Backwash

During ski season, local promoters know there's gold in them thar hills.

A run for the money: The combination of white powder and loud music has long been a recipe for a good time -- probably ever since the discovery that chewing coca leaves really enhanced the, um, spiritual feeling of the tribal drum circle. Although there's little shortage of powder-induced fun down here in the flatlands (as a visit to the bathroom of your average Denver club demonstrates -- the longest lines are inside the stalls), it's at about 10,000 feet that you find the real action -- albeit with a different kind of powder. Local meteorological experts (Channel 9 weather guru Mike Nelson, at least) predict heavy snow throughout the remainder of the winter, in contrast to last season's relatively meager dumpage. And while that gives skiers and snowboarders more reason to celebrate than a Gortex sale at REI, it also gives local musicians and promoters a lift.

As a growing mass of calendar-savvy artists are discovering, gigging in mountain towns is a tidy way to fill in the holes left vacant by overcrowded schedules at Denver and Boulder clubs and to bridge the time and distance between dates in surrounding states. Conventional wisdom holds that ski-town venue owners know that skiers, tired from falling down the mountain all day, want to eat, drink and be merry, and that they generally spend more money when they're being entertained. While many of the gigs are located in lodges and resorts at the end of that last run, the ski season also creates a kinetic cultural energy in the surrounding towns, both big and small. For roughly four months of the year, normally sleepy communities like Avon, Edwards, Gunnison and Winter Park fill many of their clubs, bars and theaters with music nearly every night of the week -- a marked departure from the slow seasons of spring and fall. (Backwash recently spoke to the entertainment editor of a Vail publication who said he was able to take an entire month off after skiers left town last year, confident that local venues would resume a less frenetic pace and welcome all the area's Jimmy Buffett cover bands back to their stages.) When you add up the afternoon shows, après-ski performances and evening gigs, Colorado bands have hundreds of places to play during peak season -- i.e., right now.

Still, the mountain-town market is a largely uncharted territory that some smart promoters have just begun to explore. Frank Dewey, a founding partner of both Bill Bass Concerts and Golden Axe Concerts, recently founded Colorado Concerts, a promotional company whose sole focus is placing mid-sized touring bands in mountain-town gigs on their way to somewhere else, usually following Denver-area shows at venues like the Fox and Gothic theaters. Dewey's current calendar finds Leftover Salmon at the Double Diamond in Aspen on January 18 and 19, Vinyl at 8150 in Vail on January 19, and Fishbone, also at the Double Diamond, on February 2. (The mountain-bound music lover can check the full schedule at coconcerts.com.)

Of course, bands the size of Fishbone are probably able to get dates where and when they request them, mountain town or no. Yet given the diminished number of artists willing to even come into Colorado during weather-heavy months (see "Alone on the Range," December 7, 2000), there's still plenty of opportunity for smaller artists to compete and get good gigs on ski-town stages -- and to get paid in the process. Doug Tackett operates the Littleton-based booking agency Road Dawg Touring Company (in addition to manning the bass in A Band Called Horsewith Uncle Nasty), and during the past couple of years, he's placed some of the national blues and rock artists on his roster (which includes Mem Shannon, Ray Manzarek and slide-blues guitarist Roy Rogers) in mountain towns. He's also worked with a disparate group of locals who prove you don't have to play half-hour space jams of Grateful Dead covers to cut it with high-elevation crowds: Paul Galaxy and the Galactics, Michelle and the Book of Runes, David Booker and Love.45 are among the Denver acts that have snagged mountain gigs under Tackett's guidance. He says larger locals with solid draws can generally expect decent guaranteed fees and, often, free rooms and food. But smaller bands are wise to treat mountain gigs as they would shows in their own city -- that is, they should be aggressive in their networking with agents and club owners and do promotional work to ensure a decent house. Whatever the band's status, a mountain-town booking means musicians can get out of Dodge without planning a full-fledged tour.

"There is a tremendous opportunity for small bands to explore these gigs and to get a crash course in traveling together," Tackett says. "It's a chance for them to see how they work together and get along in a confined space. And when it's a weekend trip up into the mountains, you can look at it as a paid vacation."

Tackett is always accepting submissions from bands hoping to get dates in Colorado and beyond; materials can be sent to him at 10464 Purgatorie Peak, Littleton, CO 80127; or e-mail roaddawgco@aol.com. Of course, you can go the indie route and start pounding the pavement -- or the powder -- on your own. The Web is a good resource for finding regional venue information (start with the Ariel Publicity site, www.arielpublicity.com, for a list of clubs statewide). Just be sure to bundle up and watch for avalanche warnings. Hopefully, the biggest ruckus will be on the stage.

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