Last summer, Isaac Slade of the Fray dined at the Governor’s Mansion. He was seated between two of the richest people in Colorado: Democratic powerhouse Pat Stryker and Libby Anschutz, the conservative daughter of billionaire Republican heavyweight Phil Anschutz.
Slade’s companions were trying to persuade him to join the Colorado Music Coalition, a nonprofit that they were forming with his close friend, Governor John Hickenlooper, to roll out a music-education program called Take Note Colorado. Take Note Colorado has one goal: to ensure that each K-12 child in the state has both an instrument and a music education. The nonprofit will host a star-studded benefit concert headlined by Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats at the 1STBANK Center on Thursday, May 4.
“They got me liquored up and lured me into an initiative,” jokes Slade. But it wasn’t just the craft beer that snagged him.
The leaders of the Colorado Music Coalition point to a study from the College Board showing that students who receive music and arts education score 100 points higher on the SAT than their peers who have not had the same opportunities. Music education has been associated with advanced brain development, higher grades and stronger cognitive and emotional skills throughout life, says Hickenlooper. “Wouldn’t it be great if Colorado could be the first state where any kid who wanted to learn to play music could?” he asks.
The coalition’s backers are bigwigs in the political world, but they are also music fans.
Along with serving as governor, Hickenlooper is known for playing the banjo, jumping on stage with local performers, hanging out with musicians like Slade and Rateliff, and frequenting concerts despite his busy political schedule.
Through her Bohemian Foundation, Stryker has been a major donor not just to progressive political causes, but in more recent years, to the Fort Collins music scene, sponsoring the concert series Bohemian Nights and funding the Fort Collins Music District, effectively turning the sleepy college town into a Front Range music hub.
As for Anschutz, as a child she was strong-armed into classical-piano lessons that she plodded through without inspiration. “The concept of being able to jam out or play by ear or just experiment was lost,” she says. At fourteen, she left her instrument behind and turned to sports. “I didn’t come back to it until I was in my early thirties, when I started my first band,” she says.
Anschutz now performs in a bluesy rock band called Tracksuit Wedding, which is in the process of recording a new album. She has served on the board of Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofit with a branch in Colorado that teaches participants how to play contemporary music. A proponent of music education, Anschutz wants the Colorado Music Coalition to teach students about blues, chord progression and musical improv.
At last summer’s dinner, Slade was impressed by the group’s political diversity and enthusiasm for music education, but he was not convinced he should join. Between performing with his Billboard chart-topping band and raising a three-year-old and a newborn, he didn’t have much time to devote to the project.
When he expressed that he was still on the fence, a guest at the mansion asked him: Why wouldn’t you do it for the children?
When Slade was eight, he sang on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder and realized that music was his calling. He has also seen his own three-year-old son, Judah, become a music fanatic, drumming along the sidelines when the Fray performs. For Christmas, Slade and his wife bought Judah a drum kit, and he has been playing — with increasing skill — ever since.
When confronted with that question — why wouldn’t you do it for the children? — and thinking about being a kid and having his own, Slade agreed to serve as chairman of the Take Note Colorado steering committee. In that role, he serves as an ambassador between politicians, donors and the music community. He has committed to staying in the position through Hickenlooper’s last term as governor.
In an effort to build its ties with the music industry, Take Note’s steering committee recruited Chuck Morris, president of AEG Live Rocky Mountains, and Chris Tetzeli, founder of 7S Management, who manages Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. Also included on the steering committee are Margaret Hunt of Colorado Creative Industries, the state’s arts-funding body under the Office of Economic Development; Bryce Merrill and Cheryl Zimlich of the Bohemian Foundation; and Jamie Van Leeuwen, senior advisor to Governor Hickenlooper.
The steering committee has held bi-weekly phone meetings and has begun planning how it will fulfill its vision of every child in the state having access to an instrument and music education. First up: a lot of research. In its initial year, the group plans to collect data on music education in Colorado and create a “heat map” of the state, showing which counties and municipalities have programs and which have none, Tetzeli says.
Not surprisingly, the plan will also involve fundraising. Morris and AEG are leading the effort to host the May 4 concert, headlined by Rateliff and company. Also on the bill: OneRepublic, Slade, Todd Park Mohr, Bill Nershi of the String Cheese Incident, Tracksuit Wedding, comedian Josh Blue, and Bret Saunders from 97.3 KBCO. All of the performers are donating their talent.
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The event aims to raise between $300,000 and $400,000, which would go toward establishing a grant-making fund so that Take Note Colorado can partner with at least three Colorado school districts in the 2017 school year.
That shouldn’t be too difficult: As the governor himself points out, “When you put Nathaniel Rateliff and OneRepublic on the same billing, it’s going to be a big deal.”
Take Note the Concert, with Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, OneRepublic, Isaac Slade, Todd Park Mohr and others, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 4, 1STBANK Center, 303-410-0700.