Denver’s Santa Fe Arts District sees influx of music-industry playersBy Ricardo Baca | November 15th, 2010 | 1 Comment »
When Denver’s music community quickly organized the massive benefit show for Fourmile Canyon fire victims last month, the promoters, managers, venue owners and publicity makers barely had to leave their newly formed industry hub on Santa Fe Drive to put everything together.
The behind-the-scenes sequence of events was a maze of phone calls and meetings, but it went something like this: Red Light Management’s Chris Tetzeli took the call from KBCO’s Scott Arbough, who had the idea. Tetzeli then walked down the hall to get things going with his co-worker, Alex Brahl. He crossed the street to the offices of promoter AEG Live and venue operators Peak Entertainment, and then he went around the corner to Madison House Publicity. He wrapped it all up by stopping in the nearby loft that houses band manager John Joy’s office.
In that time, Tetzeli and his neighbors lined up Phish, String Cheese Incident, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon and more for the big show at the 1stBank Center. The landmark concert sold out in minutes and raised more than $300,000 for victims of the Boulder County fire.
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, indeed — especially when your neighborhood is becoming the powerpoint for Denver’s music business.
“We’re in the middle of everything here, and it’s great to have everybody nearby,” Tetzeli said from his office, which sits in the rear of a converted house on West Seventh Avenue between Santa Fe Drive and Kalamath Street, at the center of the hub that spreads out just a few blocks. “There’s not a day that goes by that we’re not over at AEG’s office or they’re not over here. We’re friends, and we do a lot of business together, and that synergy is really valuable.”
The ever-morphing industry center is more SoHo in the ’70s than Music Row in the ’80s. Art galleries abound on Santa Fe Drive, but now music-industry offices pepper the historic, 100-year-old neighborhood. Some outfits have been there for years. Community radio station KGNU-AM opened its Denver studio in the Denver Open Media building five years ago. But most of the big action started with the arrival of rock promoter AEG Live.
When promoter Chuck Morris left Live Nation in 2006 to open a local branch of Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz’s promotions company AEG Live, he was in the market for a new headquarters. Morris’ friend, Mayor John Hickenlooper, encouraged him to look at the gentrifying Santa Fe Arts District. And it wasn’t long before Morris fell in love with a building that had been home to Latino radio stations and La Familia Broadcasting.
“John was right,” Morris said. “Every week that we’ve been here, a new building down here gets purchased or redone. Now, you have condos getting built and architects moving in. It’s a mile from downtown, where property prices are four times as much, and half my business is right around here. It’s a wonderful place.”
Morris is a man with reach and influence — not unlike that of the mayor. When he called friend and colleague David Opperman, a doctor of laryngology, the professional voice doc jumped at the opportunity to rent space in Morris’ building for a new practice.
“A lot of big-name performers have contracts where they can’t be seen entering medical centers,” Opperman said recently, sitting in his clinic’s posh green-room facilities. “And so we have a limo port for cars and tour buses, but if that doesn’t work for them, we built another entrance that comes into the office from one of AEG’s conference rooms.”
It’s happened more than once, Opperman said. An artist will be “visiting” his show’s promoter, and then he’ll slip through the secret door for some intense vocal work — and nobody knows the better. The rock stars, radio hosts and professors who make up the clinic’s clientele enjoy the artwork of Opperman’s sister, Cheryl.
Yes, this slick doctor’s office also doubles as an art gallery on the district’s First Friday art celebrations.
And if Denver’s rock ‘n’ roll profile continues to rise as it has in recent years, Opperman will have more and more tour buses parked at his limo port.
“A lot of these agencies are looking at Denver now in a completely different way,” said Opperman’s physician assistant, William “Buzz” Reifman. “We’re not sitting on the sidelines anymore. We’re in the game now.”
Denver’s presence in “the game” is obvious when Red Light Management — which handles Phish, the Dave Matthews Band, Faith Hill, the John Denver estate, Tim McGraw and other highly lucrative accounts — opens an office here. Tetzeli, who manages popular musicians Rodrigo y Gabriela, the John Butler Trio and others, opened the company’s Denver office across from AEG and the Colorado Voice Clinic in January 2009 on Morris’ recommendation.
“We’ve always had a keen eye on the Denver/Boulder market,” said Tetzeli, who founded ATO Records with Dave Matthews and was Red Light’s first employee under marquee manager Coran Capshaw. “Chuck called me in October of 2008 when he saw that the building across the street was for sale. He strongly suggested that I come to move in next door, and it was easy to say ‘yes.’ ”
Sought “community of color”
After a six-month renovation that nearly topped $100,000, Tetzeli and his crew spread out into the cozy space — which now hosts four agents and four other employees representing bands Dinosaur Jr., Tea Leaf Green, Fruit Bats, Big Head Todd & the Monsters and others.
Next door to Red Light is KGNU’s compact Denver studio — a satellite to its larger facilities in Boulder.
“We wanted to be in an area that was accessible to a lot of people, and we also wanted to be in a community of color,” said KGNU music director John Schaefer, who helps organize First Friday events with bands and his video-savvy neighbors Denver Open Media. “We were lucky in that Denver Open Media was happening there and that we’ve had the opportunity to be a part of everything going on down here.”
Around the corner from the AEG/Red Light cluster is the MoBoogie Loft, where president Drew Ryan and his team film original band performances. Their video hosting site, moboogie.com, will soon launch its first radio stations, and their loft also is home to John Joy, who manages Leftover Salmon and Kurt Redeker, a local artist who often works with bands.
“I love it down here so much,” said Ryan, whose funky loft is draped in tapestries and rock posters. “You can’t not feel inspired down here with all the creative people working hard. It’s the most talented and creative place in Denver. And it’s also great that I see Chuck Morris and the rest of the AEG guys out and about at El Taco de Mexico or El Noa Noa all the time.”
Corey Hartman owns Furthur Frames, a rock poster-oriented framing shop, just around the corner from MoBoogie. He organized a showing of Redeker’s work, and the exhibit’s opening party featured a live show from one of Redeker’s clients, Octopus Nebula. Hartman noted that collaboration, and more, is born out of proximity.
“This area, it’s artists finding their way together — art and music,” Hartman said. “Everything is starting to come together in one place. Denver is a tremendous hub for music. People live here and live a musical lifestyle. With our shop, we didn’t intend to be completely focused on rock art. But it’s been amazing how many people have come out of the woodwork when they realized that I’ve probably been dancing next to them for 20 years.”
Half a block down from Furthur Frames is the Madison House Publicity loft offices, where Carrie Lombardi and her staff manage the public goings-ons of Los Lobos, String Cheese Incident, the Mile High Music Festival and more.
“I don’t think that the Colorado music scene is meant to be in high-rises in downtown Denver,” said Lombardi, who moved her offices from Boulder earlier this year. “That’s not why we’re all living here. And in that sense, Santa Fe is a perfect district for this community to grow. You can step out your door, walk over and visit and do business. And when artists and our clients come into the neighborhood, they resonate with the vibe here. It feels very Colorado, and yet it’s certainly on a national level.”
Santa Fe is an occasionally tangled web of familiarity. One of Lombardi’s clients, Keller Williams, used to live in Colorado and is still extremely popular here. He played the Mile High Music Festival this summer — which she also represents — and she also rents out an office in her Santa Fe space to Cam Morin, who is Williams’ business manager.
“Cam and I have done business together for 12 years, as long as I’ve been working with Keller,” Lombardi said. “And now we literally yell between the walls to talk about what we’re doing with Keller. It’s what I love about this industry — working with so many inspiring colleagues and clients.”