Tonight's benefit concert for the Denver Public Schools Foundation will feature some prominent local musicians — including Governor John Hickenlooper. The event, called "Sing It to Me Santa: Colorado Rocks for Teachers," will donate proceeds to the 501(c)(3) of Denver Public Schools, a nonprofit whose "purpose is to foster and promote education for students in the City and County of Denver," according to Ed Haselden of The Moderators, a band composed of CEOs that will also perform. "I think they especially provide additional means for students who perhaps are less fortunate than others."
Haselden, chairman and CEO of Haselden Construction, emphasizes the importance of education to the local business community. "At the end of the day, we need educated people in the workforce in Colorado," he says. "So anything we can do to help advance education for kids is not only good for the community, but it's good for business."
While local businesspeople getting involved in fundraising for charity is expected, it's more surprising to find a governor picking up an instrument rather engaging in straight politicking. Westword asked Hickenlooper why he sees a benefit concert as being helpful to funding public education. "Our system is broken in so many places, you'd need splints and tourniquets everywhere," Hickenlooper responds. "If our system wasn't broken, you wouldn't need to have charities and be raising money for other things."
In June, the Denver School Board approved a $911 million budget for 2015-2016, with new teachers and raises in the cards. Hickenlooper, however, highlights the need for ongoing arts education funding: "Metro Denver and the Denver Public Schools do a great job. There are music teachers in almost every elementary school and almost every middle school and almost every high school. But they don't have enough money to ensure every kid can get an instrument, and not every kid can get the right instruction that would suit them," he says.
Erica Brown of the blues band The Frails, which will also perform, says, "You know, with the way Denver is growing, any school district would find its resources strained. DPS is no exception."
The DPS Foundation website describes itself as "Denver Public Schools' fundraising partner. We generate resources, build relationships and champion public education to impact system-wide achievement and help every child succeed."
Hickenlooper believes that finding a way to allow the worlds of politics, art and education to work together will benefit all. "I'm a great believer in the arts and the creative industry, so all the commerce around art really adds value to all aspects of the economy. The more music venues you have, the more galleries you have, the better your economy is going to do," Hickenlooper says. "The kids that write code for the Internet, the kids that create software — most of those kids weren't the star of the football team or the cheerleader...usually they were a little bit on the social fringe of their high school and they hung out with the musicians, the painters and the poets. They're attracted to places where those creative people are celebrated and where there's a higher density of creative people. The millennials want to be in communities that embrace the arts."
For Hickenlooper, getting to take part in music events — including those featuring artists who appeal to said millennials — is a fringe benefit of public service. "When I got inaugurated, Nathaniel Rateliff came and played. Ryan Tedder from OneRepublic came and played, as did Isaac Slade [of the Fray] and his wife, Anna," he says. "As an elected official, if you love music, you can meet a lot of the most talented people you could ever meet in life. Most of them think politics is kind of interesting — if a little weird."
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A musician himself, Hickenlooper will perform at the Ogden, though there's speculation as to what, exactly, he'll be doing. "We did a show a year or two back, and [Hickenlooper] was dressed up in a Beatles wig when we did a Beatles medley," Haselden says. "He just always has a great time promoting the charity that we're involved with. He's a great friend of all the charities in the community and also a great friend of the band."
Brown would say only that Hickenlooper "put a lot of really great effort into making his part of this fun and entertaining, and came up with a musical idea for the show that totally surprised and tickled me."
Sing It to Me Santa: Colorado Rocks for Teachers, with performances from Todd Park Mohr, Billy Nershi, Governor John Hickenlooper, Tracksuit Wedding, Ryan Chrys & the Rough Cuts, the Moderators, Denver First Lady Mary Louise Lee, the Frails and many more, is at 7 p.m. on Saturday, December 12 at the Ogden Theatre; 935 East Colfax Avenue, Denver; 303-832-1874. Tickets are $20 to $25.