“Instead of asking ‘Who’s high?’ I asked ‘Who’s getting straight As?'”
Mile High rapper King F.O.E. is talking about how he adapted his bombastic performance style for a recent show at the Parker branch of the Douglas County Library. His was the latest in a monthly series of free local music performances hosted by the suburban library. If F.O.E.’s hard-edged hip-hop seems like an odd match for a public library, you obviously haven’t met reference librarian Jeanie Straub.
When Straub was hired five years ago, the Parker library already had a commitment to the Colorado music scene, with a collection of nearly 500 local CDs. Since that time, Straub has pared the collection down and added only the highest quality local music, based on recommendations from Westword, Colorado Music Buzz (for which she occasionally writes reviews) and, of course, The Denver Post and Reverb.
To promote this impressive collection and the library’s commitment to local musicians, Straub kicked off the Live Local Music Series in 2006 with a performance by pianist and singer-songwriter Chad Beall.
“I kind of credit him with starting this,” says the humble Straub, whose enthusiasm for local music has kept the series alive into its fifth year. Though it would have been safe for the library to stick with singer-songwriters, jazz, classical and acoustic acts, Straub — with the support of her supervisor — has pushed the envelope to include raucous bluegrass (the highest attendance in the series was for a performance by Kantankerous), classic rock, heavy metal, punk and, of course, hip-hop.
F.O.E. — whose government name is Bobby Rogers — was actually only the second hip-hop artist to rock the Parker library (the first was Extra Kool, more than two years ago), but he was surprised to find the non-traditional venue so welcoming. “It was actually really dope,” he exclaims. “I thought I was gonna be performing in the non-fiction section or something,” laughs the boisterous performer, “but they had tables and chairs and couches set up. It was a really cozy, intimate spot.”
If words like “cozy” and “intimate” sound like code for “no one was there,” that isn’t quite the case. “There were probably 30 or 40 people there,” says F.O.E. (Straub’s official count is 39), “including 15 to 20 kids under the age of 10!” The scene wasn’t just populated with youngsters though. “I even had two older couples there,” the rapper continues. “One, in particular, who were, at least, in their 60s. They were putting their hands up. They got the CD. They were the first people in the room.”
While 40 people might not sound like much of a crowd for live music, it’s more people than you’d normally expect to find in the library on a Saturday night, and F.O.E. found the crowd active and engaged. He performed an hour’s worth of material to a rapt audience, with support from DJ A-What, Mane Rok and his frequent collaborator, Karma. “There was one kid breakdancing the whole hour,” enthuses F.O.E. “He was no more than four years old.” Though the library’s patrons might seem unlikely F.O.E. fans, they have actually supported him for some time. “I got a tweet from Jeanie,” recounts the rapper, “and it said that two copies of my CD had been checked out since they got it, and there were eight people waiting for it.”
While performing at a suburban public library will expand the rapper’s fanbase, his performance also expands the library’s audience. “People come to these concerts who don’t use the library,” explains Straub. “I like that it makes people look at libraries in a different way. They’re the last public space. When people think of the library, they think ‘Shh!’ and having music shows how versatile the space can be. It shows the limitlessness of libraries.”
For more information on the Live Local Music Series at the Parker library, follow Straub’s local music tweets on Twitter, or check out Parker Library’s Live Local Music Series on MySpace. You can also check out Jeanie Straub’s music writing in Colorado Music Buzz. The next show in the series will be an intimate, acoustic performance by John Common and Jessica De Nicola, at 2 p.m. on March 27.
Your next chance to catch King F.O.E. is warming up the Pepsi Center with Jewell Tyme Music on March 7.
Eryc Eyl is a veteran music journalist, critic and Colorado native who has been neck-deep in local music for many years. Check out Steal This Track every Tuesday for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout every Friday.