Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do concert promoters--which is why the Denver live-music market has been weaving like Charles Bukowski on a bender ever since Barry Fey announced that he had sold the remaining shares of his Fey Concerts firm to Los Angeles-based Universal Concerts last August. Just two weeks ago, this space was filled with news about two major changes at Universal--the departure of talent buyer Brent Fedrizzi, and longtime Fey associate Chuck Morris's decision to sever his consulting agreement with the outfit. At the time, Morris declined to answer questions about his move with anything other than "no comment"s, and with good reason: On January 19 he announced that he was joining forces with Bill Graham Presents (BGP), a legendary promotions concern anchored in San Francisco, to form Bill Graham Presents/ Chuck Morris Presents, a promotions partnership whose first official act was to name Fedrizzi as its talent buyer. Because BGP was recently purchased by SFX Entertainment, a concert juggernaut nationwide, the stakes for this new entity are incredibly high. Although neither Morris nor Mark Norman, the head of Universal-Denver, will come right out and admit it, there's a very real possibility that your home and mine will become the site of an all-out promotions war. Fey himself puts the situation in perspective: "I feel like Dick Butkus or Joe Montana watching the Super Bowl. It's past my time, but I'd still love to strap my helmet on. This is going to be a battle."
Morris, reached in Nashville, is considerably more cautious about making predictions than is his onetime mentor. Fey feels that the hiring of Fedrizzi represents the first blow in a blood match unlike any Colorado has seen since Fey and Universal (previously known as MCA) first knocked heads in the late Eighties, but Morris says, "I beg to differ with Barry. My feeling is, this is going to be a boutique company. If it was going to be a war, we would hire a whole bunch of people and go for it. But we're not going to do that. We're going to pick and choose the artists that I'm close with, we're going to find the best halls for the right situations, and we're not going out there to compete with every offer at MCA. We can't. That's not my intent."
Instead, Morris has his eyes set on putting together "ten to twenty larger shows," as well as an undetermined number of smaller presentations at clubs or the like in 1998 before deciding whether to expand. The majority of these will probably involve acts with which Morris has worked either at Feyline, Fey Concerts' predecessor, or Morris, Bliesener & Associates, a successful management firm that he will continue to run with the aid of longtime colleague Mark Bliesener. BGP/CMP has already booked Blues Traveler to play Red Rocks on July 3 and last week confirmed an Amy Grant date at the Buell Theater in April. Word of other shows could be forthcoming within weeks, and although Fedrizzi names no names, he says, "Hopefully, our past relationships will help us retain some of the bigger acts."
Relationships have been one of Morris's strong suits since he stumbled into the music industry three decades ago. A native of Brooklyn, he was a political-science student at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the late Sixties when Herbie Kauvar, owner of the Sink, a popular local watering hole, asked him to manage the venue for him. Morris did so for two and a half years, hiring artists such as Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids to crank out jams in the Sink's back room. He and Kauvar subsequently purchased Tulagi's, a Boulder nightspot then foundering as a dance club, and turned it into a happening joint. "This was 1971, and in a period of two years, it became like the Fox Theatre of the Seventies," Morris recollects about the 500-seat space. "We had Linda Ronstadt, the Doobie Brothers, ZZ Top, old folkies like Eric Andersen, blues people like Big Mama Thornton--every kind of music. It was one of the biggest showcase rooms in the country."
This success inspired Morris to ask Fey, who had already emerged as Denver's most powerful promoter, to back him in a venture of his own. Says Morris, "I had never met Barry before, and I thought he was going to hang up on me. He basically said, 'What the fuck do you want?'" But the next evening, Fey visited Tulagi's, and before long, he agreed to bankroll Morris's dream venue. Ebbets Field, located at 15th and Curtis and christened in honor of the Brooklyn Dodgers ballpark near where Morris grew up, never made much money, owing to a capacity of only 238, but it hosted the Denver debuts of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker and earned Club of the Year honors from Billboard magazine in 1975 and 1976. Shortly thereafter, Morris and Fey sold the Field so that Morris could become Feyline's vice president. He served in this capacity for ten years, after which he formed his management business. He first made his mark in this realm with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, whose career he began shepherding in 1983, while still at Feyline. Other performers he's managed since then include Highway 101 and Lyle Lovett; presently, Morris, Bliesener handles Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Leo Kottke, Ugly Americans and Leftover Salmon.
Given this extensive background, Morris was viewed as a shoo-in to succeed Fey at Universal-Denver. But in mid-December, when it became clear that the post would not be offered to him, Morris contacted Nicholas Clainos and Gregg W. Perloff, co-presidents of Bill Graham Presents. "They had told me for years that if ever I was unhappy or if I ever was open to do promoting, I should call them," he says. "I've known these people for twenty years, and I've had a great relationship with them." Representatives of BGP were in Denver within days, and after four weeks the deal was done.
The timing couldn't have been more propitious for Fedrizzi. He resigned from Universal-Denver on January 5 and called Morris the next day, knowing nothing about the compact with BGP. "Chuck said, 'Let's sit down and talk,'" Fedrizzi remembers, "and everything turned out perfectly. I had an offer out of state, but it meant moving, and my intentions were to stay in Denver. It's a great city to live and work in, and I have a lot of knowledge of the market."
He has plenty of knowledge about Universal as well, and that could come in handy should things between the combatants turn nasty. But Fedrizzi resists the opportunity to throw brickbats at either the corporation or head man Norman, who comes to Colorado from Canada, where he oversaw Universal's operations in much of that country. As for Norman, who was in Canada when the birth of BGP/CMP became known, he responds to a question about what the turn of events means for Universal by conceding, "Geez, I don't know what it means. I guess it means that there's more than one player now, and I wish Chuck and Gregg all the best. I hope we all have a good time competing together."
The nature of that competition is still unknown, but quotemaster Fey expects other promoters to be hurt by it. "There's an old saying: 'When the elephants fight, the little animals get trampled,'" he remarks. Jesse Morreale, who left Universal-Denver to concentrate on Gess Presents, the indie-promotions venture he owns, laughs at this analogy. "I don't know that either of those two companies are much for developing acts, and that's what us little animals do," he says. But at the same time, he hints that's he's been chatting with another promoter interested in invading Denver. (He won't say who, but he's putting on an upcoming Arlo Guthrie concert in conjunction with Evening Star, an establishment from Phoenix.) "Whether someone else will want to come in here will depend on BGP's performance," Morreale contends. "If they seem capable, it'll lessen the attractiveness of the market. But if they seem ineffective, it's still going to be a place that people will keep their eyes on."
How will this affect consumers? No one can be certain, but if the past is any indication, concert-goers could end up taking it in the shorts. "Typically, what I've seen in a market when you have two major promoters competing is that ticket prices go up," Norman points out. "In Canada, when a company called CPI started competing with MCA-Universal, we saw extraordinary increases. And since that didn't mean more bands came to town, the fans couldn't win."
That's economics, Nineties-style.
Our friends at D.U. Records are campaigning to put an advisory sticker on albums that include lyrics that are "extremely tired and simply unacceptable anymore." The phrases suggested for banning include "all night long," "hold on to the feeling," "hold on to the night," "'hold on' to anything," "feel the fever," "feel the beat," "so hot it's cool," "so cool it's hot," and rhyming anything with "funeral pyre." If Jim Morrison were still alive, that last one would have killed him.
The Samples are getting set to record their first studio long-player since splitting from MCA and re-upping with W.A.R.?, an outfit that owes its very life to the group. But with the actual sessions a ways off, drummer Kenny James realized that he had some time on his hands--and since he just happens to be the planet's most prolific timekeeper, he decided to fill it by joining another band, at least temporarily. Specifically, James is again a part of Judge Roughneck, a ska conglomeration for which he once pounded. The reason, according to chief Judge Byron Shaw, is that percussionist Scott Seiver "has moved to L.A. to do session work, which is great for him." The Roughnecks are auditioning new drummers, but they've also been writing material for their second CD with James, and Shaw says that when the band goes into the studio, it's likely that Kenny will be the man holding the sticks. Says Shaw, "It just feels natural." Make up your own mind on Saturday, January 24, when Judge Roughneck opens for the Heptals at Herman's Hideaway.
Trumpeter Ron Miles shows up on a couple of stages this week. On Thursday, January 22, he sits in with Fat Mama during a turn at the Fox Theatre; Vena Cava is the opener. Then, on Saturday, January 24, at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Miles and another gifted brass expert, Hugh Ragin, appear with the Dave Honig Quartet. How horny.
Onetime Babihed wild man Bill Houston has joined the cast of Soundcheck, the local-music show airing Sundays from 8 to 10 p.m. on KRRF-AM/1280. On January 25, he and the program's founder, Brian Pavlik, will greet Hank and the Hankstirs. Says Houston, "I think there's only about twelve people listening right now, so we'd like to spread the word."
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Who wouldn't? On Thursday, January 22, Natty Nation raises the flag for the first of two nights at Jimmy's Grille. On Friday, January 23, Stewart Lewis and Beth Quist team up at Swallow Hill Music Hall; Paul Galaxy and the Galactics blast off at Seven South; Mustard Plug plays catchup at the Bluebird Theater; Prunella Scales, featuring Rachel Bolan from Skid Row, weighs its options at Area 39; and guitarist John Scofield plugs in at the Boulder Theater. On Saturday, January 24, the phabulous Phlegmtones clear their throats at Seven South, and Westword contributor John Jesitus accepts gratuities at Common Grounds. On Tuesday, January 27, Common, one of the brightest and most literate of today's rising hip-hoppers, combines forces with the X-ecutioners and Rhazel of the Roots at the Fox, and chUCK dA foNK fISHMAN & the Mile High Funkers jam at the Mercury Cafe. And on Wednesday, January 28, Snot splatters at the Fox, with Sevendust. Gesundheit.