to look into it a little bit. How did you get started talking about that?

John Hickenlooper: The first time was about five or six years ago, when Ryan Tedder first moved back from Los Angeles with OneRepublic. He came back to Denver, and I met him through Isaac Slade. I can't remember where we went, but we were watching some other band and he introduced me to Ryan Tedder. And Ryan or Isaac, one of them, mentioned how many more live-music venues Denver had than when they grew up in Colorado. And then somebody else mentioned that there are more live-music venues in Denver than there are in Austin, which I was very skeptical of.

I was mayor, so I had somebody in the Office of Cultural Affairs go and do a rough survey. It was 10 percent more, or whatever it was, I can't remember. But we had more live-music venues.

So then I started talking about it. And we did kind of a rough, real eyeball one on Nashville and it looked roughly the same. Some day I'd like to get the money and do -- or maybe some journalist will do -- the real, detailed analysis and prove it one way or the other.

I figured that alt-weeklies were not actually a bad place to start, so I called Chase Hoffberger at the Austin Chronicle, who manages their concert calendar, and asked him to count the places for which he felt like he could say, "These are all the venues that I, someone who writes about music for a living, will frequent in an effort to see original music, be it local or via a touring act."

Then Jon Solomon here at Westword did the same thing. Chase in Austin came back with 82 live music venues, and Jon came back with 84, conservatively.

I love that. Our numbers weren't that high. I'm glad to hear that there are more and more live-music venues. That's a healthy sign for our community.

Sure thing, yes. One of the problems with this is that it's a highly subjective measure, and what you decide counts as a live-music venue can be a different thing. The Austin Tourism Department will tell you they have something like 270 live music venues.

To me, because it's a subjective measure, the more interesting thing about you talking about this is why a governor of a state would see it as a valuable thing to be communicating to all kinds of groups: business groups, cultural groups, everything else, that live music is healthy in the city. Why do you see that as an important thing to communicate to people from all walks of life?

I talk all the time, not just about how many live-music venues we have, but the quality of music. So I talk about how the Lumineers moved out here from Brooklyn. They couldn't hear themselves think in Brooklyn. They came out here and suddenly things came together very powerfully. I talk about the Fray growing up here, OneRepublic growing up out here, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Nathaniel Rateliff, all these bands. I think these guys are just remarkably talented.

And I think that having that talent and having the music venues makes your city very attractive to the young kids who really help drive an economy, the kids who write code for the Internet or write software programming, those guys are oftentimes the geeks in school, the nerds, like I was -- a little bit on the sideline of the mainstream. They're not going on dates with cheerleaders and stuff, and they want to be in places that have lots of artists and musicians and just a thriving cultural community.

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28 comments
Bradford Ashington
Bradford Ashington

this is a country that voted for Saint Raygun and the Shrub TWICE....could it really be any worse with Hickie?

Jason Row
Jason Row

Wow. "Jollies." I haven't heard anyone use that term since 1979.

Gary White
Gary White

Austin is not a good example. The live music scene there has been slowly dying off for years replaced by harsh mainstream festivals and red tape.

Sonny Shaku Shomon Zwierkowski
Sonny Shaku Shomon Zwierkowski

We've got a ton of potential but we're definitely more spread out than Austin. We have plenty of potential though and I hope we do all we can to support the local music (and arts, poetry, etc.) scene here.

Ryan M. Cain
Ryan M. Cain

sorry, denver music scene doesn't compare to austin's at all.

Sarah Castle
Sarah Castle

The music scene in Austin vs. Denver, does not compare! The music scene in Austin is the scene....as it is the ” Music Capital of the World”. Denver has potential, but not the bug.

Ronnie Mooney
Ronnie Mooney

denver music scene doesnt come close to the scene in austin.

Bradley Crable
Bradley Crable

Hickendump is a joke! Can't wait for him to be gone!

Scott McMahon
Scott McMahon

True, but weed and music go hand in hand too. He's a hypocrite in general.

Joey Buhrer
Joey Buhrer

I'm not even sure Denver has the most talented music scene in the state.

Cody Russell
Cody Russell

In Austin the same bands play the same gigs every week. You can even catch the same act several nights a week at different venues. The difference is that the music scene in Austin is the tourist destination. There are people that are always in Austin from out of town to see those acts...and they may have a favorite venue/setting to catch it as they tend to be different. So the bands can get away with that.

Jason Row
Jason Row

I just like saying "Hickenlooper" over and over and over...don't you?

Haydee Schabelski
Haydee Schabelski

While I don't know if that's the case in Austin, Liz Willette is right about Denver.

Liz Willette
Liz Willette

That may be true but I think the difference is in Austin you wouldn't see the same bands playing 2-3 times a week. Here if you miss a local band they will most certainly play next week.

Tracy Strode
Tracy Strode

It would help if he would stop being so resistant to accept the new marijuana laws that are making his state so desirable to visit..... (people like to smoke pot at music shows in case you couldn't decipher the connection)

victoria176
victoria176

Ok. That's lovely. Can we work on PAYING THE ARTISTS who are bringing so much value to our city?

Mark Lawrey
Mark Lawrey

Denver has one of the most talented music scenes you will find in the nation!

Tyler Travis
Tyler Travis

Too bad half of them only have jam bands playing.

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