After fourteen years of booking shows in the underground electronic-music scene and building up Denver as the bass capital of the world, Nicole Cacciavillano says that her latest venture, the Black Box, at 314 East 13th Avenue, isn't going anywhere. Not even after losing revenue and being saddled by debt: She's not going to surrender to COVID-19.
But she knows that she and everybody else in the local music scene who make it through the pandemic will have a tough time getting back to the economic success they enjoyed before March 2020. "Our industry has been so significantly impacted that everyone is in debt," Cacciavillano says. "We’re going to be working for years to get out of the debt this pandemic has put people into. ... If I have to sell my house, I'm selling my house and I'm living in my car. Luckily, we haven’t gotten there yet."
Over the past ten months, she's dealt with government shutdowns and openings, closings and reopenings, navigating the pandemic through changing guidelines. Recent plumbing problems inspired her to launch a GoFundMe. But at least now the Black Box is back in business under regulations relaxed to Level Orange, which allows restaurants and clubs with kitchens to reopen for in-person dining — at limited capacity.
Cacciavillano is now operating her club — which she opened in 2016 and a year ago was filled with people partying to underground electronic music — in a "restaurant format," with drastically reduced capacity. DJs and producers will perform for audiences required to wear masks when they're not drinking; patrons will stay seated with their own groups, and dancing will be prohibited. The club will livestream sets for those who prefer to stay home.
No, it's not business as usual, and it's not what she's in the music industry to do — but reopening the Black Box at a limited capacity will help keep it afloat until jam-packed live events can happen again.
While it was closed, the club had been offering classes through Black Box Studio and broadcasting DJ sets over Twitch (half the money went to Black Box, the other half to the artists). As the pandemic dragged on, though, people stopped donating so much to the Twitch stream. "It’s just heartbreaking to have artists put together sets for Electronic Tuesday, and I would pay them $20, and they were usually getting $1,000 per set," Cacciavillano says. So she quit doing livestreams regularly and instead started focusing on promoting special online events.
In-person shows, when she's been allowed to have them, have been a success.
"All of our events have sold out," she says. "It’s just fifty tickets, so it’s not a difficult task to do. ... Ticket prices are a little higher since it’s a little more exclusive. I want people to recognize the value of music and the value and time that goes into working on making new songs, creating a set and a performance, so hopefully when we get back to normal, it’s going to be appreciated."
The club's January calendar is booked, with most shows taking place on weekends; February's lineup is starting to fill up. Levitation Jones and Quilin will play sets on Friday, January 15, and Myxed Up performs Saturday, January 16. On Tuesdays, there will be electronic DJ residency battles.
"We have a very dedicated fan base, and we’re there all the time," she says. "For me, throwing events in this city for fourteen or fifteen years, I’ve watched kids grow up. That’s the thing. We kind of know each other. We’re a family. ... It's a very friendly underground community. It’s a family that we’ve built. That’s what’s making us get through it."
The Black Box is located at 314 East 13th Avenue. To buy merch and tickets for events, go to the Black Box website.
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