There are a lot of places where you can hear live music in Denver, but there was only one spot where you could hear everything from soul to funk to death metal at just about any hour, day and night: the practice space at 2200 Larimer Street. Built in 1904, the white-painted brick building has been a lot of things over the decades, but most recently it had been Colorado Music Rehearsal Studios, and a haven to many local musicians. But that officially ended on Sunday, November 1.
A dilapidated cluster of some 45 rooms where bands could rent practice space for as little as $100 per month, it was the only place of its kind in Denver; one online review called it “a dump of a place but the only rehearsal rooms outside of a storage facility."
“We’ve actually known for a while it was going to happen,” says Brett Williams of the band Dirt, who helped host a goodbye party at the site. “Then, at the end of last month, they put a piece of paper under the door.” The note said that everyone needed to be out by the end of October.
Most of the musicians who rented space there knew that the building had been on the market for the last few years. “It’s so surprising that it lasted this long,” says Williams. “Everyone’s been wondering for years when it’s going to sell.” According to the city's property records, that finally happened in March, when the property was purchased by a Breckenridge company called 2200 Larimer LLC for $2,300,000. This stretch of Larimer Street, which was once Denver's skid row, has become increasingly hot, with restaurants and residences popping up along the street; a developer's rendering of what the space could look like is shown here.
It’s hard to overstate how much places like Colorado Music Rehearsal Studios mean to a music community like Denver's. Rents are high and buildings all over town are being snatched up for development. Finding a cheap place where it’s okay to lug gear in and out at all hours and where loud music won’t rile the neighbors isn’t just rare, it’s nearly impossible. And that was the one – and just about only – thing 2200 Larimer offered.
Dirt had been practicing in a friend's garage before someone called the police because of the noise, and on Larimer found a room that was "a decent size with a little stage,” Williams says. “It’s $180 a month between four dudes. That’s the only reason we’re there.” It certainly wasn’t for the decor: “This place is a shithole,” he adds. “There’s no soundproofing. Our ceiling looks like it’s held up with a cable. We wanted some place we could drink and write music.”
Dirt had been in the building for about five years and occupied four different rooms over that time. One time, the bandmembers moved because their room was too small. On another occasion, snow piled on the roof broke through, destroying their recording equipment. Through it all, they stayed for the cheap rent and relaxed atmosphere.
Juan Pino, organist for the band Weather Big Storm, says rehearsing in the building was also a way to be part of the Denver music community. “It was just a great place,” says Pino. “We just met a lot of bands in there. There were death-metal bands and Mexican polka bans. It was a good atmosphere in that sense.”
Weather Big Storm’s practice space had its good points, Pino explains, like the fact that it’s on the inside of the building, so playing at all hours and volumes was never an issue. But there was a downside, too. “Some [spaces] were freezing in the winter,” he remembers. “Some were always hot. One time some crackhead took my bike and was riding up and down the street with it.” The man told Pino he’d bought the bike from another man. “Long story short, I ended up buying my own bike off him for $7,” says Pino.
Jimi Bleu has been manager of Colorado Music Rehearsal Studios since 1995, when Coors Field opened just two blocks away and the neighborhood's redevelopment really began; prior to that, the building had housed Pete's Music since about 1950. Bleu says he first got wind of the impending changes at the site in June, when a "For Lease" sign went up on the building. "I had a good feeling it wasn't going to be run as it was, but I had no idea they were going to discontinue the operation," he says.
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Bleu, who had been living and working in the building for the past twenty years, says he's a little sad to see the rehearsal studios go but is looking forward to the next phase of his life. He'll travel, he says, and maybe get his band, the Jimi Bleu Experience, back together. Managing the site was "a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he adds. "I just want to say I've appreciated all the years and all the bands that were here."
Most of the time, the place was mellow and things never got too out of control – until the goodbye party at the end of October."That was a good one to go out on," Bleu says.
The party was an appropriate sendoff for a building where so much music has been written over the years and so much creative debauchery has gone down. The last-minute affair drained two kegs and everyone had a good time – some more than others. “Somebody kicked through a wall, and when we went to check it out, people were having sex inside the wall hold," recalls Williams, who says the party was a "rager."
But both Pino and Williams agree that parties can happen anywhere. It's the practice space that will truly be missed by the Denver music community. “It’s a crazy place, and it’s sad to see it go,” says Williams. “Where are all those people going to go?”