Music News

Jesse Elliott, of These United States and Ark Life, to Direct Fort Collins's Music District

From 2008 to 2012, Jesse Elliott did not have a permanent home. The musician, best known for his work with These United States and Ark Life, was touring so much that planting his roots in one spot for too long seemed unnecessary. But in 2012 Elliott moved to Colorado, and he liked it so much that he decided to stay. Changes are afoot again, however, as Elliott now plans to move from Denver to Fort Collins in order to take on a permanent job, as director of the Bohemian Foundation’s Music District.

The Music District is located on a 57,000-square-foot plot of land on South College Avenue in Fort Collins that will serve as a large campus for music facilities, including rehearsal spaces, offices, spaces for retail and even a radio station. The campus, which opens in September, will also provide resources for musicians, fans and industry types of all levels, and will host a full slate of music programming. With all of that activity, Elliott may have no choice but to stay put for a while.

We talked with Elliott about what the Music District means for Fort Collins and the Colorado music scene as a whole. 

Westword: This is clearly a pretty large undertaking. What are some of the Music District’s goals?

Jesse Elliott: The goal is to create this big hive of music activity for musicians, of course, but also for music-business folks in the surrounding creative industries, and also for music fans — people who just love music and want to figure out how to get plugged in, whether it’s volunteering at a festival or working at the radio station or whatever.

Who is the target for these resources — largely touring musicians, or Fort Collins artists?

It’s definitely a combination of both. Since it’s located in Fort Collins, that’s certainly the most important demographic — not just musicians, but fans and audience members, as well, and people in the creative sector. We want people to have those experiences in Fort Collins and leave saying that this was a great community to do that kind of stuff in.

What is your understanding of what the music scene in Fort Collins is like?

It’s a really great college town, but the thing that stands out to me is that there’s a really awesome population of folks who are actually from here, and that creates a great tapestry of musicians. It’s a rich scene, and has been for a long time — not for the diversity of genres, but because of the businesses and organizations that exist here. There’s a misconception that we are here to try to start a music scene in Fort Collins, but there’s been a great one here for a long time.

Before you moved to Colorado, what was your perception of music here? What surprised you?

I’ll be honest — I hadn’t heard that much about it. I knew there were bands that I loved that were based here, but bands we love are based everywhere; there are rock-music scenes everywhere, because music is so easily accessible.

What surprised me in the best way possible was how collaborative this scene was, and I don’t just mean across music genres. I was living above an art gallery, and we would have kids from the art community, and food and yoga, and all of these people from every stripe of life were doing stuff together in a very humble, hardworking, everyday type of way. The focus was not “making it”; it was just people who enjoyed working on stuff together. It felt like a very genuine expression of creative collaborations.

Is this spirit of collaboration what you envision the Music District to embody?

That’s definitely a big part of it. This will be a work in progress. We’ll open the doors in September, but we won’t have a finished product. We’re going to open the doors halfway through and have some cool stuff in place but have a lot of flexibility for the community, for everyone to come in and give ideas. One huge ambition is to collaborate on the business side of things with people who do video and photography and all the other great industries that exist there. We want to collaborate with local businesses who want to make music a larger part of what they’re doing. I’m excited for all of that collaboration.

Is this an exciting model that’s already happening in other cities? If so, where?

There’s no single part that doesn’t exist in several different places. We’ve been doing some scouting around the world to see what else was out there. We’ve been taking trips to figure out other models, and people are doing similar things. There’s no other place that I know of that is doing exactly this, but there are places that are doing things in different realms. If anybody finds one doing this exact thing, please send them my way.

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Andy Thomas is a music journalist who hopes other music journalists write nice things about the music he performs. He lives in Denver with his wife, their two cats and a massive pile of unfinished projects.
Contact: Andy Thomas