Soma, a venue at 1915 Broadway in Boulder that debuted late last year, is a bold experiment. Hardy Kalisher, working with a group of investors (including his brother Lucas) who are all under the age of thirty, sees the project as an opportunity to bring to Colorado the hipness and sophistication of the so-called night lounges that currently have New York City buzzing. "People have described it as a fantasy space," he says. "It feels like a little club in Manhattan--and we're booking real quality acts to play in it. Whether it's jazz, funk or electronic music, we want people who are trying to take a sound and go forward with it. We're not really interested in booking music from the past."
A native of San Francisco who attended college in San Diego, Kalisher moved to the area on New Year's Eve five years ago, and he wasted no time getting involved in what he calls "the urban-contemporary scene." With Lucas, he formed Sol Productions, a dance-oriented promotions firm that spawned Sol Jazz Massive, a cool combo profiled in these pages ("Massive Attack, Boulder Style," January 26, 1996). Just over two years ago, Hardy and Lucas opened Club, a vinyl and DJ-gear specialty store at 1521 Pearl Street and followed it up with Club Records, a label dedicated to electronic and modern-dance music. Melt, a compilation disc issued under the Club banner, was one of the finest Colorado platters of 1997.
Given the focus of these projects, Kalisher says, "we felt like it was a natural step to run a nightclub, where we could put all the things we were working on under one roof." Neil Lubar, another area resident interested in all things dance, had much the same idea, and in mid-1997, he and the Kalisher brothers set out to make the concept a reality. They spent six months looking for a building before settling on a two-story structure from the Forties that had previously served as a bank, then remodeled and refurbished it over the course of last year. "It's a really plush setting filled with nice antique furniture," Kalisher notes. "We used a lot of rich red colors. It's kind of a joke that we opened a club and somehow managed not to use black."
Once the operation was ready to roll, Kalisher began lining up talent to perform there--and he's spared no expense. In addition to first-rate local spinners such as DJ Skunk, who's bringing his "Skunk Motel" night to Soma on Friday, January 15, he's convinced King Britt, a nationally known DJ signed to Columbia Records, to appear on a bi-weekly basis: His first night is Thursday, January 14. On tap down the line are performances by a staggering array of dance-universe superstars, including Josh Wink, Doc Martin, Vienna's Kruder & Dorfmeister and DJ Soul Slinger, who's credited with introducing jungle music to U.S. audiences.
This is an impressive lineup by any standards, and especially so when Soma's modest dimensions are taken into account: Its capacity is around 300. Furthermore, the admission prices are strikingly reasonable--$6 in advance for King Britt and less than $20 for the other national figures cited above. So how on earth does Kalisher expect to turn a profit? "I'm not trying to make a living off the tickets," he says. "I have a bar, which is why the tickets are going to be affordable. We're still taking a risk, but we're willing to do it--and if we lose a little money on a big show, that's okay, because there are other nights of the week where we can make up for that. This is my dream, and that makes it worth it."
Attracting big-name talent has been surprisingly easy, he insists. "Someone asked me the other day, 'Why would King Britt want to do a residency in Boulder?' Well, why wouldn't he? For years I've watched acts play New York and L.A. without ever stopping here, but it's mainly because local promoters haven't gone to the trouble of bringing them. So I sent out word that there's a place in Colorado now that has the proper setting and that really wants to book them, and everyone's been incredibly receptive. Now they're calling me."
Kalisher has big ambitions: He's already arranged with www.eclecticradio.com, a Boulder-based Internet radio station with a rapidly rising profile, to simulcast shows, and an agreement with Denver's Rule Modern & Contemporary Gallery has turned Soma's second floor into an art treasure trove. He's also looking to use Club Records as a way to cross-promote the venue. "This whole thing is a risk," he concedes, "but we're definitely willing to take it. It's up to the people of Colorado to support it, and if they don't, we'll be disappointed. But I think when they see what we've got here, they'll be really excited."
The Soiled Dove, at 1949 Market Street in lower downtown, isn't new (it opened in April 1997), but the club is taking a fresh approach, setting aside its dueling-piano format in favor of live music from a variety of local and national artists. Beginning this month, the venue will feature a cappella acts, singer-songwriters and comics on Wednesdays, jazz and blues on Thursdays, dance/party music on Fridays and Saturdays, and local band showcases (preceded by question-and-answer sessions with members of the area music-business community) on Sundays.
According to Dove co-owner Frank Schultz, the thought of presenting bands on a semi-regular basis first occurred to him after his room became part of the 1997 Westword Music Awards Showcase: "We'd laid out the place for pianos, but it turned out to be a really good place for other kinds of live music. Everyone has a great seat. It feels really intimate." Schultz subsequently opened his doors to touring artists such as Bruce Hornsby, as well as Lyric and other Colorado-based talent. The success of the majority of these shows convinced him that the time was right for a change in direction. "It's not that the piano music wasn't working," he says. "It's just that we fell into something different--and we were enjoying it so much that we decided to do it full-time."
In anticipation of the switch, Schultz has revamped the Dove's sound system to accommodate larger ensembles and recruited Rob Buswell of Jacor Concerts to serve as a consultant of sorts. "He's kind of taking me under his wing," says Schultz, who's got guitar virtuoso Junior Brown on the bill on Saturday, January 16 (Brown also appears at the Fox Theatre the next night). "If I've got a contract, I give it to him and he says, 'That act's not worth the money' or 'You need to change the rider.' I really appreciate his help, because you can get eaten alive if you don't know all the ins and outs." He adds, "It's definitely more of a commitment to do this. If you're booking acts all the time, it takes a lot more time than hiring piano players. But I've been having a great time. It makes it fun to come to work every day."
Soundcheck, on KRRF-AM/1280 (Ralph), is back to the way it used to be. The program, overseen by Brian Pavlik, began as a forum for local rock, punk and alternative acts before taking on a jazzier tone last October via an association with Shakespeare's. But at 8 p.m. on Sunday, January 17, the original style returns with a live broadcast from--how appropriate--the Soiled Dove, featuring, among others, cHUCk dA fONk fISHMAn & the Mile High Funkers. Musicians who'd like to get their music on the air in the future should send recordings to Soundcheck/Brian Pavlik, 1560 Broadway, Suite 1100, Denver, CO 80202.
To air is human; to forgive, divine. On Thursday, January 14, a benefit at Herman's Hideaway for recently injured singer-songwriter Tony Achilles is set to feature Zeut, the Reels, Terry Dalton and a temporarily reunited Sweet Water Well. On Friday, January 15, the Floodplain Gang smokes some bluegrass at the Boulder Theater, and Galactic gets cosmic for the first of two nights at the Fox. On Saturday, January 16, Rainville falls at Cafe Cero, and Tibet's Yungchen Lhamo performs a benefit concert at CU's Glenn Miller Ballroom, with Nawang Khechog. And on Sunday, January 17, Peter Himmelman hitches a ride to E-Town at the Boulder Theater. Thumbs up.