In the July 11 edition of this here column, I told you about Area 39, a new club (owned by Johnson frontman Haylar Garcia) that features an on-site recording facility. Obviously, the venue/studio notion is an idea whose time has come--and the Bluebird Theater, at 3317 East Colfax, is trying it on for size.

"What we did, in a nutshell," says Chris Swank, the Bluebird's co-owner, "is we spent a fair amount of money putting in a 24-track digital recording facility that's going to allow us to record whatever's on stage. And also, we can use the room for recording during the off-hours or during the day. I don't know if you could record a whole album here, because it's a bit of a departure from recording in a regular studio, but for some things, it'll be just great. If you use the feel of the room a little bit, it'll give you a really big drum sound, for example."

To test out the facility, Swank and company have been recording numerous shows at the theater, including appearances by 16 Horsepower, the Iguanas, Medeski, Martin and Wood and Junior Brown. (Swank calls the last date "probably the best show we've ever had at the Bluebird.") Of the aforementioned tapes, only one is apt to see the light of day; Rykodisc, the label home of Medeski, Martin and Wood, hired the venue's staff to put down the trio's performance for posterity. But Swank fantasizes about some day putting together a compilation CD of the best from the Bluebird, perhaps to feature local acts such as Jux County and the Czars, both of which are currently cutting tracks on the premises.

More immediately, Swank is hoping to help revive the regular live-on-the-radio tradition that most Denverites associate with the recent partnership involving MusicLink, a music-video program now airing on KBDI-TV/Channel 12, and KTCL-FM/93.3. First at Okoboji's, a space that went south due to mismanagement, and later at the Mercury Cafe, MusicLink booked national artists (such as Concrete Blonde, Belly, They Might Be Giants and the Afghan Whigs) and numerous area performers for mini-sets that were frequently free to the public; these shows were broadcast on KTCL and videotaped for later airing on MusicLink. It seemed like a sweet deal for everyone, but keeping the operation running proved to be an expensive proposition. Marilyn Megenity, owner of the Mercury, says that paying for analog phone lines from the cafe to KTCL's headquarters in Fort Collins cost her in the area of $1,000 every month. This ultimately became too high a price to pay.

Now, however, the proliferation of digital, fiber-optic phone lines makes the concept financially feasible; Swank says that he can get for approximately $60 the services for which Megenity was charged in the four-figure range. He's presently negotiating with two different radio stations in the market, and while nothing had been finalized at press time, he's confident that an agreement with one of these suitors won't be long in coming. According to Swank, "I'm hoping we'll get a weekly slot where we can feature some national acts, as well as some of the things that are going on locally." He adds, "This was a big investment on our part, but we really wanted to put some value-added things into the theater. And if it gives more people the chance to hear some good music, that's even better."

"Let me tell you about the very rich," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote. "They are different from you and me."

Anyone who doubts this comment would have had his mind changed by the Jazz Aspen Labor Day festival at Snowmass Village. The lineup for the three-day event, which ran from Saturday, August 31, to Monday, September 2, was mighty impressive--among the featured acts were Al Green, the Robert Cray Band, Ray Charles and Taj Mahal--and the majority of the 5,000 or so folks who gathered on Sunday, September 1, the day I attended, seemed grateful to be witnessing so much first-rate American music. (The bookers at Denver's LoDo Fest would do well to emulate this stirring roster.) But those lingering in the VIP section, placed directly in front of the stage, were the exceptions to this rule. Because I did not have to show my bank statement to the security guard at the entrance to this area, I gained admittance--and I must say that the behavior I witnessed there was even more obnoxious than that practiced by the average Jimmy Buffett fan. Not that these members of the gentry were rowdy: In fact, the section was officially designated a "No Boogie Zone." (Check the Jukebox Web page, at, to see the actual "No Boogie" sign.) Rather, they were so narcissistic that they spent more time taking photos of each other with ridiculously expensive cameras than they did watching the performers. The worst moments involved a pair of women who precisely resembled the villainesses from Heathers fifteen years down the line. During Cray's set, they occasionally jiggled their heavily bejeweled tennis bracelets to the beat, but they were primarily occupied with sharing tokes from a huge cigar, then looking around to see if anyone was watching them. If cutting off fingers with switchblades were as trendy as cigar smo-king, there's no doubt that they would have been hacking off digits for all they were worth.

It was a tribute to Green that he even got the aristocracy off their cabooses. He's a rarity among veteran performers--an artist who allows inspiration and spontaneity to push him to a higher level. Although he concentrated on his hits (with a few forays into gospel), he remained completely in the moment, stopping and starting songs on a whim, falling to the floor in ecstasy and otherwise wringing every last drop of energy and joy from his body. Praise the heavens that he's decided to use his talents for good rather than evil, or else he'd be the most dangerous man on the planet.

The producer for Spell's next Island Records disc, referred to in this space last week, has signed on the line that is dotted: He's Nick Launay, whose showiest credits include releases by Talking Heads, Midnight Oil, Silverchair, INXS and Seal. For Spell guitarist Tim Beckman, though, the more impressive Launay collaborations are those he probably places at the bottom of his resume. "He did two Birthday Party records, Killing Joke, Gang of Four, and PIL's Flowers of Romance, which is just a totally insane album," Beckman enthuses. "He definitely knows what a pop song is, but he also knows how to get crazy." The trio begins recording in Los Angeles on September 23, and while Beckman admits that he's not thrilled about being stranded for a stretch in what he calls "the city of freaks," he already knows how he'll be spending his free time: "We're going to raid Island's CD closet and mooch free meals off lofty industry types."

Hungry for more? On Thursday, September 5, Phantom Freeway leads to Patrick's, 1770 South Buckley Road; Telluride's own 8750 Reggae Band headlines at Herman's Hideaway; and Eddie Kirkland bares his soul at Brendan's. On Friday, September 6, Chaos Theory, the Hate Fuck Trio and Kingpin strike at the Ogden Theatre; the Winstons warble (but they don't fall down) at Stella's Coffeehouse, 1476 South Pearl; Alex Anaya and DJ K-NEE provide a musical backdrop for the opening night of the two-day International Fall Film Festival, at City Spirit; the Dirty Dozen get brassy at the Bluebird; Tab Benoit swings his ax at the Fox Theatre; Libby Kirkpatrick appears at Penny Lane; and Carl James provides entertainment during an art showing at Carol Mier Gallery, 1408 Wazee. On Sunday, September 8, former-Ozzy Osbourne-sideman-turned-acoustic-rocker Zakk Wylde changes his image at Seven South. On Tuesday, September 10, M.D.C., the Facet and Hexed provide fun for the whole family at the Mercury. And on Wednesday, September 11, Luther Allison heats up Herman's; William Clarke, who's fully recovered from heart trouble earlier this year, lights up Brendan's; and the Fox hosts a reggae and hip-hop showcase featuring Rocker T, Jamalski, the Healers and Ras Marcus Benjamin. Take the rap.

--Michael Roberts

Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@ westword.comMichael_Roberts@


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