By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
At the same time that Bill Bass is fighting a one-man battle against the Jacor empire, three other independent promoters in the city--Doug Kauffman, Jesse Morreale and Swank Management's Chris Swank--are banding together under the umbrella of Kauffman's company, nobody in particular presents. The coalition brings together the Ogden Theatre (which Kauffman owns), the Bluebird Theater (Swank's property) and Morreale's Gess Presents, which has operated on its own and as part of Fey Concerts. And although the trio initially claims that the promotional slugfest taking place right now was not a factor in their decision, they waffle a bit when pressed.
"It's been a promoter war for ten years for me, and it's never stopped," Kauffman says. "I've grown sick of that. I'm tired of fighting everybody and doing everything by myself. So maybe in the context of that, it did have something to do with it. And it's good to have allies who I actually get along with and like. That's rare in this business."
In concurring, Morreale says, "I don't deny that all of the other promoters who are here now have an effect on your psyche. But this happened because of the timing. This is just a natural evolution of trying to grow my assets. And now turned out to be the perfect time to do it."
Adds Swank, "We haven't really seen the effects of all of the changes with Universal and BGP yet, so we don't know what the fallout from all of that will be. But this allows us to get a leg up without having to do it when we're in a position where we don't want to be. Nobody's strong-arming us."
A few months ago, grapeviners were claiming that Kauffman, who recently founded his own ticketing service, TICKETCHOICE (see Feedback, April 30), was stretched too thin financially and was in danger of losing the Ogden. Kauffman scoffs at such reports: "That's the kind of thing people do to destabilize your company and create the perception that you're struggling," he says. "But the last three years have been the best I've ever had." He's done so well, in fact, that in February he went to Swank and offered to buy the Bluebird. "I've had my eye on it for a while," Kauffman confirms. "It's been successful, and I've always coveted it as a way to promote up-and-coming bands. With the Mercury Cafe concentrating on other things now, it's become the place where developing bands play first in this market, and agents call for it all the time."
At the time, Swank wasn't interested in selling out, but the more he, Kauffman and Morreale talked, the more they realized that teaming up could be mutually beneficial. "It just made sense to pool everybody's resources," Swank says. "Doug's really shrewd, but he's outgrown things. And now we'll be able to combine staffs. We'll have the same people managing both places and settling shows in both places." If that sounds like a prelude to layoffs, Swank says it shouldn't: "Jesse lost a couple of people that he won't rehire, but the way things look now, we won't have to let anybody at either the Ogden or the Bluebird go."
All three principals have grown accustomed to making their own decisions without anyone looking over their shoulders, and they say that should continue. "As far as major company decisions go, we'll all have an equal vote," Morreale reveals. "And it'll be great to have other people, other partners, to bounce things off of. But I think all of us will still be able to operate pretty independently."
"If Jesse wants to book a show, he won't have to ask permission to do it," Kauffman says.
Whether other promotion companies will keep bringing concerts to the Ogden and the Bluebird under the new arrangement is another question; now that nobody in particular presents is a larger, more formidable outfit, it's entirely conceivable that its competitors will grow to regard using the venues as giving aid and comfort to the enemy. But Swank doesn't sound too worried. "Bands really love to play the Ogden and the Bluebird," Swank says. "And since most concerts fall into the 400-1,400-seat range, people will still want to come here. Plus, you need to match the band with the house. Bands like to play to full houses, so you can't put a band that would do 300 people into the Paramount. They'd hate that. And you don't want to play at places that aren't rock-and-roll venues, like at a baseball bar."
"There are alternatives," Kauffman concedes, "like the Boulder Theater and the Fox [which recently inked a deal with BGP/CMP]. But a lot of agents want to bring bands to Denver because of the larger population base--or they want to play in both Denver and Boulder so that they can get two dates without really having to travel. Besides, the big guys in town haven't been knocking down my door to rent my facility, and we've been able to make it just fine. You just have to go on and try to survive and make a living--and that's gotten very tough in this business."