"When I first read it, I laughed," says Scott LaBarbera. "Then I got mad. It was just full of inaccuracies. But I understand that they're bitter. They put their heart and soul into that theater. I do wish them the best. I think they're good guys who just reacted out of anger."
LaBarbera is responding to an incendiary statement issued last week by his former associates, MOD Productions' Cory Morrison and Michael O'Donnell. "With the highly publicized July 4th debacle with W.A.S.P. , things turned ugly at the Oriental Theatre," the statement begins. "What initially appeared as a great relationship with plans for success turned into a shouting match with the other side of Scott LaBarbera."
What a difference a few weeks make. When Morrison and I spoke last month about Blackie Lawless's incorrigible behavior at the theater on July 4 (The Beatdown, July 21), the MOD partners seemed to be getting along just fine with LaBarbera -- even though the company that Morrison and O'Donnell had poured their energy into for the past eighteen months had to dissolve as a result of losses incurred over the W.A.S.P. show and an MS benefit that never panned out. Morrison said that he and O'Donnell planned to remain on board as part of LaBarbera's new company, 44th Avenue Productions.
But now they've bailed.
"The whole vision for the theater that we had was to have a diverse room, and he didn't like that," Morrison says of LaBarbera. "I mean, that's just one of the conversations we had with him. He doesn't want a variety of genres at the theater. When he decided that he wanted to start booking shows, he wanted to start doing what they're doing at the Boulder Theatre -- basically, Radio 1190, indie, kind of what we call hippie, hip-hop -- and that's all that he wants to do. He wants to do 21-and-over only, and that type of music. He doesn't want any metal, he doesn't want any emo, he doesn't want any of the screamo, he doesn't want country, he doesn't want any of that."
Of course, LaBarbera -- who reportedly funneled $40,000 into the operation -- has a vastly different account. He says he's reluctant to badmouth the pair, who "worked really hard, and I feel bad that things didn't work out for them." But Morrison's accusation is "ludicrous," he adds. "I want it to be a diverse venue for music. That's why I got involved in this, to support local music. I just can't have 25 high school bands playing on a Friday night."
Initially, LaBarbera's involvement was simply as an investor. After selling his mortgage business, he decided to help out the venue where he'd previously promoted some comedy shows. But things changed after the W.A.S.P. show. "They were broke," he says. "I paid all the employees out of my pocket. I made sure everybody got paid. Then they bounced the rent check, so I went ahead and covered that. I realized then that I had to separate myself from them entirely."
Not only were they in arrears with the staff and on the sound and light rentals, LaBarbera contends, but Morrison and O'Donnell had gotten crosswise with the Oriental's neighbors. "The neighborhood association is really mad at them, which they tried to blame on me," he says. "And now my main goal as a theater is to get a permanent liquor license and keep the neighborhood association happy. Ultimately, I have to work with the neighborhood; that's my main concern. I have to get that liquor license, and without the neighborhood's support, I'm not going to have a venue."
"Things started going bad with the neighbors when we brought Scott in," Morrison counters. "Scott would not listen to us about the amount of staff that we had to have. Scott kept saying, 'No, we need to cut back staff.' And we said, 'No, we need to keep staff at the back doors. We need to make sure there's a staff person out walking around, checking the parking lots, walking the neighborhood.' We also told him that our agreement with the neighbors, when we started there, was on weekdays and Sundays, we'd end our events by ten. On Friday and Saturday, we'd try to wrap up around midnight. And he's like, 'Oh, no, no, we can push that until two 'o clock.' And it's like, 'No, that's not going to work in the neighborhood.' He wanted to do it his way or no way and didn't care that Michael and I had been doing this for almost two years and had a system down that went well."
With O'Connell and Morrison gone (they've returned to day gigs and may consider doing promoting again down the road), LaBarbera's regrouping. Last week he reached out to Councilman Rick Garcia, and he says he'll host a community meeting within the next few weeks to come up with a plan that works for everybody. In the meantime, the Oriental is closed for renovations. LaBarbera has purchased a new sound board and lighting system and gutted the lobby to make room for a lounge to handle overflow from the restaurant next door, which he plans to convert into a gourmet grilled-cheese eatery.
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The theater will reopen on Saturday, September 3, with a Revenge of the Nerds-themed party featuring Mr. Pacman and Mannequin Makeout. LaBarbera is eager to turn the page and get on with the Oriental's next chapter.
"It's business," he concludes. "I made some bad decisions, but I'm moving forward. It's costing some money, but that's life."
Upbeats and beatdowns: Props to the Trampolines, who sold out their CD-release party last week at Red Rocks. According to Jay Ruybal from the Denver Division of Theaters and Arenas, the show was only the second sellout in the history of the Film on the Rocks series, drawing nearly 8,000 people. An exhausted Mark Sundermeier humbly deflected accolades, saying that the featured film -- The Princess Bride -- probably contributed to the large turnout. Maybe so, but it's hard to believe that a record-breaking number of folks would drive to Red Rocks on a Tuesday night just to watch a movie they've probably seen hundreds of times. Either way, nice work, fellas.
Meanwhile, the Fray continues its radio takeover. "Over My Head (Cable Car)" checked in at #18 on Filter magazine's radio chart -- ahead of Bruce Springsteen, the White Stripes, Weezer and U2, among others -- and was the biggest mover of the week at #38 on Media Guide's Triple-A chart, one of the most comprehensive sources for tracking radio airplay. Catch the Fray this Friday, August 12, at Red Rocks, where they share a bill with the Killers, Spoon and Mike Doughty.