Denver musician Jen Korte was playing a gig in February, and a “gentleman” in the crowd, clearly intoxicated, was constantly up in her face. When Korte politely asked him to give her some space, he did what drunk jerks normally do in that situation: He got angry and defensive.
“I’ve been playing professionally in Denver for fifteen years,” Korte says. “Having drunk people in your face all the time when you get off stage, people breathing their alcohol breath on you — it gets to you after a while.”
Such situations make Korte — who performs as solo act Lady Gang
and in bands Jen Korte and the Loss
, the ’90s-themed Sega Nemesis and Violent Femmes celebration band Dirty Femmes
— excited for her latest project, Clearheads: A Booze Free Hang at Fort Greene.
“I’m not a sober person, but I don’t really drink, either,” Korte says. “I have a lot of friends who are on their sober journey. Part of my inspiration for this was like, ‘Okay, if I want to support them, how do I use my skill sets as a community member and show up for them?’”
The first show, on Sunday, April 3, will present an all-women lineup of musicians, including Kayla Marque
, Alysia Kraft
and DJ Simone Says
“I put them together to emphasize giving opportunities to underserved people,” Korte says. “Being a woman playing music myself, I’ve had my own experience with that. So If I can give that opportunity to women who are sober or women of color who are sober, that’s where I want to go.”
A flyer for Clearheads.
Courtesy Jen Court
The show will be hosted at Fort Greene, in Denver's Globeville neighborhood. It’s owned by a woman, Eleanor Cheetham, which attracted Korte to start with.
“I just wanted to also bring business to places that are independently owned and are trying to create a community space,” she adds. “I know they struggled through COVID, so if I can find a woman-owned business to bring business to and help keep it alive, then that’s why I want to do it.”
She says the shows, planned once a month for the next four months — and hopefully well beyond that if she can procure the funding — will take place during the day. It was a strategic choice, as traditional venues often want musicians to play later and later, with the goal of selling more booze to already booze-soaked patrons.
“It’s kind of gotten to me over the years,” Korte says. “It’s like, ‘Are you a venue or are you a bar? Make up your mind. If you want to be a bar, be a bar and figure out how to be a bar. But don’t put it on the musician to be there for your alcohol sales.’”
Korte is in her late thirties, and she sees younger people living more healthy lifestyles, while the pandemic has left some wanting a different concert experience.
“You aren’t playing at 11 p.m. just because the bar wants to make sure people are drinking,” she says. “I just wanted to have a space that is free of it and kind of challenge the relationship that you have to consume alcohol as a performer to perform or as a patron to observe or experience it.”
Korte obtained funding through the Denver Music Advancement Fund
, enough to have monthly shows through July that showcase a variety of musicians and genres. She is also paying the musicians for their sets, and not in drink tickets or PBR drafts. The funding, she hopes, will help make the events a success. It’s been a challenge to do so, particularly through COVID.
“I tried to do one in November by myself and just failed,” she says. “I had probably thirty pre-sales, and like ten people actually showed up. That’s been interesting, too, trying to navigate through COVID. It’s like people want to support it, but they don’t actually want to come out. They're still kind of freaked about being in crowds.”
The grant money will also help bring a BIPOC-owned food truck to the venue for each show and pay the owners to help ensure that they make a profit during the event.
“It’s a way to highlight businesses owned by people of color without having to invade their safe space with our presence,” she says. “So it’s kind of like, ‘Hey, come here and let us buy your food from you.'”
Each Clearheads event will include art by a different visual artist displayed at the venue, and will highlight a different nonprofit organization.
The April event will center around Joy as Resistance
, "a really awesome group of young people who started a mobile ambulance and serve queer youth throughout the suburbs of Denver with health care,” Korte says. “I just really love their energy and what they're trying to do.”
Clearheads: A Booze Free Hang, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 3, Fort Greene, 321 East 45th Avenue; tickets are $12, or $25 with food truck items included. Non-alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase.