“My body used to be a wonderland until I found drugs and pizza,” cracks Amigo the Devil as he shuffles carefully across the bar top. The Miami-born dark-folk musician has whipped a sea of Denver’s most bearded and denim-clad into a chorus, crooning along with his maniacal banjo-picking stomp. It’s an unusual and electric scene.
These indelible live moments are fast becoming the rule rather than the exception at storied East Colfax punk staple Streets of London Pub. Not long ago, it was easy to imagine the bar shuttering its doors, the building becoming the next artisan olive-oil boutique or dog-themed craft brewery/dispensary/cupcake shop. But following a year of remarkable shows, Streets has entered a rowdy new era, and the joint’s revival is the product of the singular vision of Peter Ore, one of Denver’s most established and dedicated independent concert promoters.
Ore is full of fire when we meet at his new office behind the Oriental Theater on a muted February morning. Flanked by his co-pilot, Barnacle Beans, a miniature pinscher with a penchant for nipping, he bristles at the idea that a recent deal between local concert promotion company Soda Jerk Presents and Live Nation that grants the global media giant booking and promotion rights for the next twenty years at the Soda Jerk-owned Summit Music Hall and Marquis — rooms that Ore had successfully booked for Soda Jerk since 2011 — has rendered independent booking in Denver moribund. “People are saying indie is dead in Denver. This is my town, and I’m not going to fucking let that happen,” he says defiantly.
As a result of the Live Nation lease, booking at two of the last independently run mid-sized venues in town now falls under the purview of Live Nation. AEG, another behemoth with a heavy Denver presence, runs the Bluebird, Ogden and Gothic theaters, Fiddler’s Green and 1STBANK Center, and recently announced the opening of the Mission Ballroom, another large venue, in 2019 in RiNo.
And so Ore is spearheading a defense of the independent clubs, a position he considers not a choice but a duty, and one he unduly enjoys. “I love kicking the corporate guys in the fucking dick,” he says with a grin. “I am ready to continue to do that.” Given his perennial DIY approach to promotion and his pedigree in Mile High booking, such a stance seems only natural.
Ore got his industry start in 1996, just out of college, at the then-fledgling Bluebird Theater. He worked the door before taking a humble promotion to the office, where he cut and hung fliers, fetched coffee and answered phones. Already the ear on the receiving end of agents’ calls, he began taking on a small share of the booking, filling open dates on the venue’s calendar. In quick succession, the role grew, from booking local bands to bringing in smaller regional acts, and then to a position as an official in-house buyer.
When Bluebird owner Chris Swank partnered in 1998 with renowned Denver promoter Doug Kauffman and his concert promotion company Nobody in Particular Presents — at the time a primary player in the Denver market — Ore had the distinct opportunity of working under one of the city’s most successful and influential promoters.
In addition to the innumerable shows NiPP booked at the Bluebird and the Ogden — clubs owned by Swank and Kauffman, respectively — the company promoted massive bills like the Beastie Boys at McNichols Area, Tool at the Pepsi Center and the Warped Tour. Under Kauffman’s tutelage, Ore got his first taste of big-time show promotion. “Peter was a very quick study as a talent buyer,” says Kauffman. “We shared the same office for six years, and he possesses a great work ethic. In this business, you have to be prepared to mutate, and Peter has certainly done that.” Although NiPP faced competition at the time in the form of legendary promoter Barry Fey’s operation, the major corporate players of today were notably missing from the landscape.
In 2006, Ore parted with NiPP, staying on as long as he could during a particularly tumultuous time for the company before accepting a job at Live Nation. The position offered him a firsthand look into the “other” side of the business, a side with enormous resources and, in turn, its own set of restraints. “All these conference calls, the forecastings and projections of your shows — I get it. They have stockholders and stuff,” he says. “But that’s not for me.”
In addition, the Live Nation gig was lacking many key aspects of concert promotion that remain dear to Ore today. With the 3,700-capacity Fillmore as its only owned-and-operated venue at the time, Live Nation had its sights trained solely on high-level shows and had no pipeline to develop bands within the market, something Ore counts as both a source of pride and essential to the process of building and maintaining agent and band relationships.
“They didn’t allow me to continue doing a lot of the artist development that I have always done,” notes Ore. “A lot of agents I used to have great relationships with went somewhere else in those five years and never came back.”
Two years into his tenure at Live Nation, Ore launched a promotion company of his own, Anchors Aweigh.
Starting with shows at the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins, Anchors Aweigh became an outlet to continue promoting shows he personally cared about and a means to maintain his relationships with bands and agents that might otherwise disintegrate.
Amid a nationwide company shakeup in 2010, he left Live Nation rather than relocate to an arbitrary market of the corporation’s choosing. Upon his return to Denver in 2011, Ore teamed up with Soda Jerk owner Mike Barsch, and the two formed a united independent promotion front under Barsch’s company. The partnership was successful, and the Soda Jerk operation much more akin to what Ore desired as a promoter. He had access to rooms of varying capacities, allowing him to once again build lasting relationships with agents as their bands grew.
Yet the “quantity over quality kind of vibe” that he describes at Soda Jerk, hammering out 500-plus shows a year between the two Denver properties, never really jibed with him. The formula worked financially, but he found that with the relentlessness of the calendar, he lacked the time to put himself wholly behind the shows he wanted to champion. He homed in on a solution in October 2016, when he became a co-owner of Streets of London.
His operation there began slowly. When he took over, the bar was a far cry from its packed-porch heyday — but attendance and buzz about the shows grew exponentially. Relying on longstanding relationships, Ore began to bring in bands widely considered far too big or too established for the room, names like U.S. Bombs, the Dead Boys, Nashville Pussy and Reagan Youth. The hype spiked to a fever pitch following three nights of all-out chaos in May 2017, courtesy of New Jersey metal-core stalwarts the Dillinger Escape Plan.
Reflecting on the Streets of London calendar from 2017 and the acts that have played or are scheduled to play the postage-stamp-sized stage in the current year — Everytime I Die, the Queers, Fu Manchu, Gatecreeper and Full of Hell (whether the bar will still be standing after this gig remains to be seen) — it’s easy to grasp how integral Ore is to both the revitalization of the venue and the maintenance of a vibrant independent scene in Denver. These are not bands that just any promoter could book at some tiny bar. Their appearance is the direct result of Ore’s clout, his experience and the relationships he has worked loyally and tirelessly to establish and maintain over the course of more than two decades.
Ore is approaching his Streets endeavor with a driving goal: to create “holy shit” experiences. He’s keen on delivering shows that take patrons back to their gritty, formative concert experiences, when they’d often leave a show drenched in sweat, jaw scraping some grimy basement floor. “You don’t get that these days in this business,” he says of those astounding live moments. “Guttermouth playing the Marquis? That’s fine and great. But Guttermouth playing Streets? Oh, my God!”
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In the wake of the Soda Jerk/Live Nation announcement, Ore throttled his cause and company into overdrive. Over the last few months, he’s begun to view the development as less a crushing career blow than a veiled opportunity. Other matters aside, he’s now more unencumbered than he has been in years, finally free to pour all his effort into a punk-rock bar that’s long been his dream. Ever striving for options in terms of room size, Ore struck a deal after the Soda Jerk announcement to make Anchors Aweigh the exclusive concert promoter of the 700-capacity Oriental Theater.
While Live Nation booking and promoting at Summit Music Hall and the Marquis Theater may not seem great for the overall scene, Ore says that he thinks it may prove to be a boon for small clubs in the city. He doubts that Live Nation will continue to book the number of shows that Soda Jerk did; for that matter, he doesn’t have the interest or capability to continue with many of those shows, either. “It’s going to be an interesting dynamic to see what happens with some of these other clubs in town, because I think there are going to be a lot of shows up for grabs,” says Ore.
Where these shows end up, or what other clubs and promoters decide to do, remains far from the front of his mind, however. He’s free at last of hectic calendars and other trappings that have kept him just a shade off his ideal operation and in a position to focus on creating unforgettable live experiences. Charging forward, he harbors a grand yet realistic vision for the future of Anchors Aweigh in Denver, one he believes will help preserve the rightful place of independent promotion in the city.
“It will never make me a million dollars, and that’s fine,” he says of Streets of London. “That’s not what it’s intended to do. I just want it to work so bad. It should be the coolest thing in town, in my opinion. Level the fucking place each night and we’ll rebuild it in the morning.”