Hey Vail, where’s the rock music?
VAIL – Gone are the days of the bouncing floor of 8150 and the fiery performances at the late State Bridge. As far as national and international rock music is concerned, the valley has experienced a bit of a live music lull since those two venues disappeared. In spite of its location on the Interstate 70 corridor, where dozens of bands pass daily touring between Denver and Salt Lake City and although there are a number of small clubs trying to fill the void that 8150 left, Vail’s status as a rock stop has changed in recent years.”Everyone is always like, ‘how come Aspen has the Belly Up and we can’t have something like that?’ Well, the man who owns the Belly Up [Michael Goldberg], money is not a huge issue for him,” said Diane Moudy of Resort Entertainment, which books several of Vail’s biggest performances, including the Vail Valley Foundation’s free concert series. “The Belly Up is a small venue and he gets great acts. He has good connections. But here, no promoter or producer ever goes into a concert just barely breaking even, the costs are too high. I get calls all the time like, ‘Why can’t you book Stevie Wonder at [Ford] Amphitheater?’ Once you start adding numbers together, it just won’t work. We give away a lot of free music in this valley, so it’s really hard to sell tickets around here.”
Richard Wheelock is familiar with this reality. Wheelock owns Agave in Avon, the Mexican restaurant that spent thousands of dollars last winter building a full stage with a big screen and balcony area in an effort to become a viable live music venue. Though Agave has definitely gathered steam in the last few months, earning a spot on the live music map hasn’t come without a couple of blows.”We did get some great shows this winter – Hell’s Belles sold out, Del the Funky Homosapien did well, but we did some that … man, I don’t know what happened,” Wheelock said. “Ozomatli didn’t do that well. People know them, people know they put on an amazing show and we spent quite a bit of money to bring them here. It was March – fat season – they came out with a new album and the radio was playing their new album. If it could ever work, it would work. I can’t put my finger on it. We had to charge a bit more – $25 per ticket – so part of it goes back to the fact that there’s so many free shows in the valley, so people at times just don’t want to spend the money.”Several people in the local music business blame the recession for the lack of financial support for live music. “The economy has a lot to do with the music scene changing,” says local sound engineer Steve Corr, who has staged live music around the valley at 8150, State Bridge and now The Sandbar in Vail, since 1996. “People aren’t going out as much anymore. It seems like it’s more spread out than it used to be. It also seems like the bigger acts are playing smaller places and they’re probably taking less money.”
Agave is one of several bar/restaurants in the valley that has stepped up as a music venue. After his venue burned to the ground in 2007, State Bridge operator Scott Stoughton went on to focus on Bridge Street’s Samana Lounge, which has become Vail Village’s token late-night music club, particularly for DJs. Loaded Joe’s Coffee House has been on the local live music map for several years, while new converts include Paddy’s in Eagle-Vail and Saltwater Cowboy in Avon. Along with The Sandbar, these places are striving to bring in live shows. Although they’ve got some standout national artists in their lineups (Saltwater Cowboy is hosting The Radiators Aug. 20 and 21 and Dirty Dozen Brass Band Aug. 26 while Agave is working to land Keller Williams and North Mississippi Allstars this winter), the valley simply can’t claim a Belly Up-caliber club, a place that boasts a steady stream of A-list artists year-round. “I don’t think there’s a need for a full-sized, music-all-the-time venue here,” Wheelock said. “That’s probably why 8150 went away … and never came back. They cost a lot of money to operate. At the Belly Up, there’s a lot of $40 shows. Is Agave ready for a $40 show? I don’t think so yet. There’s a lot of risk involved in doing a show like that. You don’t look to make money on the door. You look to break even on the door. From a business perspective, it makes so much more sense to book a good medium band that’s going to get a full house that buys the same amount of beer. Your loss potential is huge to bring in a bigger band.”
With free music in so many different places – Hot Summer Nights on Tuesdays, Street Beat in the winter, FAC at The Westin in Avon and more, many people’s live music fix is satiated, especially if they’re going to see a band they’re not very familiar with. Wheelock says people in Vail simply don’t buy tickets for bands they don’t know.”All it would take is another 50 people for some of these obscure bands,” he said. “If people were a little more off-the-couch and would say, ‘you know, I haven’t heard of them, but Agave is throwing a $5 or $8 cover, so I’m going to go support them to keep live music alive in the valley.'”Although there are a handful of great rock acts coming to Ford Amphitheater and the Vilar Center at Beaver Creek, when promoters go to book bigger bands, they have learned that most people going to see live music in Vail favor a certain genre … the jam band genre. When booking larger bands, another obstacle is the radius clause that some Colorado promoters and venues place on artists that prevents them from playing in neighboring areas.”That’s why you will not see whoever has a show at Red Rocks playing in Vail,” Moudy said. “They tend to put restrictions on Vail. It’s pretty cutthroat and it’s a catch 22, because if it were something we were doing at Dobson [Ice Arena], if I didn’t put restrictions on them, they’d go play in Aspen or Steamboat or Breckenridge. I need people in those other communities to come to this show. The free concerts are different. Anybody can come to a free concert. And they always do.”