Planning a music festival in Fort Collins has to be a miserably difficult task. Outside of the concerts that Colorado State University books, only one venue, the Aggie Theatre, hosts larger national acts with any kind of regularity. Add in Avogadro's Number and Hodi's Half-Note, bars with the capacity of the Larimer Lounge or the hi-dive, and you've gone through most of the full-band-ready stages in town.
FoCoMX, a two-night celebration of northern Colorado's music scene, has a creative solution to that problem: Stuff musicians in every nook and cranny of downtown Fort Collins. The 150 bands and DJs of the festival played in bars, restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, and the science museum; a handful spent their sets playing in the lobby of a movie theater.
FoCoMX pays all of its musicians equally, and the quality of the festival is also spread across all time slots and stage sizes. Some of the most interesting moments of the weekend happened in some of the smallest venues. Most weekends, the only music at The Astoria, a den of a bar carved into an old bank building on College Avenue, comes from the place's Internet jukebox. During Americana rock outfit Winchester Holiday's set on Friday night, fans packed in nose to tail.
The whole performance was like a house show at your noveau-riche friend's place, with people sitting on couches and clustered around the unlit fireplace, the tide of listeners reaching so close to the band that the people in front could probably smell their collective breath. Stella Luce played a midnight set to the same packed house on Saturday night, the band's dark, slinky cabaret rock accentuated by the deep red-and-gold walls and the crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
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The bigger venues had their moments too: The festival's organizers expected a capacity crowd for In The Whale and Fierce Bad Rabbit at the Aggie on Friday, and sure enough, the line streamed out the door. One of the best performances of the weekend was Post Paradise's set on Friday at Hodi's. The band, whose hooky alt-rock tunes wouldn't have sounded out of place in the early aughts, was just off a swing through Texas for SXSW, and their act was almost flawlessly polished.
Not every bar or restaurant handled the transition to music venue quite as smoothly. Shotgun Shogun's gig at Moe's on Friday night seemed like an afterthought; most of the people at the place seemed as interested in their barbecue and beer as in the band playing by the door. The swanky Breckenridge-Wynkoop-owned Mainline stuck bands out on the porch while business went on as usual inside.
Almost as interesting as the bands themselves was seeing the way the downtown transformed. While the Fort is rowdy with college students on any given weekend night, FoCoMx felt like a real community experience, with music streaming out of storefronts as you strolled down the street. Next time I'm perched at the Astoria's bar, listening to whatever '80s rerun is coming out of the jukebox, I'll imagine a band set up by the window, and a packed crowd overflowing out the doors.
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