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"I'm sitting here entering names into a database, basically, because no one else would," he says. "But I think this is the last time I'll have to do it, so I'm pretty happy about that."
Over the past twelve months, Barber and the outgoing COMA board learned how to pick up the slack. When you run a nonprofit group that's fueled solely by membership dues and volunteer efforts, you get used to that kind of thing. So when Barber officially relinquished his title to a new president and welcomed a new board during the group's monthly meeting this past Sunday, there was a palpable sense of relief in his address to the constituency. And after delivering that address, rather than moderate the meeting, microphone in hand, as had been his custom, Barber parked himself at the bar, drank some beers and settled into life as a spectator.
Well, not exactly. Barber, who has been a COMA officer since the group was formed by Dolly Zander in 1999 from the rubble of the Rocky Mountain Music Association, will remain COMA's Web master and continue working on its music directory, a project that's been on the agenda for more than two years and had been targeted for completion this past June. According to Barber, the delay -- as well as other project postponements -- has a lot to do with money, or, rather, the lack of it. Musicians are notoriously cash-strapped, and so are the organizations that sprout to support them.
"We're still trying to get to the bottom of why that didn't happen," Barber says of the directory, essentially a musicians' phone book. "Basically, we're all volunteers, and we do the best that we can. We're still trying to get our ducks in a row on a lot of things. I keep feeling that we could accomplish a tremendous amount more if we had enough money to pay even one person."
For the time being, though, COMA will continue to rely on free labor. Barber named as his successor Tommy Nahulu, president of the Local Music Network of Patrons. Nahulu, who has worked with Nina Storey and Liz Clark, has an almost preternatural optimism and energy, which will come in handy, considering what he's up against.
COMA enters its fourth year in a variation on sophomore slump, with attendance declining among nearly a thousand longtime members. This year's board election drew fewer than a hundred votes, a disappointing number. Over the past two years, the association has divided and subdivided into a sprawling network of genre-specific committees, with many of them currently inert. The recently formed Women in Music Committee is one of the few COMA-affiliated groups that's made its presence known outside of the Soiled Dove, where the organization's monthly meetings are held: Women in Music has hosted several showcases of female musicians, including last month's Venus Fest.
But despite a few cracks in the foundation, Barber insists that COMA is still on solid ground. "In the past year, we made the transition from an organization run by one person to an organization run by a team," he says. "We now have an office, rather than being set up in someone's basement. And now you've got a new board coming in, and people are energized; they are excited. Anytime you get a new group, you renew your enthusiasm about what could happen.
"Of course," he adds, "they may just not realize what they're in for yet."
In the end, the people of Denver will get a fancy organ, a restored twin-console Wurlitzer, and the assurance that the Paramount Theatre will remain just that -- a theater -- until at least the year 2026. Because after a season of squawking from Paramount lease-owner Randy Ship, who charged that, among other things, the opening of CityLights Pavilion would threaten the Paramount's very livelihood, he did what he'd previously sworn he would never do: He sold out to Kroenke Sports, a company he once likened to the Mafia (Backwash, May 2).
"I'm thinking maybe I should have my head examined," Ship says, laughing. "I'm having moments where I wonder if I'm crazy to do this. Believe me, everyone is reminding me of the things I said about [Kroenke]. But I feel pleased about the way things have worked out -- and, to some extent, relieved."
Partnering with Clear Channel Entertainment, Kroenke opened CityLights in the Pepsi Center parking lot in June. In the months leading up to the unveiling of that tented venue, however, Ship voiced his concerns about its construction and liquor license to the public, to the press and, ultimately, to the Denver Election Commission, filing a ballot initiative that would have halted its construction. A pro-CityLights congregate that included members of the Paramount Foundation board retaliated by filing an initiative of its own -- one that, if passed by Denver voters, would have required Ship to make a hefty financial investment in the building's restoration. But now all of those signatures will go uncounted: Both campaigns were snuffed when negotiations over the Paramount sale began in earnest.
From the beginning, Kroenke maintained that CityLights would not impede the Paramount's ability to do business. An exclusivity contract with House of Blues Concerts, which expires in 2005, suggests that the theater's marquee (itself slated for restoration by the new owners) won't go dark in the short term. And three years from now, industry observers expect Clear Channel to take over the Paramount's booking, which will certainly simplify things for the Kroenke camp: As it stands, Kroenke Sports is now bound to both armies in the local concert-promotions war. (Don't expect to see House of Blues head Barry Fey and Clear Channel's Chuck Morris chatting over cheese doodles at the company picnic.)
Such rivalries no longer concern Ship; the curtain has officially closed on his decade-long tenure in the entertainment industry. "There's no question that I will miss parts of it," he says.
The Paramount Foundation, which operates the theater, may not miss him; members had repeatedly characterized Ship as a negligent landlord. Kroenke has already promised to undertake a massive restoration and improvement project at the 72-year-old theater, which is a designated historic landmark.
According to Ship, the terms of the sale prohibit comment on almost everything else related to the deal. And while he's never been shy about speaking to the media, he seems almost glad for the imposed silence. "I really am not allowed to say anything about it at all, as a courtesy to all involved," he explains. "Let's just say that it went well and it ended well. And everything that came before is moot."