The last year was a hell of a roller-coaster ride for talent buyer Tony Mason. In early 2020, Mason wrapped up his long-running gig as talent buyer for Lost Lake, Globe Hall and Larimer Lounge and was set to move to Dallas to take a job at Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill. Last February, he started booking shows for Gas Monkey remotely from Denver, but then the pandemic hit the following month.
Mason continued to work remotely from Denver for Gas Monkey for the next few months, but when it became clear that the virus wasn't going to be managed anytime soon, he tentatively rescheduled his move to Dallas for July and soon was temporarily furloughed.
With many Colorado venues closed over the summer, Mason says he panicked during July and August and went on unemployment. Oriental Theater co-owner Peter Ore, who helped Mason land the gig at Gas Monkey, brought him on to book shows at the venue from September through December.
“It was a lot of extra work of just confirming the bands and letting them know all the COVID regulations and how we can only have ninety people per show," Mason says. "We’d do an early show and a late show, so we can get 180 tickets out of the night, and that's somewhat worth it.”
Around the end of October, new COVID restrictions limited indoor-venue capacities to fifty people.
“And boom, that reduced everything immediately,” Mason says. “It reduced all that potential income. And then two weeks later, that was followed up by ‘Oh, everything's closed again before Thanksgiving.’”
With venues shuttered, Mason had to search for another revenue stream in November. While he’d been avoiding the livestream world since the pandemic started, he started giving the format another look, since it was one of the few ways bands were still performing.
Around then, he teamed up with the Armory Denver, a creative production facility in RiNo that has lighting rigs, projection mapping, two recording studios, multiple high-end cameras, rehearsal rooms and more. The Armory is in a building that dates back to the late 1800s, when it housed weapons for the Colorado State Militia, and was later the home of the Olympic Auditorium and Art Neon. Mason says that in normal times, the members of the Armory's production crew would be working shows at Red Rocks, Mission Ballroom, Levitt Pavilion and Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox.
Mason is now creative curator and a producer at the Armory, which launched its six-week Sunday Streams series in late January with acts like Kaitlyn Williams, Mr. Grigsby and SF1; Colfax Speed Queen and the Grand Alliance, featuring Kayla Marque, CRL CRRLL and Sur Ellz, are on tap in the weeks to come. The shows, which start at 7 p.m., are free, but donations are accepted. Following the free shows, Mason says he'll be doing ticketed shows to help cover expenses.
“Our thing that we've been creating over at the Armory is not just doing a livestream,” Mason says. “What I always stress to the bands is, ‘I don't want you guys to just do your normal gig, where you just show up and play these livestreams. We've got to come up with more than that. You've got to be choreographer. You’ve got to be acting. You’ve got to bring in stage props. You’ve got to think about these things differently. This isn't just going on stage and playing live.’”
Bands come in early in the afternoon to shoot unique interview footage, which is later spliced in between every three or four songs.
“All of that put together seems to keep people's interest a little bit more because they're not unhappy with the quality. And they have stuff to break it up, so it's not just sixty minutes straight of a band performing. You get little breaks of actually listening to what the band has to say.”
Given the size of the Armory, there’s also room for bands and artists to get creative with their livestreams. When metal band Green Druid played, the members wanted to make it look like they were in a forest, so they scattered leaves around the floor and had forest imagery projected on the wall. Singer-songwriter Kaitlyn Williams brought in a number of mannequin heads, while local hip-hop artist Mr. Grigsby wanted to make it look he was in five different rooms.
In addition to working with the Armory, Mason also relaunched his independent booking and promotions company, Tone Dynamix. He used the moniker while he was booking acts in college over a decade ago but never turned it into an official business.
He recently registered the Tone Dynamix name with the Colorado Secretary of State, and now money from the Armory livestreams and Oriental Theater booking is going into his Tone Dynamix bank account.
“I’m learning how to start my own business, which is something I've never done,” Mason says. “I'm here to learn. It benefits me in a lot of ways in the future, for sure.”
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