Volume 9, No. 19, May 13,
The music business
Local musicians and venues struggle with challenging times
The Rowdy Shade House Funk Band gets down before a partial house
at the Summit. Difficult economic times are spilling over into
the local world of entertainment, and musicians and venues are
finding fewer fans in the audience./Photo by Stephen Eginoire
by Malia Durbano
Sad songs are becoming increasingly
common on stages around Durango. In spite of an abundance of musical
talent and live music options, fans appear to be giving shows
a pass, leaving Durangos musicians and venues singing the
A Fort Lewis College adjunct
professor, swing band leader and private music teacher, Jeff Solon
has done it all, and hes no stranger to local stages. He
regularly joins bandmates at Mutus, Cyprus Café and
Sweeneys in the summer on the deck. The swing band plays
weddings, private parties and fund-raisers. The Jeff Solon Swing
Band was also making a name for itself with its monthly Swing
Dance that is until this month.
Dancers once drove from as
far as Cortez, Farmington and Pagosa for the opportunity to dance
to Solons live big band. But while the dance floor was always
crowded with novice and seasoned dancers alike, cover charges
still did not offset expenses. There is so much going on,
Solon said. Its hard to get a large number of dancers
to commit to being in the same place on the same night.
The monthly swing parties
survived due to a generous financial backer, but that support
recently dried up. Solon could no longer absorb the financial
loss. The swing dance scheduled for April 24 had to be cancelled
and fans lost a unique monthly happening.
The story is the same for a new band in town, Seven. The band
formed when frontman Michael Coble found time to polish the original
tunes hed written. Blending everything from funk to Celtic
to New Orleans jazz, the accomplished band members immediately
Coble has played with various
musicians in town since 1996 and graduated from Fort Lewis with
a music performance degree in 2001. At that time, he decided to
go back for a teaching certificate, thinking a teaching job would
provide some security and stability as he started a family. When
his full-time music teaching position at Miller Middle School
got reduced to half time because of budget cuts, he decided to
resign. He now substitutes regularly for 9-R, teaches guitar at
Katzin four nights a week, and plays in duos with other musicians
And Coble is not alone. Nearly
every local musician has at least one other job. Lisa Byrne, a
local didjeridoo player, also incorporates multiple formats for
attracting audiences. Her Journey to One meditative
experience allows attendees to lie on the floor, relaxing into
the ethereal sounds of singing bowls, Native American flutes,
the didj, and various percussion instruments. She also performs
at Pathways in Bayfield and Yogadurango, and does private sessions
accompanying massage in her home. Byrne also records and plays
live with California band Jayla.
But like Solon, shes
seen her local core of followers start to vanish. As disposable
incomes decrease, shes begun exploring potential new venues
and audiences in the Four Corners region. And as the newest member
of Katzins teaching staff, shes also hoping interest
will increase for her unique instrument.
Durangos stages share
Solon and Byrnes dilemmas. Sophie Parrott, manager of the
Henry Strater Theatre, defined her mission simply to
bring big city music to a small town. She is constantly
experimenting, bringing in a wide variety of shows to appeal to
distinct segments of the local population. Sometimes the experiment
pays off, and sometimes it doesnt.
Theres a risk
in bringing in different genres on both ends, she said.
The theatre risks not knowing what attendance will be, and
the public risks attending something they might not like.
However, she added that The
Hank is also building a reputation for good shows. Even
if they dont especially like it they always know
it will be a good, quality performance, she said.
Nonetheless, the Henry Strater
has had to lower its ticket prices in the last six months in order
to sell out shows. People dont expect to pay $35 for
a show at the Strater, she said. The dilemma is that
the small theatre only has 250 seats.
Parrott has wrestled with
either demanding a higher ticket price for the more intimate setting
or bringing in less expensive acts to keep ticket prices low and
make ends meet. Parrott is booking melodrama performances for
the summer tourist season in order to contribute to her annual
While some shows are fantastic
sell-outs, some really bomb, Parrott acknowledged.
A stand up comedy performance in January sold out all four shows.
But her most recent attempt at a novel production for Durango
the International Hunks was a disaster. That big
fat risk factor is something she and other venues constantly
The Community Concert Hall
at Fort Lewis College has the stated mission of providing
cultural experiences for the region, and the hall prides
itself on exposing La Plata County residents to eclectic music,
and a variety of dance, theater and multi-media presentations.
We concentrate on attracting
artists that wouldnt normally come here, said Charles
Leslie, the Concert Halls director. Were not
a direct route between Denver to Phoenix.
The 600-seat auditorium is
almost triple the size of any other venue in town, but even with
the large capacity, ticket sales often dont cover expenses.
The Concert Hall also gets money from the State of Colorado to
help with salaries and operating expenses. But when tickets do
not sell, the venue takes a hit.
Ticket sales have been
down as much as 20 to 30 percent compared with previous years,
Leslie said. Currently, theyre down about 15 percent
from last year.
Given the continued slump
in the economy, the Concert Hall recently instituted policies
to help with ticket sales. As an example, prices were held at
$20 and $25 for the balcony seats for the Bela Fleck show. And
last fall, the venue started offering a 15 percent discount to
people who bought tickets to three shows.
The moves went against the
grain of the industry leaders who tell venues not to discount
tickets. However, Leslie responded that the musical experience
is too valuable and should remain as accessible as possible to
people in the community. Music and art feed our souls,
he said. We are committed to bringing music from all over
the world to Durango. We work really hard at doing that and if
it means cutting tickets prices, or asking artists to work for
less, well do it.