The Rocky Mountain Music Association, a group that's promoted local acts and musicians for ten years, has faced plenty of challenges during the Nineties. Early in the decade, attendance at its annual MusicFest events began to fall off precipitously; in fact, the turnout for a daylong bash at the University of Denver in 1995 was so catastrophically low that the RMMA seemed doomed to sink into a mire of debt and disappointment. But a handful of volunteers led by Cherri Morris, a member of Denver's Mean Uncle Mike, kept the alliance alive. Today these true believers are hopeful that MusicFest 97, scheduled to take place on Sunday, September 7, along a stretch of Broadway between 1st Avenue and Cedar, will re-establish the association's credibility even as it provides a wide range of talented bands, including Brethren Fast, Latin Hot Mix, Wichita River and Sonic Museum, with an opportunity to be heard by a larger public. But a conflict is brewing behind the scenes of the showcase--and if former RMMA boardmember John Carter has his way, the result will be a complete revamping of the organization.
Carter has a long history of supporting area performers; a few years back he ran a store called Locals' Music that specialized in recordings by Colorado artists. He was also an early believer in the power of the Internet, and after Locals' Music went under, he attempted to keep its spirit alive via Jukenet, a Web site (at www.jukenet.com) that hyped the area scene. According to him, he attended his first RMMA board meeting in July 1995 to tout the wonders of technology and became a boardmember early the next year. Miscommunication followed. Morris and others on the RMMA's ruling council believed that Carter was going to set up a Web site for them and were disappointed when he kept coming up with fresh reasons why he had not yet done so. (The board eventually found someone else to put the RMMA into cyberspace; its address is www.denvermusic.com.) For his part, Carter says Morris never understood why he had gotten involved with the RMMA in the first place. "I wasn't there to be Cherri's little Web-page publisher. The Web page was secondary to the organization itself, and there were so many problems with it at a basic level that I felt we needed to address them before we could do anything else."
The charges made by Carter are certainly plentiful. He complains that the RMMA's office, in a space on the premises of the American Vogue vintage-clothing store, is not easily accessible to the public; that boardmembers are not elected democratically; and that the association's books have not been audited in recent memory. He implies that Morris runs the RMMA like her own fiefdom. Many of Carter's allegations seem motivated by personality conflicts between him and Morris, but he insists that's not the case. "Cherri, in her heart, is totally devoted and committed, and the RMMA would have sunk three years ago if it wasn't for her," he notes. "But because of the way she went about rescuing it, she's let the organization drift away into apathy and attrition."
The situation came to a head in early 1997, when Carter asked the board to appoint Terry Minggia, a candidate of his own choosing, as the RMMA's chairman, himself as vice chairman and Morris as treasurer. Morris countered by mentioning an e-mail message sent to her by Carter that she found lewd. (The offending passage, which Carter says was intended as a joke, was, "I'm assertive and direct, which is healthy. Or you can look at it this way: I'm firm, I'm hard, I'm erecting an organizational pillar, I'm coming forth with ejaculations of systemic catalysts, and not only will I keep the ball rolling, but you're really going to enjoy it. Relax, I'm not trying to make you sore.") She then moved that Carter be voted off the RMMA board. Seconds later, he was.
But Carter didn't simply go away. He sent letters to Governor Roy Romer and Mayor Wellington Webb claiming that the RMMA was not being run properly and suggesting that it should not be eligible for its nonprofit, tax-exempt status. Webb representatives subsequently investigated these accusations and gave the RMMA a clean bill of health, but Carter was not satisfied. As MusicFest 97 approached, he passed out letters to Broadway merchants that stated, "Please be informed that Cherri Morris is not an elected representative of the RMMA and there is in fact no valid board of directors currently in existence." The document characterized the festival as a "tax-subsidized, illegally administered event" and hinted that business owners would be liable "for any debts or claims against [them] in relation to this event."
Predictably, Morris was incensed and immediately assured attendees at a meeting of the Broadway Terrace Merchants Association that Carter was merely blowing smoke. Ronnie Crawford, owner of American Vogue and American Aces, as well as president of the association, says Morris succeeded. "I think his intention was to be disruptive and to hurt Cherri," Crawford says. "But we let all the merchants know that everything's fine." He concludes, "It's one of those things that you see so much of in the music business--of people fighting over little things. So many of them have egos that are beyond belief."
The entire matter has been a tremendous headache for Morris, but she remains optimistic about MusicFest 97, which is free to the public and includes a car show, a beer garden, and various arts and crafts booths. (Vendors interested in participating can call the RMMA at 623-6910.) Morris adds that she will deal with Carter's actions in court. "I'm planning to file a lawsuit against him for personal harassment," she says. "I don't know all the rules about slander and things like that, but there's no question that harassment has taken place."
In the meantime, Carter has circulated letters inviting "former [disenchanted] members" of the RMMA to gather at the Book Mall, at 32 Broadway, on Tuesday evenings to help establish a "reform committee" intended to "bring the RMMA back into compliance with its legal and original bylaws and mission." He swears that by doing so, he is not engaging in a vendetta against Morris. "I mean no harm to her," he says. "I'm confronting her as a life lesson."
Local recordings fever: Catch it!
On her second CD, Farewell Bend, singer-songwriter Nancy Cook performs tasteful folk music aided by the contributions of violinist Gordon Burt, hammered-dulcimer player Bonnie Carol and several other Colorado names. The degree of professionalism is quite high on cuts like "We're Only Dancing Tonight," "He Calls Her Beautiful" and "Shadow on the Wall," but there's not a lot in the way of variety; "All the Way Down," which sports the bounciest arrangement here, would qualify as a ballad on anyone else's record. If you're one of those people who can take only so much sensitivity, you're advised to go elsewhere (Sharedog Records, P.O. Box 2402, Frisco 80443). Unclean, a sharp-sounding CD from Rorschach Test, a band that moved from Denver to the Pacific Northwest a couple of years back, demonstrates the keen commercial sense that has always served lead singer James Baker (formerly Jimmy Utah) so well. The musical style is industrial rock midway between Nine Inch Nails and White Zombie, and the lyrics are perfect representations of downer America: Witness the couplet "Congratulations, you've just won the right/To a meaningless, minuscule life," from "Wheel of Misfortune." The Test doesn't get a passing grade when the tempos dip--"Heaven Can Wait" sounds like recycled Pink Floyd. But when Baker is revved up, as he is on "Song for the Other Me," "Monster" and a dopey remake of Berlin's "Sex," he's good, nasty company. Fame has somehow eluded these guys thus far, but it's not been for a lack of trying (CMR Corporation, 360-705-1578).
Strange Monkey, which checks in with the CD Ebola Shindig, exemplifies one of the dilemmas I face in reviewing self-produced discs. This quintet is a rock band, pure and simple, and even though its members (Mark Turner, Alan Hodde, Captain Tim, Johnny G and Danny Durham) play competently, they do so in such a familiar way that there's practically nothing to say about them. After listening to these ten songs, only "Siamese Twins" stuck in my head for more than a second or two--and it did so solely because of the timeless chorus, which consists of four repetitions of the line "You got Siamese twins joined at the butt." Shrug (Strange Monkey, P.O. Box 36307, Denver 80236). R.O.R.X.: The Tenth Annual Reggae on the Rocks, a compilation released by Boulder's W.A.R.? imprint, was reviewed in these pages by contributor Joshua Green a while back, but in my opinion, it's worth another mention. As those who attended the August 1996 concert know, the lineup was first-rate, and while not all of the artists who played are represented here, the ones who are--Burning Spear, Israel Vibration and Black Uhuru--turn in top-drawer performances; I especially liked Spear's "Peace" and "Marcus Garvey," which are punctuated by stinging horns. The sound quality is noteworthy, too, making R.O.R.X. far more than a souvenir. Rather, it's proof that many of reggae's pioneers continue to work at a very high level (available in area record stores).
The self-titled cassette by Littleton's 100 Grand isn't going to get any technical raves in Stereo Review; I had to turn it up to a deafening level merely to hear it at all. But the music itself had much to recommend it. D-Bone, whose previous solo effort, Crazy, received a decidedly mixed review in this space earlier this year (Feedback, March 27), benefits immeasurably from singer Darlene, whose relaxed, soulful crooning on "Welcome" and "Dreamin" cut right through the technical limitations. "Don't Bite the Bullet," with vocals by (I think) D-Bone is considerably more forced. Next time, more Darlene, please (100 Grand, 430 East Mineral Court, Littleton 80122). Jimmy LaFave isn't a Denverite; he's a prototypical Austin dweller. But local music scenester Mark Shumate is such a LaFave fan that he formed Bohemia Beat Records (distributed by Rounder) for the sole purpose of bringing the singer-songwriter to a larger audience. A listen to LaFave's latest disc, Road Novel, opens a window onto Shumate's enthusiasm. With his scratchy voice, intelligent lyrics and love for the sort of rock and roll that doesn't hide its country roots (as well as the brand of country that's not afraid to rock), LaFave calls to mind a C&W Bruce Springsteen. "You'll Never Know" starts the album in fine style, "Vast Stretches of Broken Heart" would do Joe Ely proud, "Into Your Life" is prime hillbilly soul, "Home Sweet Oklahoma" is dusty and desolate, and "Long Time Since the Last Time" is roadhouse rock the way it was meant to be. Make Shumate happy--give LaFave a spin (available in area record stores).
Blues Americana: American Music--Raw, True & Blue was clearly a labor of love for harp player Dan Treanor, who assembled a squadron of Colorado blues musicians (including Washboard Chaz and David Booker) for a session that blends Treanor originals with covers of tunes by the likes of Mose Allison and Sonny Boy Williamson. There are no revelations here, but there weren't meant to be: Treanor's goal was to make music he loves in a relaxed environment, and at that he has succeeded. Modest, intermittently diverting (Plan-It Productions, c/o Dan Treanor, 5470 Saulsbury Court, Arvada 80002). Kevin Dooley, who checks in with the CD Everyday Dreams, is a reliable folk performer; he's unlikely to offer up off-pitch singing, painful rhymes or flat melodies. His vocals bring to mind a twangier Gordon Lightfoot, and his arrangements are spare and unfussy. "Decidin' Time" is a highway tune that rolls along nicely, "Over My Shoulder" should satisfy Greg Brown aficionados, and a friendly version of "Small Up Simple Down," from the pens of tunesmiths Harvey Campbell and David Kent, is a much-needed change of pace--a light ditty that contrasts with the sober-sided introspection all around it. If you're allergic to folk, Everyday Dreams is not the cure. But acoustic-music lovers may well eat it up (available in area record stores).
Swine is a combo that evolved from Swoon, which made its presence felt on the local club scene a few years back. Its self-titled demo has much in common with its earlier incarnation, meaning that it spotlights a band that specializes in the sort of aggressive guitar rock that's no longer considered in vogue. But if you're not hopelessly sick of the genre, you'll find much to recommend here. I especially enjoyed "Wasn't I" and "I-40," but each of the six sound nuggets on display are worth wallowing in (780-0699). Right Where I Wanna Be, by Boulder-based vocalist Mary Ann Moore, includes contributions from a slew of notable locals, Andy Weyn, Mark Diamond, Paul Romaine, Rich Chiaraluce and Ellyn Rucker among them. They provide a suitably slick backdrop over which Moore swings in a relaxed, confident manner. The material won't bowl you over with its adventurousness, but Moore makes "Wheelers & Dealers," "Living Room" and "Small Day Tomorrow" seem smooth and alluring. A solid effort (Synergy Music, P.O. Box 6213, Denver 80206-0213).
Over the Edge, the second CD by Frank Emsley, who goes by the name Mr. Zipp, is just as loopy as its predecessor, 1994's Unplugged. The offerings on hand that were created as gags for talk-radio shows have a somewhat dated feel, but many of them (like "Bob Dole: Sex Machine") are pretty funny anyhow, thanks to ultra-primitive recording methods, cheesy electronic instrumentation, tuneless vocals and Emsley's willingness to abandon good taste for long periods of time. I could have done without skits like "Axing Man's Brother" and "Zeke and the Ferrari," but the heavy dance beat behind "It's a Brothel" and the pop-based melody of "Over the Edge" actually induced me to tap my toes. Not that I'd admit that to just anyone (Rant Records, P.O. Box 39542, Denver 80239). The packaging on the self-titled demo by Freak Hungre isn't all that professional--unless you consider a TDK cassette with the songs written on its cover in ballpoint pen professional. The six tracks recorded on it are pretty primitive, too: Typical are "Strange," which mates a Captain Beefheart guitar line with atonal attempts at harmonies, the faux-reggae "Wear Your Coat" and the pale funk of "Old Candy." They don't exactly brim with listening pleasure, but I'll bet the bandmembers are awfully nice guys (388-7903).
Last week I neglected to mention the ballot for the third annual Westword Music Awards Showcase, set to take place at eight LoDo venues on Sunday, September 21. Fortunately, there's another copy in this week's issue (see page 103), and duplicates will appear in each edition through September 18. Vote for your favorite Colorado acts in thirteen different categories; you'll be glad you did.
The Hillbilly Hellcats, nominated in the rockabilly/roots bracket, have been through some changes lately, but they've finally settled on what leader Chuck Hughes hopes will be a stable lineup: original Hellcats bassist Lance Bakemeyer and new drummer Tim Theis. Rock with them on Thursday, September 4, at the Old Chicago at 1415 Market Street.
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Or else do the following. On Thursday, September 4, Human Waste Project (from, appropriately, Los Angeles) gets Sick at Herman's Hideaway, and Cowboys & Angels, yet another Kenny James side project, joins Judge Roughneck and Toddy and the Assorted Beverages at the Boulder Theater. On Friday, September 5, Buzz Bomber and the M80s play for the benefit of Denver Safehouse at Cricket on the Hill; Carolyn's Mother nurses Mr. Woodman at Herman's; and the Acid Bugs, Jack Jensen and Allister Cobian get musical during an art exhibition at the 8 Oz. Fred Gallery, 26 Broadway. On Saturday, September 6, New York-based singer-songwriter Sam Shaber ventures to Cricket on the Hill; Preacherman and the Congregation raise the roof at the Boulder Theater, with Wojo; Alien Sleestaks, a Redd Kross cover band (!) made up of folks from bands like Sissy Fuzz and Abdomen, land at the Lion's Lair, with the Emirs; and the two-day Heal the Earth Celebration kicks off, featuring such hard-edged artists as Paul Winter, R. Carlos Nakai and Peter Kater. On Sunday, September 7, Israeli pop act Esta appears at the Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center, 350 South Dahlia. And on Tuesday, September 9, Life of Agony has fun, fun, fun at the Bluebird Theater, with Dogma; Backspackle patches up Area 39 in the company of 30 Foot Fall and Big Wig; Local H is letter-perfect at the Mercury Cafe; and Black Lab is kicked out of bed for eating Cracker at the Fox Theatre. Mmmm-mmmm good.