First-Ever Keytar Fest Featured at the Skylark on Saturday

The first-ever Denver Keytar Fest, being held this Saturday, was organized by independent concert promoter Claudia Woodman, who has been booking shows for underground bands in Denver for several years. Known as "Claudzilla," Woodman brings some verve and skill to playing the keytar, an instrument that some may see as silly but which poses its own challenges. 

A Wyoming native, Woodman attended Oberlin College, where she met the late, great Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia. At Oberlin she also met George Patterson, who eventually played drums for her ’90s band Shevil. Patterson moved to Portland and formed the all-keytar Knodel and, later, Li'l Pocket Knife.

A child of the ’70s and ’80s, Woodman was exposed to the wonders of the keytar at a young age.

“Keytars [appeared] briefly in videos like 'Time,' by Culture Club, and 'Language Is a Virus,' by Laurie Anderson, and I think that wormed its way into my subconscious for that reason,” says Woodman. “The portability of a keytar has great appeal. Many run on batteries and have built-in speakers so you're not tethered to the grid, which feels very liberating. It's not impossible to dance while playing, though it's much harder than you might think."

It's a challenging instrument to play, as well. Woodman says even trained pianists have a hard time playing it because it's so awkward to look at keys from that angle. But she connects to it.

“After I saw [Denver performance band] Mr. Pacman for the first time in 2010 and learned that he had played a show with Li'l Pocket Knife, it was clear to me that my growing up weird in Wyoming raised by avant-garde musicians and then the oddball college worlds hanging with avant-garde musicians when I was not hitting the books had collided in keytar form."

She bought a keytar in 2011 from Patterson, then "tried and failed to start an all-lady rollerskating girl band in 2012," after having moved to Denver. "Frustrations with getting locals to open for touring bands at Bar Bar led me to unleash Claudzilla in 2013, which is very much my adaptation to the Denver music scene. Which is why I am in androgynous, scaly lizard form. Evolution is not always pretty, but sometimes is handsome.”

Clearly not just the keytar will be part of the entertainment at the Keytar Fest, which will also feature keytar wizards like Luke Leavitt of Cop Circles and X-Ray Visionaries.

The first-ever Denver Keytar Fest, featuring X-Ray Visionaries, Claudzilla and Cop Circles, will start at 9 p.m. on Saturday, August 20, at the Skylark Lounge, 303-722-7844, $5, 21+ .
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.