On the surface, it can seem like musicians are the most crucial people in a music scene. But behind every band, MC and DJ lies the invaluable support of people who also help make things happen — people like Ciara Johnson. Johnson, who passed away in February at the age of 26, was a relentless helping hand in the Colorado music scene, connecting musicians with photographers, helping artists get the word out about their music and, most of all, being a part of the crowd as a devout fan.
"To me, Ciara was the personification of loyalty and dedication; she lifted everyone up around her every chance she got," says Elle Naef, Johnson's best friend. This Sunday, March 20, at the Bluebird Theater, Naef will put on Mixtape of a Life Well Lived, a concert celebrating Johnson's life and work. Music brought the two friends together, and Naef knew there was no other way to honor this music lover's memory than with a show featuring her favorite performers.
Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kayla Marque will join bands Sing, Cicadas and Petals of Spain on the memorial show's bill. Brian Fennell of Seattle's Barcelona — Johnson's most beloved band — is also flying out to Denver to perform a solo set. "These are Ciara's favorite people," says Naef of the lineup. "Her favorite band was Barcelona; Ciara really helped support them in Denver. Brian said that she was a big part of why Denver was so important to the band."
Another gift for Johnson's memorial came from Denver-based singer-songwriter Sam Lee. Lee had booked the venue for his own album-release party this coming Sunday — but when he heard there was a show happening in her honor, he offered up his slot on the Bluebird's calendar. Naef says it was her best friend's favorite place to see concerts in Denver, and Bluebird talent buyer Danny Sax was accommodating and supportive of making the show happen.
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The evening will also serve as a fundraiser for Johnson's younger sister, Maya. Naef says the bond between the two sisters was tight — almost like mother and daughter — and she wanted to make sure Maya was supported as much as Ciara planned on being there for her. "She was a really good writer and had quite a few different writing projects, but my favorite of hers was called 'Dear Maya,'" says Naef of Johnson's work. "She wrote a letter to her sister every couple of weeks about a lesson she had learned or something she went through. She was really inspired by her little sister, and I knew helping Maya was something Ciara would have wanted to carry on."
Before she passed unexpectedly, Johnson and Naef were in the midst of starting their own public-relations and marketing company together, Cordouan Media. The two had initially become acquainted through their early careers as band managers. As they became good friends, Naef and Johnson thought it would be a great idea to merge their talents and start their own business. "We found that she had a lot of skills that were supplemental to mine and vice-versa," says Naef. "She did photography and PR, and I specialize in social-media marketing and event planning. Together we were an all-around marketing company."
Though it's been tough these past few weeks, Naef says that throwing a concert for Johnson is the best way to remember her friend as the dedicated music lover and music-industry wiz she was. "She was a connector," says Naef. "She would effortlessly draw people into situations where they would have a lot more opportunity."
The Mixtape of a Life Well Lived memorial show for Ciara Johnson goes down this Sunday, March 20. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show starts at 8. Tickets are $10 in advance, $13 day of show; a portion of the proceeds will go to supporting Johnson's younger sister, Maya. Donations can also be made through a GoFundMe campaign set up by Naef. For more information on the show or to purchase tickets, visit the Bluebird's website.