The Home of the Rave

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

According to Helen Gonzales, director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, the city is not in the business of shutting down or excluding legal businesses -- even raves. In considering license applications, her office does not consider the nature of an applicant's event so much as whether all requirements have been met. For entertainment-type endeavors, these usually include public hearings where members of the community are invited to voice their views. "We're bound by what the ordinances tell us," she explains. "The fact of the matter is that it is not currently possible to have an event that goes past 2 a.m. unless you have a permanent license. Maybe when the promoters call us up and they describe their event and someone tells them it's not possible, it's not because it's a rave. It's because the ordinances currently don't provide for what they're asking.

"To tell you the truth, I'm not even real sure what raves are," Gonzales adds. "Someone explained one to me, and it made sense, and it all sounded pretty harmless. I certainly won't accept a blanket statement that all raves are bad, though it does appear that some -- some -- of the promoters are not as on the up and up as they should be."

In his letter to Webb, Galaviz had complained that Chief Whitman routinely prohibits off-duty officers from working rave-type events that run past 2 a.m. By denying promoters access to police, he said, Whitman was actually undermining legitimate promoters' attempts to reduce drug activity at their events. But according to Lieutenant Tony Lopez, commander of the DPD's vice and narcotics bureau's street-enforcement section, the department is simply unwilling to provide off-duty personnel for events that, characteristically, are rife with illegal activity. "The chief recognizes that the majority of these events pose a potential threat to his officers, and he has every right to place limits on his officers offering their services to them," Lopez says. "We will respond when called to one of these raves. We will make arrests, and we will uphold the safety of the community as best we can. There's just no reason why we need to be sending Denver police officers to work as part of a staff for a clandestine event."

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

Lopez's office deals with about one illegal rave every month, most them held in warehouses or easily rented spaces such as churches and public halls. He's open to the concept that some promoters are attempting to host concert-type events that fall within the boundaries of the law. He just hasn't seen any, he says.

"I applaud the promoters who provide an environment where kids can express themselves," Lopez adds. "I'm very glad to hear that there are responsible events going on at places like the Aztlan. But at every experience I have had with raves, there hasn't been one instance where we weren't able to make multiple arrests. In most cases, we were limited only by our manpower."

Some weary promoters are now looking outside Denver for venues: to open spaces, barns, vacant buildings in rural counties that can be leased from entrepreneurial landowners. The cost of moving into the no-man's-land of such unincorporated areas can be formidable, since a promoter becomes responsible for providing all of the facilities that are part of the package in licensed venues. And small, unexpected charges -- like the neighbor who might not call in a noise complaint if he's paid $500 -- pop up everywhere. Still, promoters often find it a price worth paying, since unincorporated areas have fewer permit and licensing requirements than cities and towns, and they're more likely to tolerate all-night events. Besides, unexpected sites are part of a rave's allure: Promoters who move around tend to find favor with crowds bored of set environments such as the Root and the Aztlan.

"People get tired of the same old places," Hau says. "You always have a back-up venue. But you're always looking for a better one."

Last July, Triad landed Caffeine, a mega-DJ tour sponsored by the record label and clothing company of the same name. Hau's original venue -- the Youth Outreach Center in Colorado Springs -- fell through three weeks prior to the party's date, but he had another venue in mind, some land he planned to rent from an associate in Pueblo County. It was a huge show, with a lot of money at stake. Realizing the need to insure his investment, Hau was the first promoter to hire Cris Campbell, an aggressive attorney who attended raves, enjoyed the subculture, knew promoters and understood the legal challenges they faced. Campbell made sure Hau was operating within the state statutes and county ordinances applicable at the site. He assembled a file that documented Hau's lease, insurance permits and approval by the fire marshal, and also addressed sanitation, waste and emergency issues.

On the night of the event, Campbell put his girlfriend, his dog and his grill in his truck and headed down to Hau's rave -- ready to greet the Pueblo County sheriff and a marshal who showed up at 8:30 p.m.

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