By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
"There's no place to play" is among the most common laments offered by local musicians who specialize in originals, and while this is something of an exaggeration, it reflects a real problem on the Denver scene. What follows is a tale of three area clubs--one that's stopped booking bands entirely, one that's narrowed its focus, and one that's staying the course in spite of an ownership change.
The Market Street Lounge, at 1417 Market in lower downtown, has provided a forum for party-friendly area groups for quite a while now, and anyone who's ever stood in the seemingly endless line to the venue's sole bathroom can testify to its popularity. But following a July 1 benefit performance by Jerry's Kids, the powers that be decided to close down the operation entirely. The plan calls for the space to be incorporated into Old Chicago, the eatery next door. Instead of music listeners, the space will contain pool tables, video games and so on.
Why? According to Bruce Senti, general manager of Old Chicago and former overseer of the Lounge, "It was difficult running a restaurant and a music venue together. Because the two are connected to each other by joining doors, the music level was too loud. People who made the choice to come to Old Chicago were subjected to it, whether they wanted to be or not."
Senti confirms that the club was pulling its financial weight: "The room was very successful. That was the hard thing about closing. But it was something we felt we had to do." He adds, "There's definitely been some disappointment from people. We had some great bands that were committed to us from the beginning. But hopefully they were able to use the room as a launching spot to bigger and better things."
Most of them won't be going to Seven South, at 7 South Broadway--at least not for a while. Earlier this decade, Seven South was as hip an original-music joint as Denver had to offer, and it regularly drew throngs to see locals and national rockers on the fringes of the fringe. But, as the club's Nancy Kennedy notes, "audiences seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. And so many of the bands that used to do well here have broken up. Right now, we'd be hard-pressed to book a straight blend of rock."
As a result, Kennedy has decided to try something different; the latest entertainment lineup, largely conceived by promoters Tom Headbanger and Tim Alexander, focuses on forward-looking dance music and goth. Thursdays have been dubbed "Methadone Klinik" and feature high-intensity dance beats chosen by DJs Double Hit Mickey and Deadly Buddha of the Deadly Systems crew, as well as the Royal Sugar Twist Clan's Airick Heater--aka Sugar Twist Kids leader Eric Heater, a onetime Westword cover boy (see "Some Like It Hot," April 4, 1996). On Fridays, "Haj: A Darkwave Pilgrimage" celebrates all things goth. And on Saturdays, "Sound Barrier" pumps out hard electronica courtesy of DJ Tower and DJ Chromer. Other extreme events also dot the Seven South schedule; an example is the Wednesday, July 15, show featuring profile subject PKU (see page 92).
Kennedy is mildly encouraged by the response to Seven South's new sound. "The turnouts have been adequate," she says. "And that's better than it was. With rock it was so up and down. And now, if it's a slow night, you only have one DJ looking at you disappointed instead of fifteen musicians." The folks who've been turning out, Kennedy goes on, "aren't big drinkers. They're dancers, and really young; we've had to do heavy carding. But they're all so nice that it's kind of tempting to stay with this. And I think it's building a little."
Still, Kennedy confesses to missing rock and roll. "I actually thought the bands we were getting at the end were better than ever," she says. "But audiences were so fickle that none of them could build a base of fans. People would be like, 'We've heard them once. We don't need to hear them again.' And I can't pull bands out of a hat. So I'll just concede rock to other clubs for a while."
That's good news for Wendy Wikstrand, who took over Area 39, at 3900 Pecos, in mid-April. Wikstrand, who once published a "rock-and-roll gossip comic" called The Adventures of Grandma Dynamite and organized a local band contest called the Granny Awards, has renamed the venue Grandma's Area 39 and remodeled both inside and out. "We've really spruced up the interior, and we painted the exterior black, so it really stands out," she says. But in other ways, the club hasn't changed. "We still consider ourselves a band bar," she points out. "We try to make the bands as comfortable as possible, because they're the ones who bring the people in."
Haylar Garcia had the same notion in mind when he founded Area 39 in 1996; as a longtime local musician (he's best known for his participation in the Hippie Werewolves and Johnson), he wanted to conjure up an environment that both artists and their followers would enjoy. But last year he began to feel that running the club was taking too much time away from his more creative enterprises, including Audio 39, a recording studio in the Area 39 space. As a result, he sold the venue to longtime pal Wikstrand. "He still owns Audio 39," Wikstrand emphasizes, "and he's still around a lot. But I'm running the bar."