"There's no place to play" is among the most common laments offered by local musicians who specialize in originals, and while this is something of an exaggeration, it reflects a real problem on the Denver scene. What follows is a tale of three area clubs--one that's stopped booking bands entirely, one that's narrowed its focus, and one that's staying the course in spite of an ownership change.
The Market Street Lounge, at 1417 Market in lower downtown, has provided a forum for party-friendly area groups for quite a while now, and anyone who's ever stood in the seemingly endless line to the venue's sole bathroom can testify to its popularity. But following a July 1 benefit performance by Jerry's Kids, the powers that be decided to close down the operation entirely. The plan calls for the space to be incorporated into Old Chicago, the eatery next door. Instead of music listeners, the space will contain pool tables, video games and so on.
Why? According to Bruce Senti, general manager of Old Chicago and former overseer of the Lounge, "It was difficult running a restaurant and a music venue together. Because the two are connected to each other by joining doors, the music level was too loud. People who made the choice to come to Old Chicago were subjected to it, whether they wanted to be or not."
Senti confirms that the club was pulling its financial weight: "The room was very successful. That was the hard thing about closing. But it was something we felt we had to do." He adds, "There's definitely been some disappointment from people. We had some great bands that were committed to us from the beginning. But hopefully they were able to use the room as a launching spot to bigger and better things."
Most of them won't be going to Seven South, at 7 South Broadway--at least not for a while. Earlier this decade, Seven South was as hip an original-music joint as Denver had to offer, and it regularly drew throngs to see locals and national rockers on the fringes of the fringe. But, as the club's Nancy Kennedy notes, "audiences seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. And so many of the bands that used to do well here have broken up. Right now, we'd be hard-pressed to book a straight blend of rock."
As a result, Kennedy has decided to try something different; the latest entertainment lineup, largely conceived by promoters Tom Headbanger and Tim Alexander, focuses on forward-looking dance music and goth. Thursdays have been dubbed "Methadone Klinik" and feature high-intensity dance beats chosen by DJs Double Hit Mickey and Deadly Buddha of the Deadly Systems crew, as well as the Royal Sugar Twist Clan's Airick Heater--aka Sugar Twist Kids leader Eric Heater, a onetime Westword cover boy (see "Some Like It Hot," April 4, 1996). On Fridays, "Haj: A Darkwave Pilgrimage" celebrates all things goth. And on Saturdays, "Sound Barrier" pumps out hard electronica courtesy of DJ Tower and DJ Chromer. Other extreme events also dot the Seven South schedule; an example is the Wednesday, July 15, show featuring profile subject PKU (see page 92).
Kennedy is mildly encouraged by the response to Seven South's new sound. "The turnouts have been adequate," she says. "And that's better than it was. With rock it was so up and down. And now, if it's a slow night, you only have one DJ looking at you disappointed instead of fifteen musicians." The folks who've been turning out, Kennedy goes on, "aren't big drinkers. They're dancers, and really young; we've had to do heavy carding. But they're all so nice that it's kind of tempting to stay with this. And I think it's building a little."
Still, Kennedy confesses to missing rock and roll. "I actually thought the bands we were getting at the end were better than ever," she says. "But audiences were so fickle that none of them could build a base of fans. People would be like, 'We've heard them once. We don't need to hear them again.' And I can't pull bands out of a hat. So I'll just concede rock to other clubs for a while."
That's good news for Wendy Wikstrand, who took over Area 39, at 3900 Pecos, in mid-April. Wikstrand, who once published a "rock-and-roll gossip comic" called The Adventures of Grandma Dynamite and organized a local band contest called the Granny Awards, has renamed the venue Grandma's Area 39 and remodeled both inside and out. "We've really spruced up the interior, and we painted the exterior black, so it really stands out," she says. But in other ways, the club hasn't changed. "We still consider ourselves a band bar," she points out. "We try to make the bands as comfortable as possible, because they're the ones who bring the people in."
Haylar Garcia had the same notion in mind when he founded Area 39 in 1996; as a longtime local musician (he's best known for his participation in the Hippie Werewolves and Johnson), he wanted to conjure up an environment that both artists and their followers would enjoy. But last year he began to feel that running the club was taking too much time away from his more creative enterprises, including Audio 39, a recording studio in the Area 39 space. As a result, he sold the venue to longtime pal Wikstrand. "He still owns Audio 39," Wikstrand emphasizes, "and he's still around a lot. But I'm running the bar."
Among Wikstrand's challenges is convincing people that Grandma's Area 39, which is open Thursdays through Saturdays, isn't all that far off the beaten path. "We're really only five minutes from Larimer Square," she says. "But people are still leery of the neighborhood, even though we don't have half the crime that you have in Capitol Hill or Larimer. So we hired some door guys and extra security and put up lights to make people feel safer." These alterations seem to have helped, but Wikstrand is still frustrated that "nobody's supporting the scene like they used to. It seems like people get stuck only going out to see one band. They don't even think to go out and see somebody they've never heard of, and that's too bad, because there's a lot of talent in Denver."
To nurture new artists, Wikstrand is holding a Battle of the Bands contest every Thursday and doing her best to come up with interesting combinations of groups on other nights. On Friday, July 10, for instance, she's spotlighting Millionaire Freaks and DANK (formerly Crush Automatic); the next night, Mad Bastard, Back Alley Poets and Taos take the stage. Acts like these give Wikstrand hope for the future. "The music's been good, and people who come have a good time--and they come back," she says. "And we support the bands. Because if we don't, I don't know who will."
Ike and the Capers (see page 90) are only one of the draws at the Denver Rock N' Rhythm-Billy Weekend, Friday and Saturday, July 10 and 11, at the Holiday Inn DIA. Also on tap are a vintage fashion show, a parade's worth of custom hot rods and a dance contest with cash prizes. Call 455-8408 to get the lowdown.
No, Boz Scaggs won't be attending. On Thursday, July 9, the Poland Brothers travel to 'Round Midnight (the group plays the next night at the Ogden Theatre), and the Ben Sidran Quartet entertains at the Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center. On Friday, July 10, the marvelous Mr. Quintron joins his lovely wife, Ms. Pussy Cat, at the 15th Street Tavern; Unsane gets it together at the Bluebird Theater, with Today Is the Day; and car81mob debuts a new recording, Like a Razor, at Cafe Euphrates, with Lost Marbles. On Saturday, July 11, Cosmic Soul Surfers and others gather at the State Bridge Lodge in Bond, Colorado (call 1-970-653-9999 for more info); the Damnations and Slobberbone salivate at Quixote's True Blue; Westword contributor Marty Jones teaches students how to build and play a washtub bass at Swallow Hill (dial 777-1003 for times and prices); and Buzz Bomber and the M-80s explode at the Skyline Cafe. On Tuesday, July 14, ManDingo pays tribute to Ken Norton at the 15th Street Tavern with Barnyard Ballers, and the Flying Aces teach you how to lindy hop at the Mercury Cafe. And on Wednesday, July 15, San Diego singer-songwriter Mary Dolan visits the Coffee Nut, 1028 South Gaylord. Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don't.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com.
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