The Home of the Rave

Promoters hurry to get their acts together -- before parents, police and the courts decide the party's over.

Last July, Heath and Irvin were forced to cancel Summer of Love, scheduled for the Mishawaka Amphitheater, after Larimer County Sheriff James Alderden petitioned a judge to issue a temporary restraining order preventing the event. In court, the sheriff voiced concerns about traffic and rampant drug use; he also suggested, erroneously, that the party had been sold over capacity. But Irvin was not permitted to respond to this or any other assertion; the judge didn't let him speak. Had he been able to address the hearing, Heath would have pointed out that by leasing a licensed concert venue, obtaining insurance and hiring a security force and paramedics to work the event, Out of Our Heads had met, and actually surpassed, all of the requirements that Larimer County imposes on concerts and special events.

"I found out later that there had been a rave in Fort Collins the week before where some kid overdosed," Heath says. "The promoters were idiots who had no idea what they were doing. When the county found out about our event, they didn't realize that we were not the same company, that we were professionals. It sort of felt like they were on a mission, a manhunt. They found out about the event through the Web and sent deputies to our map point in Boulder to find out about the location."

Summer of Love was canceled at 11 a.m., about nine hours before ticket-holders were expected to start trickling in. After an ill-conceived effort to relocate the event (to an empty field that was located on the Pawnee National Grasslands, as Heath learned from the rangers who showed up to ticket him), Heath and Irvin were forced to admit defeat. They refunded all ticket sales and ate the money they'd spent on talent; whether or not a DJ actually plays a set, he must still be paid for one, put up for the night and flown home. In this case, four DJs, including Linus out of England, had to be accommodated.

John Johnston
Attorney Cris Campbell watches out for rave promoters.
John Johnston
Attorney Cris Campbell watches out for rave promoters.

"I still have not recovered from the financial blow of that," Heath says. "It bankrupted me. I refuse to believe how much money that cost me. But I think it proved something about us. If we were a fly-by-night company, if we weren't dedicated to what we were doing, we would have been out of here after that. I think the biggest test of whether a promoter is legit is if they can take a hit and come back."

Heath himself is taking a break until promoters and law-enforcement officials can reach some common understanding. But his bust also served as a wake-up call for other area promoters, who envision the same nightmare scenario for one of their events. Electronic artists now command fees that rival those of popular rock artists; since most raves feature three or four DJs, the talent budget alone is daunting. It's not unusual for events that once cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 to now reach the $150,000 range, Rushing says. That's a lot of money to gamble on an event that skirts the boundaries of legality and could be shut down at a moment's notice.

Recognizing these new realities, some promoters have realized that the only way to sustain themselves and the scene is to follow the music's evolution and move wholly aboveground, joining other promotion companies already there. Companies like Denver's Together Productions, which began as Come Together in 1993 and has since grown into the state's biggest production company. And although they sometimes suffer the criticism of scenesters and other promoters who feel they've become too corporate and turned into traditional concert promoters, owners Brad Roulier and Jason Bills have done more to smooth relationships with city officials than any other rave promoters in the state.

In 1999 the pair signed a contract with the Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation Department that allowed them to rent City Auditorium -- a fully licensed, city-owned historic concert venue -- for three bona fide rave events that year and five the following year. In 2000, they began working with the City of Denver to place events in the Denver Coliseum and the National Western Stock Show Complex. For Together Productions, the notion that self-preservation is analogous to a sellout simply demonstrates ravers' romantic -- and false -- sense of their place in the world.

"The facade of this being some sort of movement that can't be treated like a business is totally over," says Bills. "We still do things to kind of maintain the mystique. We usually won't print the location of the event on our fliers. But the city and the police department are well aware far in advance of what's going on. All they have to do is look at our contract with the City Auditorium, and they'll know what we have planned for the next twelve months."

According to Bills and Roulier, renting licensed, fully operational buildings is not only easier -- there's no need to worry about renting fifty portable toilets, say, or a myriad of other things that open-air or non-traditional venues require -- but it also sends a clear message.

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