Known for its art, outdoor sports, and health foods, is there room for Boulder to put itself on the map as a music hub?
After interviewing three Front Range bands, they all seem to agree on one thing: Boulder’s lack of midsize music venues.
Ben Waligoske of Boulder’s Springdale Quartet sheds some light on what, exactly, the music scene means by midsize music venue. The Boulder-based band found its roots in blues and jazz—playing on Springdale Lane in their college days—and have moved on to play at some of Colorado’s most prominent venues and festivals.
Waligoske recognizes a midsize venue as a place that can host 100-300 people who put the band in the foreground, rather than think of live music as a nice Saturday night bonus at the local watering hole; a place that bands can “grow and experiment at,” he says.
“Of course, that’s easier said than done in an expensive city like Boulder,” notes Waligoske; “One should consider the noble efforts for such a venue that have been attempted—Trilogy (B-side) Lounge comes to mind, as does Nomad Theatre—that have been squashed by the economic and financial side of things.”
Blake Rooker of the Boulder rock band, West Water Outlaws, agrees that Boulder musicians could benefit from a few local midsize music venues that bridge the gap between small bars and cafés and large music venues.
“If a midlevel club existed, it would be a good spot for local musicians to form relationships with smaller national acts who aren’t quite big enough for larger venues like The Fox,” says Rooker, “They could help each other grow.”
The CU alumni got a humble start playing at house parties and have since played multiple sold-out shows at The Fox and headlined The Boulder Theater.
“There are lots of small venues and some beautiful, big venues, but we could stand to have some more midsize venues that lend themselves to either listening crowds or dancing crowds,” Monocle Band front lady, Monica Whittington, agrees.
From the slopes of neighboring Lyons, Monocle Band dubs their music Rocky Mountain Indie Folk, a new genre “rooted in the traditions of Telluride bluegrass and the troubadour wanderings that led Townes Van Zandt through the San Juan Mountains on horseback.” The quintet frequents Front Range venues from Lyons to Denver, often stopping in Boulder. Whittington names Denver’s Soiled Dove as one of her favorite Colorado venues.
“It’s absolutely a listening room and attracts an audience that respects enough to listen. We had an incredible time playing there and I would love to have something like that closer to Boulder,” says Whittington, “although, eTown is one of the best venues in Boulder with the same kind of room.”
Midlevel venues aside, Boulder’s music scene is anything but unhealthy.
“Bluegrass has now blown open a gateway to some really cool genres that transcend bluegrass and acoustic music,” says Whittington, “There’s also some old country revival as well as story telling music. I’ve also noticed rock’n roll revival as well.”
Ben Waligoske credits Boulder’s current music venues with having great staff and a decent build in crowd, even if those crowds aren’t there specifically for the music.
“Don’t get me wrong, there are some fun places to play on Pearl Street,” he says, claiming Conor O’Neill’s as Springdale Quartet’s home venue.
So, as our community becomes more aware of this issue, what’s some advice a Boulderite who has made it to the top of the local music scene would offer?
“Always be nice, reliable, on-time, play as much as possible, and prove to venues how many people you’re worth,” Rooker says.
With so much hometown support for local artists of all kinds, things look bright for aspiring Boulder musicians.
“People are talking a lot about it,” says local music photographer Kirsten Cohen, “but it takes the community wanting to support our local music community to make it happen.”
Don’t miss West Water Outlaws at Fox Theater this Saturday, doors at 8.
Stay tuned to The BoulderSource for more on Boulder’s music scene. We’ll be covering a different local music topics every Wednesday during Bands on the Bricks.