By Brian Turk
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By Taylor Boylston
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Shortly thereafter, KTCL jocks began referring to "reggae at Red Rocks" when ballyhooing "Spirit of Unity," and the words also turned up in a Westword ad. Bass, who has copyrighted the "Reggae on the Rocks" phrase, fired off a letter to Jacor demanding that the company make changes immediately. Mike O'Connor, program director for KTCL, says he was more than happy to comply. "He is absolutely right that at first a couple of DJs said 'reggae at Red Rocks,' and the print ad in Westword said it, too, to define what the 'Spirit of Unity' tour was about," he says. "But the last thing we wanted to do was cause confusion. We felt like calling it 'reggae at Red Rocks' was giving him free advertising. And we don't want to sell tickets to Reggae on the Rocks; we want to sell them for 'Spirit of Unity.' So we corrected that."
What wasn't changed was ad copy in which KTCL jocks promoted "Spirit of Unity" by describing Reggae on the Rocks as inordinately expensive (tickets are $30 for one day and $55 for both versus $20-$22.50 for "Spirit of Unity") and musically weak by comparison with the Jacor-sponsored event. This struck Bass as a personal attack. "The whole thing is rude--really fucking rude," he says. "It's rude to people who've gotten married at Reggae on the Rocks, and it's rude to everyone who's gone to it for eleven years in a row. And anyone who knows anything about reggae knows that mine is a better show--a much better show. But they're spreading misinformation about it, thinking that they can turn a pig's ear into a silk purse.
"I've dealt with these stations for fifteen to eighteen years, and everything's always been great. So I'm incredibly fucking mystified by this."
When told about Bass's response, KTCL's O'Connor shrugs it off. "We're not using disparaging tactics," he insists. "We're selling against price. Our show is cheaper--and in our opinion, our lineup is stronger. And we're competitive. We want our show to do better than his, and we hope concertgoers will choose ours over it. If it's at his expense, that's just the way it is. There are only a certain amount of concert-going dollars out there, and we'd like to attract as many of those as possible."
Jacor Concerts' Buswell elaborates on O'Connor's sentiments. At first he argues that by complaining about Jacor promoting "Spirit of Unity" in Denver, Bass is attempting to restrict the amount of reggae Coloradans can hear--but when it's noted that KTCL's advertising implies that consumers should skip Reggae on the Rocks rather than attend both shows, he backs off and says, "I can't disagree with you on that." He subsequently paints Bass, a legendarily cantankerous person, as responsible for most of his own problems. "He called me last year two days before Reggae on the Rocks and started ripping KBCO apart to me," he says. "He was insulting to me, insulting to our program directors, insulting to our station, and really left everyone at KBCO with a bad taste in their mouth about working with Bill anymore. And this year he booked his show on the same day as Lilith Fair, which for KBCO is a much more core event than Reggae on the Rocks. So KBCO had to make a choice, and they chose Lilith.
"Bill thinks we're trying to put him out of business--he's a fairly paranoid person--but we've got more important things to do than that. I don't know how to impress this on him, and I don't really care. But every step of the way, he finds something that we're trying to do to him, and it's such a crock of shit. On a personal and professional level, I've really been getting harassed by him. We've been friends since 1989, and over the years, I'd seen him treat a lot of people like shit, but he'd never addressed me that way until I came over here--and then he started treating me like he treats everyone else. We've been battling since last August, and there was a three-month period where I was losing sleep over it. But I finally got to the point where I realized I'm just going to have to live without Bill Bass being my friend. He's like a cartoon character, and there was a point in my life where I really liked that about him. But it's gotten old. Really old."
With Buswell obviously uninterested in kissing and making up, Bass is left to hope that Reggae on the Rocks can survive the "Spirit of Unity" onslaught. Thus far, luck seems to be with him: He's sold over 500 tickets more at this point in his campaign than at the same time last year--and 1997's event was Bass's most profitable ever. (In the meantime, "Spirit of Unity" tickets are hardly moving at all, prompting gossip about cancellation that O'Connor and Buswell deny.) But Bass is still worried that Jacor has permanently damaged his reputation as Denver's reggae promoter. "I've thought about running ads on KTCL saying, 'Remember, there's another reggae show at Red Rocks--and you get what you pay for,'" he says. "But it would be counterproductive to do that when they're attacking me every hour. And how could I trust them to run the ads when they're supposed to? How could I trust people like that?"