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"And besides that," he adds, "right now I'm 57 years old. I don't expect any 22-year-old kid to think I'm cool. I didn't when I was that age. So maybe I was not necessarily the best guy to revitalize it."
Maybe not, but Baggs is a local institution, and he's going to be a tough act to follow. Baggs himself took over from the original host, Rick Slack, after he decided he just couldn't deal with Tigerbeat, a group of musical anarchists, any longer. Tigerbeat used to frequent the night on a regular basis and had musical talent "they just refused to use," Baggs remembers. They wouldn't tune their guitars and sang horrible lounge music, off key. Half of the bar would be laughing, and the other half would want to jump them.
"My philosophy on the open stage was if you had the nerve to get up on the stage and do your thing and encounter either indifference or heckling, and you were willing to do it, you could do it," Baggs says. "If it was just in the realm of expression, as far as I was concerned, it was the good, the bad and the ugly."
Just as Slack recommended him for the gig, Baggs helped pick his own successor, Tony Medina from Mean Old Man. Medina says he was "shocked and taken aback" to hear that Baggs was leaving in the first place, but even more puzzled when Baggs asked him to become the Cricket's new host. "I questioned him; I put him to the wall," he admits. "I said, 'Look, dude, of all the guys who go down to the Cricket on a weekly basis, why would you pick me?'
"He said, 'Because that's what you do.'"
Even if he can't figure out why Baggs chose him, I can: Since getting his start many years ago on the very stage he'll be hosting, Medina now owns the open-stage scene. Besides the Cricket, he hosts four other open stages -- at Sweet Rockin' Coffee (414 East 20th Avenue) on Friday nights; at Music Gear Guys (9195 West 44th Avenue) on Saturday nights; at D'Note (7519 Grandview Avenue in Olde Town Arvada) on Monday nights; and at Angie's Place (8525 West Colfax Avenue) on Wednesday nights. Moreover, he's truly passionate about the folks who come out and devotes most of his free time to promoting their efforts.
"There's some of the best talent I've ever seen in my life in music, and they're walking in the door every week," says Medina. "They deserve every bit of attention we can give them for the fifteen minutes they're up there. That's why I do this, because of the players. They're worth it."
At the Cricket on Sundays, he plans to continue the bar's open-door policy. "Very little will change other than the host," Medina promises.
As for Baggs, he won't exactly be sitting around gathering dust. He'll continue recording bands in his studio, Big Ears, and will remain a part of the scene, although a little less visible part.
Stop by 1209 East 13th Avenue on Sunday and welcome Tony; you're guaranteed to see some of the best unsung talent in this town -- and some of the worst. Whether the musicians can carry a tune or not is irrelevant. It's all about being at the Cricket and soaking up that history.
Life's punker here: Several weeks ago, I mused that everything -- especially in the music industry -- has become a commodity. Everything is bought, sold or processed -- or marketed to be bought, sold or processed.
Further proof arrived on Monday, August 25, when I witnessed an unbelievably bizarre and blatant attempt at niche marketing. Qwest -- you know, the company you usually think of when you think of punk rock -- unveiled the first-ever "human coupon" promotion at Cherry Creek and East high schools. According to Qwest, the telecom has partnered with Yahoo! and Launch for the nine-city Launch concert series (featuring "up-and-coming" bubblegum punkers the Starting Line) in an attempt to get "in touch with its local consumers via this fun and exciting outreach campaign." And Denver was one of two lucky cities selected for the corporate punk-rock blitz, presumably because of its proximity to Qwest headquarters. (Tempe, Arizona, will be the site of the second human-coupon promo early next month.)
The event kicked off a little before the last bell rang at East when a yellow Hummer decorated with a giant bar code and a decal that read "Get scanned here" parked in front of Pete's Ice Cream on East Colfax Avenue. Failing to attract much of a crowd there, the human-coupon crew got the school's blessing to move the Hummer across the street, directly in front of the campus -- where scores of kids lined up in hopes of winning some free stuff. Anyone willing to pull a T-shirt over his head and then allow himself to be scanned with a handheld scanning device (each shirt had a bar-code sticker affixed to its sleeve) was eligible to win prizes that included a keychain, a visor, a poster, a copy of the Starting Line's latest disc, tickets to the band's August 26 show -- and the grand prize, a VIP pass to the concert, complete with access to the after-party.
Scanning humans? I couldn't help but be simultaneously dumbfounded and amused by the audacity of such a ploy. God knows I love getting free stuff like a fat kid loves cake, but is it really wise to treat your "consumers" like objects at a grocery store? It's no secret that teens have a lot of loot and buy a lot of music -- they're a multibillion-dollar demographic; just ask any boy band -- and a high school is the perfect place to find them. But I wonder if it's savvy marketing to come right out and say, "Hey, you're a number; let's see if your number is a winner."
Karen Vardeny of Fusion Marketing, the group that helped organize the promotion, downplayed any exploitative implications. "I don't see it as being negative," she insisted. "We're just trying to get them excited about the concert. They get a free T-shirt and a gift; they don't have to do it if they don't want to. It's just a fun way to get them involved."
Had the Hummer just tossed T-shirts out the window, though, the kids would probably have gotten just as excited. They're not stupid: Like everyone else, they love free shit.
But not necessarily tickets to corporate-punk concerts. East student Courtney Fleming, who won the VIP passes to the Starting Line show, was less than enthusiastic about his victory. Asked what he thought of the band, he simply shrugged and said, "They're okay, I guess."