By Noah Hubbell
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A drive through downtown provides many clues to Denver's cultural ranking. Does the city have an adequate number of scary-looking dive bars? Good bookstores, galleries and coffee shops? Plentiful parking? Is there a building with large, sculpted insects climbing all over it?
The answer to that final question is yes, of course: In the 1600 block of 15th Street, four giant bugs crawl across the facade of Rock Island nightclub. In Backwash's view, giant bugs on a building say something about a city. They say we area city. In New York and Los Angeles, for example, there's cool stuff all over everything, and it usually indicates that the cities -- or, at least, the owners of the buildings -- are cool, too.
Rock Island has been pretty cool since 1986, when owner David Clamage opened it just down the street from the Wazee Supper Club, then an urban outpost. Although it's been primarily a dance club over the years, Clamage has tried different ways to attract crowds. Recently those efforts have included some interesting and often successful attempts. Last year, for instance, Rock Island introduced a Friday Basement DJ series and stepped up its all-ages events on Saturdays; on Tuesdays, DJ K-NEE began hosting "So What" -- a goulash of Afrobeat, hip-hop, acid jazz and house.
Clamage did not enjoy the same success when he broadened the club's offerings to include live music. In fact, Rock Island has suspended Factory, a live-music night that started five months ago. Whether the blame for Factory's failure lies in competition from other venues, general apathy or "the fact that it's impossible to get a parking space," as Clamage suggests, Rock Island wasn't breaking even on it. Not even close.
"We wanted to create a little bumpy basement scene by bringing in these bands that might have been behind the knowledge curve of those playing the 15th Street Tavern, the Lion's Lair and the Cricket," he says. The reality, though, is that lesser-known bands often draw lesser audiences. "The bands that we booked were great. But when you have to pay six or seven musicians and provide a P.A., you take a beating when fourteen people show up."
Clamage says he is open to revisiting the live-music concept; in the meantime, he's disheartened but not surprised by Factory's fate. "We hoped that the market would support live music more," he says, "but there are a lot of clubs down here that do a good job of it. It was maybe a leap for some people to think of Rock Island as a place for live music. It is disappointing."
Considering the variety of bands that landed on the Island -- the Dinnermints, the Emmas, Transhypnotic and the Pin Downs among them -- it's a disappointment that should be shared by fans of live sounds.