Colorado indie music venues clinging to life

Nathaniel Rateliff, Lumineers step up for fundraiser

By John Wenzel
The Denver Post

Seven months of economic and cultural chaos have left the music industry as battered as any other. But unlike corporations or even individual artists, emergency funding for venue owners has rarely reached beyond standard payroll loans.

That’s why independent venues have increasingly banded together to push for more federal and state action to help their shuttered, restricted and money-losing businesses. Visibility campaigns — such as last

month’s neon-red show of solidarity for the #WeMakeEvents campaign — have helped increase awareness while recently introduced legislation like the Save Our Stages and the RESTART Act are aimed at routing $10 billion toward independent venues to stave off closure.

The statistics — in and outside of Colorado — remain stubbornly grim, with 90% of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) members saying they’ll

be forced to close permanently without federal assistance, according to a poll. Indie venues are also forecast to lose up to $8.9 billion if they remain dark for the rest of 2020, NIVA said.

In Colorado, the Boulder Theater is joining this weekend’s Save Our Stages Fest, or #SOS-Fest, as a presenting venue. The three-day virtual event — running Oct. 16-18 on YouTube, and produced by NIVA — will live-stream a Nathaniel Rateliff performance at 5:10 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18, followed by a 7:05 p.m. performance from The Lumineers. (Those two nationally known Colorado acts have become fixtures on the 2020 music-benefit circuit.)

Money raised during the broadcast will go toward the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund (nivassoc.org/erf), organizers said in a press statement. Applications and donations are both being accepted.

The livestream (at

bit.ly/3lPT5bc) will be hosted by comic and “The Late Late Show with James Corden” bandleader Reggie Watts, and also include performances from Foo Fighters, Brittany Howard, Dave Matthews, Dillon Francis, The Roots, Miley Cyrus, Reba McEntire and others — each from an independent music venue around the United States like the Boulder Theater.

“The smaller music venues and the ones that are really struggling are not only culturally important, they are emotionally important,” Foo Fighters’ singer Dave Grohl said in a statement for the event.

NIVA includes more than 90 Colorado organizations as members, from Denver music festivals and all-ages underground spaces to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, jazz clubs, historic theaters and comedy clubs.

The week of Oct. 24-30 also has been designated as Independent Venue Week, which is designed to draw attention to the plight of indie venues with more programming and fundraising. The online event features live and recorded sets, educational content for students, and an online auction for the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund.

“It was from this nationwide network of independent venues cultivated by IVW (Independent Venue Week) over the past several years that NIVA grew out of,” organizers said in a press statement.

This week, Denver’s historic Oriental Theater also launched an online fundraising campaign to save the Highland neighborhood venue, which reliably features a mix of punk, burlesque and comedy shows, film screenings, and other diverse entertainment.

“While The Oriental Theater was able to reopen its doors on Aug. 1 for very small and socially distanced shows, it is still only able to operate at 10% capacity,” organizers said.

Fans are encouraged to donate at bit.ly/FriendOfTheO. For each donation, they’ll be “rewarded with tiered prizes ranging from $10 to $5,000,” according to a press statement. “Highlighted prizes include: a complete outfit set with sticker, pin, T-shirt, and hat for $80; a complete private party at the theater with a bar tab for $2,500; and sponsoring the lobby bar for $5,000,” organizers said.

The owners of another nearby venue, Tennyson’s Local 46 (local46bar.com), this week said they’re closing permanently after Halloween due to financial losses from the coronavirus shutdown.

“They paid really well, were extremely professional, and overall covered all the bases for a bar that Denver was really proud of,” wrote musician Lauren Gilliroy in an email to The Denver Post. “Their absence will be felt in the music community and beyond.”

John Wenzel: 303-954-1642, jwenzel@denverpost.com or @johnwenzel