By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
The Rocky Mountain Music Association, a group that's promoted local acts and musicians for ten years, has faced plenty of challenges during the Nineties. Early in the decade, attendance at its annual MusicFest events began to fall off precipitously; in fact, the turnout for a daylong bash at the University of Denver in 1995 was so catastrophically low that the RMMA seemed doomed to sink into a mire of debt and disappointment. But a handful of volunteers led by Cherri Morris, a member of Denver's Mean Uncle Mike, kept the alliance alive. Today these true believers are hopeful that MusicFest 97, scheduled to take place on Sunday, September 7, along a stretch of Broadway between 1st Avenue and Cedar, will re-establish the association's credibility even as it provides a wide range of talented bands, including Brethren Fast, Latin Hot Mix, Wichita River and Sonic Museum, with an opportunity to be heard by a larger public. But a conflict is brewing behind the scenes of the showcase--and if former RMMA boardmember John Carter has his way, the result will be a complete revamping of the organization.
Carter has a long history of supporting area performers; a few years back he ran a store called Locals' Music that specialized in recordings by Colorado artists. He was also an early believer in the power of the Internet, and after Locals' Music went under, he attempted to keep its spirit alive via Jukenet, a Web site (at www.jukenet.com) that hyped the area scene. According to him, he attended his first RMMA board meeting in July 1995 to tout the wonders of technology and became a boardmember early the next year. Miscommunication followed. Morris and others on the RMMA's ruling council believed that Carter was going to set up a Web site for them and were disappointed when he kept coming up with fresh reasons why he had not yet done so. (The board eventually found someone else to put the RMMA into cyberspace; its address is www.denvermusic.com.) For his part, Carter says Morris never understood why he had gotten involved with the RMMA in the first place. "I wasn't there to be Cherri's little Web-page publisher. The Web page was secondary to the organization itself, and there were so many problems with it at a basic level that I felt we needed to address them before we could do anything else."
The charges made by Carter are certainly plentiful. He complains that the RMMA's office, in a space on the premises of the American Vogue vintage-clothing store, is not easily accessible to the public; that boardmembers are not elected democratically; and that the association's books have not been audited in recent memory. He implies that Morris runs the RMMA like her own fiefdom. Many of Carter's allegations seem motivated by personality conflicts between him and Morris, but he insists that's not the case. "Cherri, in her heart, is totally devoted and committed, and the RMMA would have sunk three years ago if it wasn't for her," he notes. "But because of the way she went about rescuing it, she's let the organization drift away into apathy and attrition."
The situation came to a head in early 1997, when Carter asked the board to appoint Terry Minggia, a candidate of his own choosing, as the RMMA's chairman, himself as vice chairman and Morris as treasurer. Morris countered by mentioning an e-mail message sent to her by Carter that she found lewd. (The offending passage, which Carter says was intended as a joke, was, "I'm assertive and direct, which is healthy. Or you can look at it this way: I'm firm, I'm hard, I'm erecting an organizational pillar, I'm coming forth with ejaculations of systemic catalysts, and not only will I keep the ball rolling, but you're really going to enjoy it. Relax, I'm not trying to make you sore.") She then moved that Carter be voted off the RMMA board. Seconds later, he was.
But Carter didn't simply go away. He sent letters to Governor Roy Romer and Mayor Wellington Webb claiming that the RMMA was not being run properly and suggesting that it should not be eligible for its nonprofit, tax-exempt status. Webb representatives subsequently investigated these accusations and gave the RMMA a clean bill of health, but Carter was not satisfied. As MusicFest 97 approached, he passed out letters to Broadway merchants that stated, "Please be informed that Cherri Morris is not an elected representative of the RMMA and there is in fact no valid board of directors currently in existence." The document characterized the festival as a "tax-subsidized, illegally administered event" and hinted that business owners would be liable "for any debts or claims against [them] in relation to this event."
Predictably, Morris was incensed and immediately assured attendees at a meeting of the Broadway Terrace Merchants Association that Carter was merely blowing smoke. Ronnie Crawford, owner of American Vogue and American Aces, as well as president of the association, says Morris succeeded. "I think his intention was to be disruptive and to hurt Cherri," Crawford says. "But we let all the merchants know that everything's fine." He concludes, "It's one of those things that you see so much of in the music business--of people fighting over little things. So many of them have egos that are beyond belief."