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A Nation Divided

Denver's concert scene is suddenly much livelier.

The concert business in Denver just got a hell of a lot more interesting. Last week, Brent Fedrizzi and Don Strasburg, two of the region's most well-regarded talent buyers, resigned their Live Nation posts. And soon after, Strasburg was named vice president and senior talent buyer for Anschutz Entertainment Group Live, the country's second-largest promoter, Live Nation's chief competitor nationally -- and now a new force in the Denver market.

"There was a very human factor to my decision," says Strasburg. "I was burning the candle at both ends, trying to manage the workload that was on my desk. I can now focus on what I really love and actually have a little bit more of a life."

AEG Live is establishing a Denver outpost -- its seventh, this one in Phil Anschutz's home town. It will be allowed to grow at its own pace, Strasburg says, starting with a Melissa Etheridgedate at the Colorado Convention Center this Friday, August 25. Fedrizzi, the former COO of Live Nation Rocky Mountain, is expected to join AEG Live as soon as his rumored non-compete clause is up. (Strasburg says he can't discuss his team.) Meanwhile, Jason Miller, Live Nation's L.A.-based senior VP of touring, has stepped in to fill the void left by the pair, whom he spent the better part of the past decade competing against when he oversaw booking duties for House of Blues.

"It's a hell of a switch, man," says local promoter Doug Kauffman of Nobody in Particular Presents. "It will be a fairly major skirmish on the larger-level stuff."

That's putting it mildly. In early July, Live Nation announced its intention to acquire House of Blues, but the Department of Justice has yet to approve that deal, which means there are currently three major players vying for pieces of the same pie. Thing is, Live Nation has a lock on all the best rooms in town: The company controls booking at the Fillmore Auditorium and, through its alliance with Kroenke Sports Enterprises, functions as the primary programmer of the Paramount Theatre. That would seem to put the other two at a distinct disadvantage, as HOB's only venue is Coors Amphitheatre and AEG has zero concert spaces in Denver. But appearances could be deceiving.

"You don't have to have real estate to be competitive," asserts Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstarmagazine. "As long as you have access to the public facilities, you can compete -- especially with selected artists that you have a good working relationship with."

Counting city-owned venues, privately held facilities such as the University of Denver's Ritchie Center and Magness Arena, and Kroenke's properties (which next year will include a 20,000-seat soccer stadium in Commerce City), there are more than a dozen neutral venues for a promoter to work with. And Strasburg, who wasted no time taking advantage of the lack of a non-compete clause in his own Live Nation contract, sounds completely undaunted by the fact that AEG doesn't have any rooms of its own yet. "There are some fantastic rooms that Live Nation has a stronghold on," he allows. "But there are also numerous wonderful venues -- including Red Rocks, the mid-level arenas that are popping up all throughout the area, the wonderful, brand-new city facilities and the Pepsi Center, one of the best arenas in the country -- that are open for any promoter to come in and work."

During his time at HOB, Miller was an underdog with limited resources. But when he joined Live Nation in April, the script was flipped. "This business is divided between real estate and relationships," Miller says. "Now I've got both. I've got great relationships that I believe in, and I have fantastic real estate. So stepping in at this time, the competition is going to be difficult, but the transition -- I don't know if you want to call it a transition -- I think it's going to be easy. It hasn't been that long. I'm just picking up where I left off. I'm just putting on a new jersey. Really, that's what it comes down to. I'm coming to play like I always came to play.

"And let's not forget Chuck Morris, who's there in the office, working," Miller continues, referring to the legendary promoter, who boasts over thirty years of industry experience. "Chuck and I are a team. We're going to work together and continue the success that Live Nation has enjoyed."

Miller, who recently got married, still lives in L.A. and will commute to Denver several days a week. "I've competed successfully with Don Strasburg and Brent Fedrizzi for eight years," he offers. "They're the most formidable competitors I've ever faced, and I look forward to the opportunity of sparring with them again."

That competition will benefit consumers, he says. "You've got more eyes looking at and invested in Denver, Colorado. And that's inevitably going to mean more inventory rolling through the market," Miller explains. "The competition is going to force me to be creative about who I promote, about how I promote, about where I promote."

Strasburg has his game face on, too. "We're old, dear friends," he says of Miller, "and I respect him and his work." Strasburg recognizes that competing effectively will involve more than economics. "In this day and age, the artists are so savvy when it comes to how they want to be perceived in the market that they are totally in control of their ticket prices," he explains. "There may be a tad bit of movement -- a dollar here and there -- but for the most part, the artists generally know what price point they want to be at. Therefore, it's my responsibility -- or the other promoters' responsibility -- to work out the financials based upon those parameters.

"These things, in my opinion, are always beneficial to the consumer," he goes on. "We, as a promoter, recognize that the consumer has more choices than before. Therefore, we must make our choices as appealing as possible."

AEG Live isn't just investing in the fans, either. The company is committed to developing acts and being much more than "promoters and a bank," according to a statement on its website. "We are strategic investors in an artist's career."

If only the same could be said for the rest of the industry. Although Denver's been relatively unaffected by recent downturns, even here you can't ignore the fact that a handful of classic-rock relics -- Rolling Stones, Springsteen, Steely Dan -- have been keeping the concert business in business. What's going to happen when they finally become extinct? In this singles-driven, iTunes-friendly era, career artists are a thing of the past. Frankly, if the recording industry doesn't get a handle on things and start developing artists again, it won't matter which promoter's name is stamped on your ticket.

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