From its rough-hewn exterior, it's hard to tell if the Aztlan Theater is still up and running. It is, technically, but the once-notable building that has been a part of the fabric of Santa Fe for decades is in dire need of some help. There's a lot of love and history in this long-running music venue, but it is currently without a proper sound system. And without that, the show can't go on.
This Saturday, September 20, the "Save the Aztlan: A benefit to restore Denver's musical heritage" show will bring bands back to the stage and all of the money will go to bringing back some of the venue's former glory.
See also: Denver Rock Atlas: The Aztlan Theatre
Opening in the 1920s as movie house the Santa Fe Theater, Tim Correa purchased it in 1973 and renamed it the Aztlan Theater. He was still doing movies then, until 1986 when he says technology caught up with the film business and the introduction of the VCR to households cut his theater patronage down by 75 percent. In 1987, then-fledgling freelance booker Doug Kauffman (one of the dudes behind Nobody In Particular Presents and re-vamper of now seminal concert venues like the Ogden and the Gothic) approached Correa about putting on a show for a band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
"I didn't even know who the Red Hot Chili Peppers were, but I said okay," says Correa with a calm laugh. He thinks there may have been a handful of local shows hosted in the venue prior to that, but it was that Chili Peppers show that he remembers most, kicking off a new era for the Aztlan. Later, a young promoter named Dan Steinberg came in and started booking shows for Correa. That lasted a while, but Steinberg moved on to the greener entertainment pastures of the Pacific Northwest in 2000 and went on to become a big name promoter. Shows at the Aztlan just weren't the same after that.
But to pick up the slack, Correa had started being approached by rave promoters in the mid-90s, and that was the business that sustained the theater up until about six months ago when the owner says bookings just simply dropped off. He's not sure why, but he is no longer seeing the the same business he used to and it's hurting.
Correa says Ha Hau of Triad Dragons (a man instrumental in the massively successful EDM scene in Colorado) was once a regular renter of the Aztlan space. When raves became the theater's bread and butter, the sound system was hardly adequate, so it had to go. Promoters brought in their own gear, meaning the theater is currently without its own system. Saturday's benefit is hoping to change that. Once he can afford his own system, Correa thinks he could be back in the business of booking shows.
Bands at this weekend's "Save the Aztlan" benefit will be playing on the theater's stage with a rented sound system, though one of the benefit's organizers, Steph Baily of Tangeroo Entertainment, thinks the show itself will still be a little rough around the edges -- but the love of the place is still very strong. "The lighting is pretty terrible but we'll just have to make do," she Bailey with a laugh. Bailey got involved with the idea of hosting a benefit when Monica Patton, her friend and bartender at the theater's adjoining Theatre Bar, mentioned that the Aztlan was in need of some help.
The two friends banded together and asked bands they knew -- along with posting inquiries to Facebook and Craigslist reaching out to bands they didn't know personally who might want to help -- looking for people to play. A good amount of locals came out in support and the show was good to go.
Sets begin early in the day on Saturday, with acts like NDAAZ, Such As I Am, Orcinus, Kunundrum, AdrienneO and more taking the stage starting at 4 p.m. for the benefit. Local artists and merchants from in and around the Santa Fe Art District will also have tables set up inside the venue selling work and wares to help raise money.
With acts like Run-D.M.C., AFI, Offspring and Slayer performing on the Aztlan's stage over the years, it is a place with music history Denver can't afford to lose. Tickets for the "Save the Aztlan: A benefit to restore Denver's musical heritage" goes down this Saturday, September 20 at 4 p.m. at the Aztlan Theater. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door or through the event's website. For more information and a full line-up of bands performing, visit the "Save the Aztlan" Facebook.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies