By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
When the first shots in the Denver promoter wars were fired earlier this year, most observers figured that the primary combatants would be Universal Concerts, the company that took over what was left of the empire created by Barry Fey, and BGP/CMP, a firm that mates a powerhouse West Coast operation founded by the late Bill Graham with the regional know-how and canny business sense of Chuck Morris, the head of Colorado's largest band management company (Big Head Todd and the Monsters are among Morris's clients). But things aren't always as simple as they seem. Universal and BGP/CMP have indeed been trading volleys: The former's summer lineup is loaded with heavy hitters like Van Halen, while the latter's roster includes Bonnie Raitt and other sizable names. But Jacor Concerts, a wing of the Cincinnati-based radio conglomerate that controls eight major stations locally and around 200 outlets nationwide, has also gotten into the mix, and it's stirred up plenty of controversy in the process.
The local music community is abuzz with rumors that Jacor has been attempting to muscle in on other promoters' business using questionable or possibly illegal practices--such as threatening to withhold an artist's airplay unless Jacor gets a piece of the action, for example. None of the many concert insiders contacted by Westword would go on the record about specific allegations against the conglomerate, and Jacor representatives passionately deny all claims of wrongdoing, including using airplay as a bargaining chip. What Jacor spokespersons do acknowledge, though, is that they play hardball--and Jacor Concerts' approach to marketing a reggae festival coming to Red Rocks on August 4 proves it. The show is titled "Teva's 'Spirit of Unity' World Tour," but the spirit Jacor has exhibited while hyping it is one not of unity, but of confrontation.
A little history is in order. Promoter Bill Bass has brought more reggae acts to Colorado than any other person, and he's credited with creating Reggae on the Rocks, an annual summer festival that's become both a Denver-area tradition and an internationally respected event. (Boulder's W.A.R.? imprint just issued its second CD keyed to Reggae on the Rocks. The disc that preceded it was played on more than 150 stations across the country last year, including Jacor-owned KBCO-FM/97.3.) Bass's reputation when it comes to reggae is such that other area promoters seldom book national reggae acts at all--and when they do, they almost always involve Bass on some level.
This year's Reggae on the Rocks, a two-day affair for the second consecutive year, is supposedly the twelfth edition of the series, but it's actually the eleventh; Bass skipped the number seven because, he says, "I didn't like the way it looked in Roman numerals." (He explains this quirk by noting, "I was high a lot back then.") The acts Bass booked for the dates in question (August 22 and 23) are impressive: Burning Spear, the Long Beach Dub All-Stars, Toots and the Maytals, Eek-a-Mouse, Heavyweight Dub Champion, Alpha Blondy and the Solar System Band, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Majek Fashek, Justin Hinds and the Dominoes, Boukman Eksperyans and Mad Professor. Bass is understandably proud of the schedule, and he paid a lot of coin for it--$190,000, he claims. But when he went to the folks at Jacor to ask if the show could be presented by KBCO, which had been associated with ten of the previous eleven Reggae on the Rocks concerts, he was told that they had no interest in participating.
Bass got the same story from KTCL-FM/93.3, another Jacor station, until he added Reel Big Fish, a young ska combo, to the lineup. But by the time KTCL came back to the table, Universal, with whom Bass is working on Reggae on the Rocks, had already agreed to let KXPK-FM/96.5 (the Peak) present the shows, along with the American Music Festival on July 11 and 12. According to Bass, this decision ratcheted up the tension in his already awkward relationship with Jacor. (He makes reference to another dust-up between the two entities, but he declines to speak about it.) Even so, he claims to have been shocked when he learned that KTCL, a station that seldom plays reggae anymore, was behind a rival reggae festival. "After that, it was pretty obvious why they didn't want anything to do with mine," he says.
The "Spirit of Unity" World Tour, made up of Steel Pulse, Buju Banton, Shaggy, Beres Hammond, Lucky Dube and Let's Go Bowling, is slated to hopscotch across the continent this summer, and the price tag on its talent (approximately $60,000) was reasonable compared with Reggae on the Rocks. Still, Bass is certain that other local promoters wouldn't have touched it--and given that no reggae fest aside from those overseen by Bass has visited Denver in the past decade, he may be right. However, Rob Buswell, head of Jacor Concerts, disputes his claim. "It was a good package of artists," he says, "and after they involved the Peak, we decided to do our own reggae festival this year. And if we hadn't, either the people who put together the tour would have self-promoted, or someone else around here would have taken it. So we didn't feel there was any reason why we shouldn't do it."