When Doug Bohm migrated from Chicago to Denver in 1994, he quickly found a niche as a gothic industrial concert promoter, a gig that afforded him time to pursue an interest in electronic music with the bands Post-Mortem Stress Disorder and Fish Music. Today, as a director of Bands for Lands, he's become a different kind of specialist. Bohm and co-founder Jeremy Gregory are at the helm of the nonprofit environmental group, which aims to marry music and activism in one sonically charged package.
Bands for Lands is an organization with a serious mission: Its official statement of purpose cites preserving "pristine lands vital to sustain life" as its primary directive. Practically speaking, BFL aims to raise money to buy public lands before they fall into the hands of developers and others who tend to prefer resort towns to wilderness. And while the volunteer-driven group engages in the usual grassroots type of activities such as distributing literature and operating a membership program, its primary outreach method is through music.
Which is not to imply that a Bands for Lands-backed event is likely to offer a bleeding-heart-folksinger-on-a-wooden-stool variety of hippie protest music. After all, fans of punk and hip-hop and jazz rely on clean air and water just as much as those with a penchant for patchouli and falafel. Since its informal beginnings in 1995, when Bohm and Gregory produced concerts at locations around Denver and Boulder, Bands for Lands has put on more than twenty shows. And last year the group produced a CD titled Green and Red, which has since sold about 600 copies. (Green and Red is available at Wax Trax and Twist & Shout.) Bands who have supported said lands include the Garden Weasels, the Fabulous Boogienauts, Sketch, Wojo, the Disciples of Bass, and Toddy Walton, better known as the girlfriend of South Park creator Matt Stone. This Friday, Bands for Lands adds the United Dope Front, Urban Monks and former Skin drummer Dave Watts and the Hip Bop Workshop to the fray, with a show at the Fox Theatre to benefit the Coalition to Stop Vail Expansion.
"We didn't want to limit our shows to one genre or another. I'll put on whatever kind of show it takes to get as many people there as possible," says Gregory. "I'd put on a classical concert if I thought it would raise money." So whether the kids show up to rally around a good cause or just to rock out is less important to Bohm and Gregory than having them there. After all, what separates a benefit concert from a regular show is that, in the former case, it's okay to be overtly money-hungry. "I hate to be capitalistic, but money all spends the same, and I think its about time some of it spends in the direction of preservation."
Bands for Lands has not yet purchased any public lands with cash that it's generated in the four years of its existence, largely because the group has opted to donate proceeds to larger organizations like Colorado Wild and Colorado Open Lands. Friday's show will be BFL's first for the Coalition to Stop Vail Expansion, which, since forming in the spring, has put the "active" back in activist by organizing blockades and protests purposely--and effectively--disruptive to Vail Resorts' controversial Category III encroachment into public forests.
"With their organizational efforts, the coalition is trying to put a wrench in the wheel of what's called progress," Bohm says. "It seems to be working, because soon it's gonna start snowing up there."
Bands for Lands is a full-time gig for Bohm and Gregory, though both find time to devote to their own musical endeavors. Gregory fronts the cause-oriented Family of Dischordia, a band he describes as a kindred spirit to acts like Fugazi and Rage Against the Machine and one that spends more time playing outside of Colorado than in. As dBomb, Bohm still works in electronica, doing "big beat, drum-and-bass kind of stuff" and remixing and production for artists including Cindy Wonderful of Rainbow Sugar. Yet BFL is clearly a priority for Bohm and Gregory, who've recently drawn up a business plan and are poised to enter the real-estate market as buyers of public lands.
"Doug's a marketing genius, and we're going to be doing some things soon that will really reach a lot of people, lots of shows, lots of music," Gregory says. "We want to get people to the point where they realize that without land, without food, without water, we're not going to be able to worry about all the other stuff, and music has been the perfect platform for that.
"It's really a win-win situation for everyone," he adds. "Unless you're a developer."
Friday's lineup consists of United Dope Front, Wojo, Dave Watts's Hip Bop Workshop and Urban Monks. The show, for ages 21 and up, begins at 9 p.m. at the Fox Theatre. Tickets are $5.25--which, it goes without saying, is for a good cause.
Last week's exhaustive live-music platter plumb tuckered me out. Give me some valerian-root tea and put me to bed, because my ears are still ringing from all that high-decibel goodness.
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Three shows in particular have been well-preserved in the sticky flypaper of my memory, worthy of an after-the-fact mention. First, the sold-out Beat Junkies/Jurassic 5 show at the Fox Theatre was--dare I say it?--pretty damn fly, an opinion apparently shared by the sold-out crowd that couldn't stop moving from moment one on. Live MCs Jurassic 5 were a rapper's delight, with their old-school sing-songy rhymes and extemporaneous call-and-response segments. But openers the Beat Junkies provided the highlight of the evening. Watching the Junkies create their spontaneous scratch symphony must have been what it was like watching an improvisational jazz trio in a smoky club during the Harlem renaissance. The three-man crew manipulated their turntables like well-worn instruments, and their interplay was as tight and well-composed as that of any live band. Their manipulation of samples of everything from old-school hip-hop to Motown was a powerful and highly musical collage that was never in want of a live MC. The Beat Junkies offer a fine example of the places hip-hop is likely to go in coming years, and as practitioners of an emerging art form, they're a thrill to behold.
The following evening, the Fox was filled with a different kind of crowd and a very different band. Robert Pollard and Guided by Voices created a "beware the risks of choking on your own vomit" kind of vibe, which is why it was so enjoyable. It's not every day one gets to see an indie-rock hero striking Pete Townshend poses, swinging the microphone cord as if he were a burlesque vixen and attempting the formidable kung-fu right-leg ariel kick-out move. And it's also not every day that one is afforded the opportunity to hear live renditions of a substantial portion of the GBV catalogue. (One drunken estimate cites 57 songs played. They were all 57 seconds long, but who cares?) Sure, Pollard swaggered, he spat on himself--he got downright sloppy up there, consuming beers at frat-boy speed. But he sounded damn good, and isn't that what we all went there for?
The Flaming Lips/Sebadoh/Robyn Hitchcock show at the Ogden sought to distinguish itself as the "first headphone concert" in history, as audience members were provided with mini-radios and headphones through which to hear the concert. According to information provided with the phones, the effort was supposed to enhance the sound mix and provide clearer tonal separations, though the only clear benefit I noticed was the ability to continue hearing the music in the bathroom. Regardless of the success of the techno-gimmick (likely the Lips just wanted to see if they could make an entire crowd of people at a live concert wear silly gadgets), the music was a shimmering jewel. Hitchcock was at his amusing, melodious best through a sadly abbreviated set, and though Sebadoh played a good set (their live shows are notoriously uneven), the real treat came from the Lips, who employed a virtual drummer (a video projection of Steven Drozd on a huge screen), hand puppets (a nun, an alligator) and a huge Japanese gong to enhance the sonic beauty of songs from the band's latest release, The Soft Bulletin. It was episodic, it was sometimes sad, it often rocked. The doubters were all stunned as the Lips made believers out of the Ogden crowd.