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The Beatdown

We built this city on rock and roll.

Roll call at Denver City Council on Monday, April 5. Charlie Brown. Check. Jeanne Faatz, Rick Garcia, Michael Hancock. Check. Doug Linkhart, Kathleen MacKenzie, Judy Montero. Check. Rosemary Rodriguez, Elbra Wedgeworth and the Dalhart Imperials. Check.

What the -- ? The Dalhart Imperials?

Yessir. Among those present and accounted for on the fourth floor of the Denver City and County Building were Les Cooper and his boys, git-fiddles and accordion in hand, ready to start rockin' like a hurricane.

But first, a few words from the man who made it possible.

Cooper, like the rest of us, had been summoned to the council meeting by Marty Jones, Westword scribe, Pork Boilin' Poor Boy, sometime PR flack and full-time local-music evangelist. And Jones himself had graciously been granted floor time by council president Wedgeworth. So after we were led in the Pledge of Allegiance -- which I flubbed, since I haven't recited it since I was a Malley Mustang -- Wedgeworth introduced Jones, and he got straight down to business.

In his speech, which lasted what seemed like six seconds, Jones shared figures culled by music maven Dolly Zander that estimate that local music puts more asses in the city's seats than national acts at Red Rocks -- ten times as many. Local music outdraws the Broncos three to one and is nearly on par with the Rockies. But local music doesn't get the kind of respect in Denver that it does in Austin, where it's proved very lucrative.

"Thirty years ago," Jones reported, "a group of civic-minded musicians got together and said, 'What can we do to bring in more tax revenues and create a better life for our musicians?' One of the things they came up with was branding Austin the 'Live Music Capital of the World.' Thirty years later, Austin, Texas, is the live-music capital of the world."

While his speech before council was short, Jones is long on evidence backing up his proposal. According to "Texas Perspectives: The Role of Music in the Austin Economy," a report presented to the City of Austin in September 2001, the music scene there has created more than 11,000 jobs and generates $616 million in economic activity and over $11 million in city tax revenues annually.

"The reality is, local music is a far bigger economic engine than many of the things the city has celebrated forever," says Jones. "I'm just trying to shed some light on the fact of just how big the local music scene is. Because it does seem kind of silly, well, not silly -- but there's a disconnect when millions and millions of dollars get spent on things that draw a fraction of what local music draws. Imagine what local music could do with a little physical support."

Jones has crafted a fairly extensive proposal, suggesting little things the city could do to support local music. One of his ideas targets the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, which could actively market our music to out-of-state businesses, conventions and tourism groups. To help the bureau get started, Jones has even come up with a couple of slogans: "Music Capital of the Rockies," "We Put the Rock in the Rockies." (He may need to revisit the latter, since KBPI already "Rocks the Rockies.")

Other parts of the proposal call for featuring live music at Denver International Airport, city council meetings and other Denver events, as well as on local cable-access broadcasts (Channel 56 has already agreed to drop its DMX feed in favor of playing homegrown tunes, he says). Jones would also like to see the city produce a directory of local artists and music resources that would be distributed to film, TV, advertising, convention and event-planning companies. These ideas require a minimum investment for maximum return, he says: "If you look at it right now, there's all these bands in town that are essentially entrepreneurs of the finest sort, who collectively have this huge power. And they do it all without the support of the city."

In contrast, the Mayor's Office of Music Business Development in New Orleans actively promotes the scene in that city. New Orleans is helping musicians improve their business skills, providing tax incentives to support the recording industry and increasing its number of music-related conventions, among other things. And Jones isn't stopping with city governments, either. A Louisiana-based nonprofit called the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic, founded in 1998 and sponsored by various charities and the LSU Health Care Network, is dedicated to offering "comprehensive health care to our community's most precious resource: our musicians." So far, it's offered such care to over 800 musicians. Jones would like to see the same concept repeated in Denver.

"If the city did some of these things, musicians would make more money, and people like Mary Flower wouldn't be moving," he says. "They'd get some health care, and it would also lure more musicians to town -- which might be a thing to fear among some of my peers, but I don't think so. If you're good, the cream rises to the top."

And Jones started at the top, approaching newly elected mayor John Hickenlooperat a concert last summer. "When I met Hickenlooper, he shook my hand and said, 'I'm going to be a foot soldier in your army,'" Jones recalls. "I'd seen him at the LoDo music fest; he was there to see X -- another very encouraging sign -- the night before his inauguration. He's all over it, and that's exciting."

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