The biggest myth about the music scene: Musicians power it. For every musician involved, there are people organizing in the background to make shows happen. Cash Kiser III, a 29-year-old music promoter who took his own life on Saturday, December 17, built the Grand Junction scene with the force of a dozen of those people in one.
"The easiest way for me to describe Cash is he wanted to build an arts scene,” says Dan Rutherford, a former music manager based out of Denver who worked with Kiser to bring Denver bands out to the Western Slope. “He was super-accommodating and receptive to creating that in Grand Junction.”
Kiser understood the value in his home town's location. Grand Junction sits on I-70, right in the middle of the grueling eight-hour drive from Denver to Salt Lake City, making it a choice tour stop for traveling bands. The independent music promoter devoted his time to making connections with acts he liked, booking shows big and small in Grand Junction and hoping to make the town a permanent tour date on the route of any band coming through Colorado.
From house shows to bars to the 800-plus-capacity Mesa Theater, Kiser would book a show, promote it and make sure his wide net of friends would come through the door, hoping to leave a good impression on touring acts and prove that Grand Junction was a worthwhile place to play.
"He was so good at networking and talking to people," says Jay Sandstedt, longtime friend and member of Grand Junction-based band This Foul Year.
"Cash brought in so much music, and with that, so much joy and happiness to the people here. I feel like if he was doing what he was doing here in a big city, he would have been famous. But the fact is, he did his work in the music scene here because he loved Grand Junction. This was his hometown. It was an act of love. He really sacrificed a bit of himself for all of us to really have a music scene."
Kiser's journey was not without turmoil. Many friends say that though he emanated joy, the jovial music lover suffered through periods of internal anguish. He graduated with a degree in marketing from Colorado Mesa University and followed his passion for photography to the Seattle Film Institute, but was forced to leave in the midst of his studies to take care of his mental-health issues.
Back in Grand Junction, Kiser began working as the event and outreach coordinator at KAFM Community Radio. He promoted the station's Radio Room shows and excelled at bringing the community — as well as bands — into the studio. Kiser had a love for Denver music, booking acts like the Photo Atlas, Flashbulb Fires and Rossonian to play the low-ticket-price shows.
Eventually, Kiser struck out on his own, forming the concert production and promotion company Skylark with his friend Lloyd Hutchinson of the Grand Junction band Radicult. Hutchinson says that from the moment he met Kiser, three years ago, the latter was an invaluable friend. The two became friends on Facebook. Hutchinson remembers one day early in their friendship, Kiser posted that he had an extra ticket to see The Sound of Animals Fighting in Arizona. Hutchinson expressed interest but said he was broke. Kiser took his friend along for free. That trip solidified a brotherly bond between the two formed around a love of music.
"That's the thing. A lot of people have that same kind of connection with Cash," says Hutchinson. "He was always wanting to go above and beyond for everyone. He wanted to make everyone feel welcome. Junction is hurting a lot right now. He was really everyone's best friend."
Bands were blown away by his generosity. He often paid for their hotel rooms and meals out of his own pocket when they came to town. Hutchinson says Skylark didn't make much money, which was a strain on Kiser, but money wasn't his first priority. He wanted to make sure bands were treated well when they came to Grand Junction. He even roped his own parents into opening their home to touring musicians passing through.
"He would have bands stay over at our house. They'd come from all over the place, traveling through. We were just innocent bystanders on Clay's quest to entertain the Western Slope," says Cash's dad, Stan Kiser, with a gentle half-laugh. His parents hosted his infamous "pool party" concerts. Over the summers, Kiser would throw epic backyard BBQ shows, inviting everyone in the scene to come to his parents' house in Grand Junction's Redlands neighborhood to enjoy music and a meal.
"He went beyond just putting on a show. He was throwing house parties and pool parties," says Rutherford. "I don't think he would turn bands down. He was straight up about not being able to pay a lot of money, but he would book you a show and personally work to get his friends in the door. He was the glue that held together that scene, so when he decided to quit this year, it was hard."
Hutchinson says the company's failure to bring in revenue took a toll on Kiser, and he took a step back from the scene to address his mental-health issues. Earlier this month, Kiser posted to Facebook that he was ready to return to the music community, but wanted to see effort on the part of others to make it work.
In his last weeks, Kiser seemed happy, ready to reinvest himself in building Grand Junction's music community, but also prepared to create balance between his life and work this time around.
"He was one of the warmest, kindest and most generous show promoters we have been lucky enough to know — a rare human," says Scott Conroy of Denver band The Raven and The Writing Desk. "There really wasn't any kind of 'getting to know you' period with Cash; it was just friendship from the moment we met. He stayed up all night with us. He let us sleep on his bedroom floor; he actually let us sleep in his bed while he and the others slept on the floor. He'd even put us up in hotel rooms on occasion — all the little things that make the impossible task of being a no-name touring band just the slightest bit easier and more comfortable."
The work Kiser did to help his little town feel big cannot be replicated, but friends say the best way to honor him is to insist that the show go on.
"He genuinely cared about what happened in that town — not only for the benefit of the city itself, but he was trying to benefit bands in Denver," says Rutherford. "He would overpay a band from Denver to come over and play a show. He just really wanted great bands to come over to Grand Junction and make it part of their normal touring. I think people like that are vital to making this work for everybody in the scene."
A celebration of Cash Kiser's life will be held at the Callahan-Edfast Mortuary, 2515 Patterson Road in Grand Junction, this Friday, December 30, at 1 p.m., followed by interment in Orchard Mesa Cemetery, 2620 Legacy Way. From 2 to 6 p.m., friends and family are invited to gather at the Redlands Community Center, 2463 Broadway, for a commemoration of Kiser's life and work. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Cash's memory to Mind Springs Health, P.O. Box 40, Glenwood Springs, CO 81602.
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Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.