Denver’s soaring real-estate prices haven’t just affected renters and home buyers. For musicians and artists, affordable spaces to hone their craft are quickly disappearing.
Enter RocketSpace, rehearsal venues on upper Larimer Street and South Broadway that rent by the hour.
“A lot of musicians used to have a house they lived in with a practice space in the basement, but that’s going away,” says owner and musician Kate Innes. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s basically what I’m gaining [business] from.”
Innes may be offering a service that Denver musicians are in desperate need of, but she’s doing it at a low price. She even sold her house and used some of the profit to expand practice space rather than raise her rates.
Temperature-controlled rooms for rent start as low as $8 an hour, and a standard full-band practice room — starting at $15 an hour and costing less each additional hour — comes equipped with a high-quality drum kit, a PA system, two guitar amps, a bass amp, a mixing board and microphones. Most rock bands just need to bring guitars and themselves — no cumbersome lugging of gear. And RocketSpace is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so it offers the flexibility that many musicians with day jobs need to make their creative lives work.
Standing in the hallway of the location at 2711 Larimer Street, Innes is surrounded by extra amps, neatly wrapped cables, a pile of microphones and lots of drum hardware. “We have two Marshall half-stacks and a Fender combo in every room — that’s the standard profile,” she says. “We have all of this stuff in the halls because if anything stops working, people can just swap and go; we don’t want musicians to waste time waiting for a new instrument. If a snare breaks, they give us the broken one and we trade it out.”
Although business started slowly when Innes opened the doors in 2012, today the thirteen rooms that make up RocketSpace’s two locations are often reserved back-to-back. They’re booked using a simple system of text messages and a Google calendar; the small operation is held down by Innes and a handful of employees, all musicians themselves.
Innes got to know many of her staff as customers first. Her right-hand woman, however, came into the fold because of Girls Rock Denver, a local summer camp focusing on musicianship. RocketSpace manager Kate Warner was a fellow “roadie” for the camp, meaning that both Kates spent a lot of time together organizing, replacing and moving music gear around for campers each summer.
In Warner, Innes saw a trustworthy person with instrument knowledge and the ability to problem-solve under pressure.
“I call her ‘the other me.’ She’s the only one I can trust with making judgment calls and making everything better. She’s comfortable letting musicians know their time is up,” Innes says.
“I think the only time I truly relax is when I know you’re working,” she says to Warner, who is tinkering with a broken amplifier.
An electronic musician who most often performs as Mirror Fears, Warner is a whirlwind of energy, constantly checking texts for booking inquiries, moving cymbal stands and kick drums from one rehearsal room to another, and answering customers’ questions on the fly with zero attitude — something Innes looks for in her employees. Customer service is a priority for the business, and if anything goes wrong — equipment breaks down or a scheduling conflict occurs — Innes and Warner work hard to make it right.
Back in 2010, before RocketSpace was born, Innes and her band the Blackouts were on the hunt for a new practice space. They came across the usual obstacles; rehearsal spots were often expensive, dirty and inadequately heated or cooled. Then there was the sexism issue.
“Dudes running other practice places would just be dicks to us,” Innes explains. “We practiced at a place that had porn all over the walls; it was like, ‘Ha ha.’ But it really wasn’t cool or fun.”
Innes had just been laid off from her corporate job at Google and saw an opportunity for a new career that aligned with her creative life. After spending months wandering Denver on foot looking for a place to launch her new venture, she stumbled upon the Larimer Street location. The roof leaked and the place was trashed, but the price was right.
With the help of a Small Business Administration loan, RocketSpace was set in motion.
Innes says that even though fully equipped rehearsal spaces that rent by the hour are common in bigger cities like Los Angeles and New York City, it took Denver a while to warm to the idea. But as real-estate prices began pushing artists out of once-affordable spots, RocketSpace became a necessity.
Four years into it, Innes is constantly looking for ways to expand without raising prices. In 2014, she sold her home to fund a second-floor addition to the practice space on Larimer. In 2015, she purchased the former Broadway Music School, at 1940 South Broadway, and opened the second RocketSpace location.
What started as a five-room operation has more than doubled and includes a 22-foot stage, which can be rented as a practice space or a performance venue. Offered at well below market price, the hundred-person-capacity room is all-ages, wheelchair-accessible, and available for anyone in the creative community to use. A company that hosts murder-mystery games recently rented the spot.
Innes’s commitment to staying low-cost means that the space is available to any kind of musician at any skill level. RocketSpace has hosted the Violent Femmes, Dinosaur Jr. and the Lumineers. Local music legend Hazel Miller practices at RocketSpace weekly; hip-hop acts like Turner Jackson and the Foodchain utilize the comfy spaces, while the bigger rooms accommodate acts with more than five members, like Roka Hueka, Winehouse and the Bunny Gang. On any given night, a hardcore band could be practicing next to a folk outfit or a drum instructor who is taking advantage of RocketSpace’s private drum room for music lessons. Electronic artists lock themselves in the tiny vocal room and record full albums.
As Innes and Warner hand off cables and mics to musician-customers breezing in and out at the top of the hour, they take a moment to show off RocketSpace’s additional amenities.
Warner proudly points out that the clean, accessible bathrooms are always stocked with toilet paper and tampons — something other practice spaces often lack. In the back of the space is a modest kitchen built from mismatched cabinets, crammed with snacks, which are sold on an honor system; musicians can grab a candy bar and drop change into a little box. “We try to keep our late-night people fed,” Innes says in her concerned and caring mom voice.
RocketSpace also offers gear rental at an affordable price; PA systems rent for as low as $50. Musicians who are regular RocketSpace customers get first pick and a discount on music-gear rentals — something Innes is adamant about. In return, she says that regular customers look out for RocketSpace: They respect the gear, adhere to schedule times, and make sure musicians new to the space treat instruments with kindness.
“People care about this place,” Warner concludes.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.