Photos

Feature: Colorado summer concert preview

As concert promoter Live Nation bleeds executives and its competitor AEG Live questions the future of festivals — including the Mile High Music Festival, which is taking this summer off — a couple of Colorado companies are seeing better-than-ever success in their music endeavors.

Instead of scaling back in this down live-music economy, Lyons-based Planet Bluegrass and Denver’s Swallow Hill Music Association are ramping up everything. They’re throwing more shows, adding headliners to festivals and elevating their education components.

All by sticking to the roots of American music — and their musical missions.

 

“Telluride (Bluegrass) and RockyGrass both sold out in record time this year,” said Craig Ferguson, president of Planet Bluegrass and the director of its festivals in Lyons and Telluride. “People tell their friends. It’s less about the hype than it is about the experience.”

As Swallow Hill and Planet Bluegrass head into the summer — when they sell the majority of their tickets via juggernauts such as Telluride Bluegrass and the popular Denver Botanic Gardens concert series, (DBG is booked by Swallow Hill) — the organizations are working to keep their newfound success from interfering with the community focus they are known for.

Show and teach

For Swallow Hill, that means maintaining its long-time emphasis on education even as it expands as a local producer. On any given weeknight, the classrooms and maze-like hallways of the organization’s East Yale Avenue headquarters are buzzing with teenagers taking guitar lessons, or 60-somethings picking up a ukulele for their first time.

Students might hit the cafe after their lesson to take in the Celtic jam session, or they might come back on the weekend to see their banjo teacher open up for a celebrated national folk artist. It’s all interconnected.
“This school has been successful because it’s an alternative social club for people,” said Michael Schenkelberg, the school director at Swallow Hill. “We’ve changed our message from ‘Music is good for you’ to ‘Come here to hang out with your friends’ or ‘Come here if you haven’t gotten out in a while’ or ‘Come here if you wanna find a date.’

“We’re marketing the social aspect.”

It’s working. The organization’s classes have seen a 60 percent increase in the past four years, allowing for a 90 percent budget increase since 2007.

The 31-year-old nonprofit’s concert division is thriving, too. It saw a boon last year via the acquisition of the booking rights at the DBG. The group just announced another strong summer season at the Gardens that will include Chris Isaak, B.B. King and others.

Keep reading for a look at our top summer concerts of 2011.