By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
The 1997-98 Denver concert-promotion war has led to a handful of casualties: For instance, booker Jeff Krump lost his position at Jacor Concerts when the folks at Jacor's radio wing decided to shrink the size of the financially tentative operation (Feedback, October 1). At the same time, however, another new combatant--Bill Graham Presents/Chuck Morris Presents--has emerged from the field of battle stronger than it was when the scrap began. During an interview that appeared in the January 22 edition of this column, Chuck Morris, a longtime area promoter and manager, described the newly formed company as a "boutique" establishment that would likely put on between ten and twenty major concerts during its first twelve months in business--but that's not the way things turned out. By year's end, BGP/CMP will have staged nearly fifty events at a variety of venues, and Morris recently announced that the operation has signed an agreement making it the primary booker at World Arena in Colorado Springs.
Most Denverites aren't familiar with World Arena, a sports and entertainment complex that seats around 9,000 folks, but Morris doesn't mind. He expects that the shows he stages there will be patronized almost entirely by those living in the Colorado Springs metropolitan area and points south. "In the old days, it was hard for bands to do Denver and Colorado Springs back-to-back," he says. "The shows would end up hurting each other. But Colorado Springs has gone through this unbelievable explosion in growth, and all of us believe that it's now a market that can support itself. That's why we're using a ticketing agency [Colorado Neighborhood Box Office] that doesn't even sell tickets in Denver. It only goes as far north as Castle Rock."
So why should Denver residents care about this pact? In Morris's opinion, the chance to do two sizable concerts in Colorado rather than only one may convince acts that might otherwise have skipped the state to reconsider. "If you know anything about concert routing, you know that Denver sometimes is very isolated," he says. "There's not much very close to it. But this gives bands a chance to double up without having to travel very far--which is the same thing that happened with Sacramento. Bands always resisted playing there and in San Francisco, because the San Francisco show would always suffer. But Sacramento has gotten so much bigger that now bands play both of them all the time. And that's been good for everyone."
Some observers dispute this rosy assessment, citing as evidence a pair of Aerosmith dates in April--one at World Arena that sold out, and another at McNichols Arena that fell well short of capacity. But Morris feels that drawing conclusions from this example would be foolish given that his outfit promoted the Colorado Springs date and Universal Concerts handled the engagement at McNichols. "I'm not going to comment on anyone else's promoting ability," he says, "but if you look at the grosses around the country, the Denver date was one of the weakest."
Morris expects to bring between 12 and 25 concerts per annum to World Arena, including a December 8 appearance featuring the latest version of Journey. "It's a really unique market there," he allows. "They've got a huge audience for Christian music--we just did really well there with Michael W. Smith--but there's also a big following for hard rock because of KILO, which has been a prominent heavy-rock station for twenty years. It crosses a lot of boundaries."
So, too, does Morris, who also heads a management house, Chuck Morris Enterprises. Just hired to fill a vacancy in the latter left by the departure of veteran wheeler-dealer Mark Bliesener (Feedback, August 13) is Matt Hickey, who's worked for the past four years with the Chicago-based concern that oversees the career of the alt-country combo Wilco. "He's also managed Blue Mountain for a long time, and as soon as he gets here, they'll be coming under our umbrella," Morris says. "And we've also signed the Radiators" to a lineup that includes Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Leftover Salmon and Leo Kottke.
In other words, 1998 has been very, very good to Morris. "We're putting together a great team," he notes. "And frankly, we're doing better than I thought we would. I'm having more fun than I've had in years. I feel like I've been born again."
Kirwan Brown might say the same. The talented bassist left Opie Gone Bad under melodramatic circumstances (Feedback, February 19), turning up a short time later in New York. But after only a month in the City That Never Sleeps, Brown relocated to Dallas, and since then, he and a friend, pianist Pete Drungle, have gotten involved in a pair of intriguing projects: the latest groups led by Jimi Tunnell, former guitarist of Steps Ahead, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, a onetime Ornette Coleman sideman who released several of the best jazz albums of the Eighties. (If you can find copies of Nasty, Mandance, Barbecue Dog and Decode Yourself, all recorded between 1981 and 1985 with a band known as the Decoding Society, purchase them immediately.)
Tunnell, who's also toured with the Brecker Brothers and the Zawinul Syndicate (fronted by Weather Report keyboardist Joe Zawinul), calls his ensemble the Trilateral Commission, and Brown is happy to be a part of it. But he's most effusive when quizzed about his association with Jackson. "We're working on all-new material," he reveals, "and he uses the harmolodic method that he learned when he was in Ornette's Prime Time. It's a difficult thing to analyze, but suffice it to say that it's melody-centered, and the melody itself implies the harmony and the rhythm. And he's amazing with melodies. There are stacks of them everywhere in his house, each with its own title and its own notation--and if you ask him to sing one, he can do it from memory. It's really a fascinating thing."