Jonathan Bitz has an unbridled enthusiasm for the music produced here, and a genuine passion for the musicians creating that music. That's evident just from talking to him at shows or reading his pieces in Syntax, the ad-free literary-arts magazine that he's been publishing on his own dime since 2004. The guy has a way with words and a gift for capturing his subjects so that you can't help but be invested in them as people, not just players.
But it's more than his punchy prose that makes him stand out. He also has fantastic sensibilities. I can't recall a time when Bitz has championed an artist or group that wasn't worthy of the ink. In three years of producing Syntax, he's shone a light on such pivotal artists as Everything Absent or Distorted (a love story), Bela Karoli, Ian Cooke, Rachael Pollard, Hello Kavita and Gregory Alan Isakov, among many others — before they registered on most people's radar. Last spring, he got together with the Late Jack Redell and concocted a three-day singer-songwriter confab called A Moveable Feast. The inaugural outings at the Meadowlark in May were such a rousing success that the second batch of shows in August were moved to the Walnut Room, with double the number of performers on two stages.
Redell has since taken the concept on the road, and until the series returns to Denver next spring, Bitz plans to keep the spirit of the Feast alive with another set of shows dubbed the Living Room Series. The concept behind the monthly gigs — which kick off this Friday, November 23, at the Meadowlark with (die) Pilot, Blue Light, Jen Korte and the Loss and the Dan Craig Band, with appearances by Redell and others — is to gather various musicians in an intimate environment for a hootenanny of sorts, where folks can play with each other in different configurations.
"This Living Room Series is really just supporting the main idea of the Feast," Bitz notes. "It's in the tradition of how music has been used socially in the home — just this idea of people getting together and playing music in a more collaborative form, having each other sit in on each other's songs, with no set times: 'Who's going on at nine o'clock? I have no idea, whoever wants to.' It'll be intimate — pull out the candles and the tables and let people have some sort of participation in the event."
With our love of the local scene, it's clear that Bitz and I are cut from the same cloth. Without question, there's something special happening in Denver right now. We have an absolute embarrassment of riches in terms of talented songwriters, and events like the Feast and the Living Room Series help foster the scene's incestuous creative impulses, giving birth to even more compelling art. And so Bitz, like many of us, is doing everything he can to spread the word — and in the process, he's become as integral to a thriving scene as the art he's helping document.
Funny thing is, he never set out to write about music. "I come from the literary industry, which I'm still working in, and Syntax started within that," he explains. "I had a music page, and my first music page was just links. My friends were like, 'Well, I thought you were going to do something with that.' And so I thought, 'Oh, shit, what am I supposed to do?' And that turned into having to interview people, which I'd never done before. But that's completely changed my life, and I've had some of the most magical nights of my life around our local musicians and artists."
I know the feeling.