The idea of a musical residency is nothing new. Jazz musicians and DJs have a long history of making a home in a particular venue and staying put. And Las Vegas residencies have allowed many over-the-hill pop performers — from Sinatra and Elvis to Celine Dion and Prince — to ride off into the sunset with a solid income and the tattered remains of their self-respect.
Not long ago, however, residencies started happening in rock clubs in places like New York and Los Angeles. And now, a few Denver venues — most notably, Lost Lake Lounge and the Meadowlark Bar — are giving the idea a go, with surprisingly positive results.
“The traditional sense of a residency is an artist being booked for many weeks with a different bill behind them,” observes Jonathan Bitz, talent buyer for the Meadowlark. “But I really like the idea of the musicians being active in creating the bill.”
Bitz began the Meadowlark residency program just last Thursday, turning over responsibility for every Thursday in November (except Thanksgiving) to the Hot Congress collective. Last Thursday’s bill included well-known acts Achille Lauro and Action Packed Thrill Ride alongside up-and-coming bands Girls Walk By and Sun Red (formerly die Pilot) — all for a mere $7.
Last night, the all-star Hindershot and Luke Hunter James-Erickson of the Don’ts and Be Carefuls warmed up the stage for Kissing Party and Vitamins (the latter of which featuring Reverb writer Crawford Philleo).
Next Thursday’s Hot Congress residency at the Meadowlark will feature poet Kenneth Arkind accompanied by Patrick Kelly (of Hindershot, Old Radio and much more), followed by sets from Bury My Bones, Old Radio and Fingers of the Sun.
“We just thought this would be a cool way to…showcase the quality and variety of bands that we represent,” says Hot Congress’ Lucas Johannes.
Bitz sees a whole other dimension of possibilities in the residency model. “It gives musicians a chance to see the other side of things and gives them a vested interest in the show,” he says. “And it gives people a chance to come back and participate and have different options of what kind of audience they want to be.”
Across town at the Lost Lake Lounge, Matt Labarge — co-owner of Sputnik and the Hi-Dive — probably deserves credit for the resurgence in interest in rock residencies in Denver. Shortly after opening the living room-like Lost Lake on Colfax in March, Labarge kicked off the venue’s residency program with four weeks of Ian Cooke. In his first week, Cooke played a solo version of his landmark album, “The Fall I Fell,” in its entirety. The rest of his residency included performances of new songs, covers and collaborations with other musicians.
Since then, Lost Lake’s residencies have included Lion Sized — who brought in friends like Night of Joy, Eyes and Ears, Eolian, Gangcharger and Ideal Fathers — and Bocumast Records, who brought in a number of their artists, including Astrophagus, Wire Faces, Bottesini Project, Hollagramz, Hideous Men and more.
Last month, Rounder Records artist Nathaniel Rateliff hosted a residency, performing four weeks of Leonard Cohen covers. November finds Pacific Pride in residence. Labarge is pretty sure they’re going to do a night of nothing but Modern Lovers’ songs.
“I wanted to leave it up to bands to be as creative as possible — to invite bands who are friends of theirs or to try out new material or do an acoustic set or covers,” explains Labarge. “And there’s not the pressure that there would be at the Hi-Dive or another venue.”
Labarge and Bitz have both approached their venues a bit like salons — community-minded rooms intended for discussion, debate, exploration and intoxication. The intimacy of a venue like the Meadowlark or Lost Lake, combined with the sense of community built by a residency program, creates opportunities for musicians to create month-long installations that they can curate. For audiences who have grown weary of the same old shows, these residencies offer a unique opportunity to engage with and appreciate musicians in a deeper and more complex way. Even Labarge himself has been surprised by the results.
“The highlight for me was Nathaniel’s Leonard Cohen nights,” he says with the enthusiasm of a music lover. “You don’t really get that kind of experience anywhere with a musician as talented as he is.”
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 Monday for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout every Friday. Against his mother’s advice, Eryc has also been known to tweet. You can also follow Steal This Track on Twitter. Sorry, Mom.