What makes Denver's music scene successful (and unsuccessful)? Off-stage experts weigh in
This Saturday, at the twentieth Westword Music Showcase, we'll celebrate the remarkable depth and talent of the Denver music scene with more than 140 local bands on sixteen stages (in addition to an outdoor stage with some touring artists you can learn about elsewhere in this section). But it takes far more than musicians playing songs to make a successful music scene. We talked about what else is involved with four people who we think have made exceptional contributions here in Denver.
Photo credits below Clockwise from top left: Mane Rok, Virgil Dickerson, Eve Isaacks and Tony Mason Helin Mooxie
Mane Rok -- who by day is known as Sam Baron -- is always working, head down and focused on making the scene better one album, one show and one connection at a time. When he's not writing and producing solo records, working on his running collaboration Stay Tuned with DJ Tense or the conceptual Gem In I project with Ichiban and Inkline, he's connecting Denver hip-hop to the rest of the world.
Unlike the coastal and even Midwestern scenes, where neighboring cities can provide musicians with opportunities for connection and growth, Denver is an island in a sea of metropolis-free plains. This can make touring from here difficult, both financially and logistically, and many bands never leave. Mane Rok isn't one of them, though, and he has plenty to show for his connections across the country.
He's built a network of independent artists and collaborators partly by making the extra effort required to tour from Denver, booking shows for himself around the region -- something that sets him apart from many of his peers. That same network helps him facilitate people coming to Colorado. "I'm helping other artists," he says, "whether that be on the smallest of indie scales or national touring artists who are doing indie things on their own because they've stepped away from major labels."
The Internet has helped people build audiences online no matter where they are, but while a social-media following can help a band in a number of ways, it may not always sell tickets to shows -- especially outside that band's home town. Mane Rok knows there's still no substitute for hitting the pavement. "A lot of cats talk this super-huge game through...what they've built from the Internet. The gauge I use is, 'Well, can you fill the venue?,'" he says. Whether or not people are watching, Mane Rok is making Denver just a little less isolated.
-- Bree Davies
Tony Mason was just out of college when he started booking singer-songwriter shows around Denver. He worked his way into the punk scene at a friend's suggestion, and he's built a career putting on shows at places like the Larimer Lounge and Herman's Hideaway. Today he's the booking manager at Lost Lake Lounge. Despite his continued enthusiasm for Denver music, Mason's developed a healthy sense of pragmatism over the years. "I think our scene could become a lot more successful if these awesome local bands weren't playing three times a week in the same city," he says. "Also, too often I'll see a weird mash-up of a show that doesn't do that well. If it's not a fluid show, it probably won't be that successful."
But Mason thinks there are plenty of opportunities to build excitement in a scene that is benefiting from the side effects of a young, growing population. "It has a lot to do with the artists working together, booking shows together and promoting shows together," he says. "If you have a show going on with your band, make sure you're booking it with other bands you're excited to play with." He says he's always looking for shows where it's not just "a strong headliner and a bunch of random openers." Instead, he wants bills where each band is respected and where the bands are excited to play together. That's what translates directly into a great show for audience and performers alike. "I definitely think it's everybody working together," he says.
-- Tom Murphy
Eve Isaacks and Virgil Dickerson give their take on the next page.