Unless you're new to the Denver scene, you've probably had a hazy night in the RiNo district -- seeing a show at the Meadowlark or the Larimer, getting a taco at a food truck, stopping outside MegaFauna to peer in at the locally-made clothing, prints and assorted sundries. MegaFauna owner John McCaskill wants to take this experience and amp it up to a full-scale street party. His brainchild is the Final Friday Music Walk and Urban Bazaar, which is set to kick off on Friday, May 31; the series will continue through the end of August.
McCaskill recently sat down with us to explain what the Urban Bazaar is all about, and his vision for the future of the RiNo district.
WestwordWill you give me a little bit of background on how the Final Friday idea came about? John McCaskill: Well, since our inception, MegaFauna has been an ardent supporter of local artists -- whether that's performance-based or visual artists. As an attachment to that, through lack of funds we've had to go out and do a lot of guerrilla marketing and a lot of event-based pop-ups, whether that's through retail, restaurant or on the street. It kinda kept growing over the last couple of years to something that's more of like weekly, bi-weekly, monthly party events.
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Years ago, I had a concept that I'd come up with that did really well. It was like a previous-job-life thing, and was called 40 oz. Friday. So we started doing this on a weekly basis here last year. We'd give out free 40s, people would come do Slip 'n Slide, we'd get a band out there, start partying. Other businesses would come by and wanna participate. So immediately I thought, clearly there's something here.....It didn't come from an organized idea. It was an organized chaos kind of thing. At the end of the summer, I was actually approached by a couple of the community organizers, the police department, and a couple other folks who were all generously supportive of me continuing this -- but on a bigger scale. They like the crowd that it brings, and they like the energy. I think with that, I started piecing together new ideas for how to incorporate that concept in a block-by-block basis.
Now we're sitting about six weeks out from a ten- or fifteen-block event with twenty-plus venues, twenty-plus bands, twenty-plus street vendors and food trucks. It really sped up quickly. What would you say the crowd is like?
Demographic-wise? We're probably 22 to 42. There's probably some outliers in there. In terms of economic ratio, it scatters the board.... Because of the non-discrimination when it comes to music selection, we really... the main tenets are local business, local music -- inviting the music into those businesses in a little bit more of a structured format than you would find in some art walks, than you would find in some festivals. Through the summer series process, it gives more attention to those musicians and those businesses, and it also allows us to not just recycle the same content but bring in new content. We're forecasted right now to hit about 150 to 200 bands over the summer.
How many on the first night?
Well, I'm trying to cap it at 25, but I'm having a really hard time. Every time a new post goes up -- whether it's through social media or somebody's just talking to someone -- a new venue wants to jump in. We just had our first Ballpark business open up: WillPower Studios wants to open their doors. So, once I start talking to Tara over at Ballpark Lofts, it'll open that whole gateway. The Gin Mill and Retro Room are good friends of ours, so as soon as that block hits, I think it'll just start like wildfire. Are there any bands you're particularly excited about?
There's a few. Lama Live -- I consider them kind of like the premiere hip-hop band in Denver. Vetta Star's on there. There's a handful of very good DJs. The lists that keep getting put in front of me are just way too long to try to remember all of them. So, essentially it's a block party combined with live music and gallery shows? Is that a good way to describe it?
Yeah. We had a hard time trying to come up with an appropriate handle that didn't make people's minds go to one specific place, but it's a Music Walk and Urban Bazaar.....When you go to an art walk anywhere, you've got vendors outside hawking whatever it is they're selling. So it's gonna add a little bit more of an interactive space between the business and the street, and the street and the curb -- with the food trucks -- and we have some very interesting interactive media, video jockeys, even some interesting performance-based groups. One of the guys who's doing the programming for NoDo Urban Garden Supply, he's the head organizer for Communikey, so we're trying to pair some of our efforts together and add some of their weirdness to it. I mean, there might be an army of mimes that show up. I have no idea. You mentioned that this came out of events that you've been doing for a while, but this is the first official instance of the Urban Bazaar?
Yeah. In the very last Friday party that I threw last summer, we had most of these elements in or around this quarter of the block. We had a live band play outside, and then followed up with a DJ into the late night. We had all these elements on a much smaller scale, because it was just like an, "Oh, yeah, can you do this today?" kind of deal. But this will be the first step into this outside of a normal monthly art show. The one big experience that really helped drive to this end was the Feed Denver event that we did last year. I was the main organizer and host for that, and we had it up at Sustainability Park. That day, we had about thirty bands perform at seven different venues. So you can kinda tell that this has been something that has been growing into my mind for a while.
The sponsors that have continued to want to jump on-board and support it really show the direction that I see: providing more of a real entertainment value, rather than going to a festival where there are so many bands you can't get to them, or you go to one of these markets and it's like, "Well, I don't make a million dollars. I don't know how to support everyone." So keep it right-sized.
Assuming this is successful and you're happy with it, if you could add one thing to it - be it some type of performance art, music, or food - what would that thing be?
The big ask that I keep fishing out there is really to all of these management companies or promotion groups that help book or place larger acts that are from here. It's mostly musicians that we've spoken with: dudes from the Lumineers and other people that are blowing up right now. A lot of people wanna be a part of this, but there's this, "Well, we're gonna need some ungodly amount of money to secure that." And I understand. There's a business behind all this, but -- on a certain level 0- that's not what this is all about. This is about the community interaction.
I think if we see anything that's happening across the world today, from tragic events that just took place to people really feeling a separation between their physical reality and their "social" reality, we're really trying to bring the true social aspect back. That's the fundamentals of what my company is trying to help project onto this. So we'd really be asking those larger-scale bands to find a way to step down -- and it's not the bands themselves, it's the engines behind them.
Sure. Oftentimes, they have a certain guarantee that they're kind of locked into.
Totally, yeah. And I know how the machine works. That's fine, but sometimes it goes beyond this. I mean, we're selling all these tickets at megafaunastore.com/finalfriday, and all of the money from that is getting pooled and sent directly back. So no one is making anything directly off of this event. Maybe that makes me a bad businessperson, but I think people will see the value in that, and we'll find one-off ways of getting by.
I think you may have answered my final question, which was "What is the primary aim of this event?" It sounds like the aim is to create a sense of community.
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Yeah. Definitely. It might sound a little pie-in-the-sky, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. We have an opportunity. If you set out to do everything, you can do everything. I think we've seen that with all of the craziness that's going on in the world -- scandals, politics, all the weird stuff -- it really just comes back to, fundamentally, interacting, having a good time and doing so in a responsible way. The way that this neighborhood is growing -- it's the fastest-growing neighborhood in the state -- we're still finding ways to identify with our neighbors on either side of whichever street you happen to be on. Everybody's coming in with full support, and that's really what it's all about.