Brian Cohen, the owner of Stella's on 16th, has come under fire from Denver musicians who say their bands were recruited to play the venue's summer concert series but were replaced by other acts without notice.
"SHAME on business owner Brian Cohen of Stella's on 16th for booking and Confirming 11 Colorado bands for their summer concert series and neglecting to notify any of the bands when he hired another party to re-book the entire series," posted the band The Raven and the Writing Desk to its Facebook page.
Cohen initially hired booker Kyle Videtzky. Videtzky, a musician, says he was brought on to book sixteen bands that would play over eight nights throughout the summer. After recruiting the bands, who all verbally agreed to play, Videtzky learned from Cohen that Stella's on 16th had replaced some of the bands, and that Cody Brubaker, of Brubaker Artist Management, had taken over booking. As Cohen tells it, Brubaker's services were free and simply a way to get his bands to play shows. Videtzky was being paid a fee.
The Other Black was one of the bands slashed from the festival's bill. Cohen had asked Wes Watkins, the group's leader, to send in a contract. In the meantime, Stella's advertised the Other Black as one of the festival's artists.
After not receiving a contract, Cohen replaced the band. It was only after Watkins turned in his contract, a week before the show, that the musician learned his act had been replaced. Watkins acknowledges he should have handled the contract in a timely fashion but is dumbfounded that the gig was pulled when his band's name had appeared on promotional materials.
"The Other Black was published in our posters, but they never got me a contract. Without a contract, I wasn’t going to proceed with someone not showing up, especially with 700 people in attendance," says Cohen. "They never sent me a contract, so we moved on."
The musicians in the Raven and the Writing Desk discovered they wouldn't be playing their concert when they looked at the event's Facebook page days before the show and saw that their band's name was not mentioned. Bandmember Julia Libassi reached out to Cohen. She described the interaction on the outfit's Facebook page:
"I call the owner who is rude, sneering, entitled and refuses to admit responsibility for anything whatsoever. He tells me I should have paid closer attention to social media (to tell me that my confirmed show had been canceled?) He also makes sheepish threats to my career... I'm furious enough...THEN I learn he did this to 11 bands."
She added: "The way this man spoke to me on the phone still makes me nauseous. Please know that this person endorses BAD BUSINESS practices and has no respect for musicians (or people in general it seems)."
As Cohen tells it, the bands were never double-booked because he didn't sign the contracts that had come in.
"I'm sorry there is this misconception," Cohen says. "I'm not sure what this is about, but unfortunately this band wrote terrible things about me on Facebook. I'm not going to bother responding to social media. Since they only have 100 followers, it's not worth having a war with them. And nobody's even heard of these guys."
(For the record, the Raven and the Writing Desk, which Westword has designated as one of the city's ten best woman-fronted bands, has 2,290 followers on Facebook, has appeared on Colorado Public Radio's Open Air, and plays high-profile venues throughout town.)
As of late last week, most of the canceled bands hadn't heard from Cohen or Brubaker that they were being scrapped by Stella's, says Watkins, who notified the musicians himself.
"Not one of them had any communication, and everybody is really upset," Videtzky says. "Everybody canceled gigs and everybody canceled lessons and cut out time to play this and were really expecting to play. When you get offered a $700 to $800 gig, you start making plans on that."
For Libassi of the Raven and the Writing Desk, the canceled gig represents more than just a business deal turned sour.
"This is our profession," she says. "Our time matters. Our work matters. We play shows for money. We use that money to pay for bills, food, recordings, tours. This is not a hobby, and it’s not a joke."
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.