And so it was written, and so it came to pass.
Last Sunday night marked the official start of the city's policy change regarding mixed-age crowds at area clubs and music halls that serve alcohol and that boast a capacity rating of 2,000 persons or fewer. And although a spirit of generosity seemed to be surging through the land -- it was Easter, after all, and even the IRS was granting a tax-deadline extension of one day -- there was no such love coming from the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. Early Sunday morning, agency director Helen Gonzales informed Bluebird Theater staffers that the evening's planned festivities -- an all-ages show billed by organizer Andrew Murphy as the last mixed-crowd hurrah and a protest against the city's decision -- would in fact be a dry event, rather than the split-premises, alcohol-in-one-area, kids-in-the-other setup the Bluebird had planned for. The show was a template for every all-ages show that's going to follow it from now on -- maybe forever.
Brother and sisters, Backwash has seen the future, and it is not pretty.
When the Bluebird's doors opened at 7 p.m., it was clear that those in the over-21 set who'd showed up with any kind of thirst would be out of luck; in the normally congested bar area, there was nothing but water, pop and juice available to wet the collective whistle. The bands -- Eiffel, Deadlock Frequency, Shogun and Angels Never Answer -- played with their expected vigor, but there was clearly something missing in crowd energy. Sure, it was Sunday; most people were home wondering why the X-Files is still on TV. But let's face facts: There's something inherently unsettling about a rock-and-roll show with no beer.
A lot has been said about the larger social implications of this issue, and much of it has been poignant: Media types and regular citizens alike have talked about how the policy change might, in fact, ultimately wind up exposing kids to more harm than they'd encounter in public places enjoying music; cynics also wonder why the city is changing an alcohol policy if club drugs are what it's really after. Some of the discussion has been misguided: A Sunday-night report on Channel 7, for example, erroneously suggested that musicians under the age of 21 will no longer be able to perform in venues where alcohol is served, which is simply not the case. The law provides an exception for working performers (so you young players needn't head to the unemployment line just yet).
But most of the pundits, Backwash included, have ignored one important point: Beer is good. People who are old enough to drink beer tend to seek out the opportunity to do so when weighing their nightlife options. And as much as we would all like to think that it's the music alone that draws us into dark and smoky quarters during our leisure hours, to do so would be to kid ourselves. The beer is pretty damned important. And so many bands sound so much better after you've knocked back a couple.
Denver has a lot of great musicians who call the city home; it also has a lot of musicians who like to bang out power chords at maximum decibels and scream into a mike for the sheer joy of yelping. After a few beers, this kind of thing can be enjoyable to watch. And with all due respect to the four bands that took the Bluebird stage on Sunday night, fans in the crowd might not have stared back so blankly if they hadn't found themselves saddled with unexpected sobriety. After the third band, it was only too tempting to pop across Colfax Avenue to the PS Lounge for something stiff, in a nice clean glass with ice crackling inside.
Will a thirst for live music outweigh the absence of cocktails in the minds of local showgoers? Will promoters even be willing to gamble on these dry nights, when they must rely on bottled-water sales to pay artists? Time will tell. In the meantime, things are going to be interesting. Bartender!
All sorts of happy birthdays and huzzahs are in order for the good people at Hapi Skratch records, most specifically Morris Beegle, the music-production guru who has, as of this month, kept the Loveland-based operation aloft for six years. Hapi Skratch -- the label, the studio, the myth -- began in 1995, after Beegle grew tired of the big-label machine he'd encountered while working for companies like Priority Records in Los Angeles; today Hapi Skratch is one of the most familiar imprints in the state, a signature that graces hundreds of local recordings and some of the area's finest work, including releases from Lalla Rookh, the Indulgers, Matthew Moon and Carol Frazier.
Beegle recently expanded his reach of musical styles with the introduction of Big Bender Records, a country-leaning branch of Hapi Skratch with a focus on the area's rootsier performers; Southbound, the debut recording from the Railbenders (see Marty Jones's profile, page 96) is the first Big Bender product, and Beegle hopes to issue a compilation of local countrified rockers performing homages to the ups and downs of boozin' later this summer. (Artists with such bottle-themed material can contact Beegle through his Web site, hapiskratch.com.) But beyond their label efforts, Beegle and his staff provide artists with services ranging from consultations to CD mastering and reproduction. As a result, Hapi Skratch is something of a one-stop musician's shop, the 7-Eleven of the local-music landscape.
"I would say 25 percent of what we're about is the label aspect," Beegle says. "But we've worked with so many bands that aren't even officially affiliated with Hapi Skratch. Our primary goal is that, through our services, we're trying to find a way for artists to make a career out of this. We can help them come at it from different angles, whether it's finding gigs or whatever."
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Hapi Skratch celebrates its longevity, an anomaly in a business characterized by flux, with two showcases of Hapi artists this week. Cup-A-Jo, a Denver blues combo led by Joe Oeser, will kick things off on Thursday, April 19, at Tin Lizzy, followed by a set from Laramie-based Skratch staple Blinddog Smokin'. That performance will feature a guest cameo from Oklahoma belter Miss Blues, an all-but-undiscovered seventy-year-old diva whom the Blinddog boys met while on tour in the Midwest. (Miss Blues also appears on the band's latest release, Sittin' In.) On Friday, April 20, the Skratch party moves to the Duke of Windsor (located, appropriately enough, in downtown Windsor) with sets from Joy Jackson, 69 Times and Blinddog Smokin'/Miss Blues.
Backwash was saddened to learn of the passing of Michael Brown, the Denver-based hip-hop promoter and DJ better known to local 'heads as Mixmaster Mike. Brown died last week in Las Vegas; although police are calling his death an apparent suicide -- he went over a railing at the Luxor Hotel -- there's also talk about Brown's adverse reactions to medication following surgery. But there's no confusion over the legacy Brown leaves behind: The musician/businessman was one of the city's most aggressive supporters of hip-hop, having worked to initiate club nights at F-Stop and, later, the Baja Beach Club. Local consumers of urban-style music have no doubt felt the Mixmaster's influence, whether as patrons at an event he helped produce or simply by hearing his music.
He'll be missed. Services for Brown will be held Thursday, April 19, at the New Hope Baptist Church, 3701 Colorado Boulevard.