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Fort Collins Is About To Get A Few More Music Venues. How Many Is Too Many?

Stacy Nick
The Bohemian Foundation has announced their purchase of Washington's Bar & Grill, a longtime Fort Collins staple, with the intent to turn the building into a new music venue.

The Front Range is in the middle of a music boom right now with a number of new music venues popping up – and on the horizon.

The latest announcement of a new 750-seat venue in Fort Collins has some wondering if audiences will be able to support all of them.

“I know a lot of people are willing to, you know, buy a decent priced ticket for Red Rocks or something and then make the drive down there,” said Angel Kwiatkowski, founder of Cohere Bandwidth, an organization that provides rehearsal space and support to local bands. “I’m wondering if us having a bigger venue will put a dent in the Denver music scene – so people will stay up here.”

There are a lot of new venues that think they will.

Bohemian Foundation’s announcement that it was purchasing Washington’s Sports Bar & Grill, turning the site into a mid-size music venue that will open possibly as early as 2017, turned heads. It will be the second Fort Collins music venue for the nonprofit, since Bohemian already owns the Armory, a 200-seat room.

It’s one of three of the city's proposed new music sites.

The Gardens on Spring Creek just got an initial green light from the Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Board for a 1,500-capacity outdoor performance venue, similar to what Denver’s Botanic Gardens has. Just north of Fort Collins, the whitewater rafting company Mountain Whitewater Descents is planning to expand Paddler’s Pub to create a 1,200-capacity music venue.

There’s already a number of places to see a show – including the Downtown Artery, Hodi’s Half-Note and the Aggie Theatre - as well as multiuse spots that feature live music.

It’s the mid-size sweet spot that seems to be missing from the mix though, said Tom Scharf, Bohemian’s director of music programs. While Washington’s thick walls and open spaces – the site was built in 1897 as a Blanchard & Son, a furniture commission business – make it an ideal music venue, it’s the measurements that really make it perfect.

“The size of the place is unique,” Scharf said. “It offers us an opportunity to have capacity that other venues don’t have in this town – they’re either smaller or larger.”

Small music venues like Hodi’s and Avogadro’s Number, have a maximum capacity of 300. The Aggie holds 650. Music fans can also go up the Poudre Canyon to Mishawaka Amphitheatre, which has a capacity of 750, or they can attend a show at Lincoln Center, which seats 1,200. For a show any larger than that, fans will have to head south to Loveland’s Budweiser Events Center, which seats 7,200.

“There’s already a rich and vibrant music scene in Fort Collins and so many venues and other art spaces are providing the people of this community with some great experiences,” Scharf said. “We think that this is additive to the community, and we think that it will raise everybody’s game even more… It’s a big and busy business – that’s for sure.”

Whether it will be a profitable one remains to be seen.

Kwiatkowski, who works with local bands daily, isn’t sure that all these new venues will actually mean more paying opportunities for musicians.

“I just always want to make sure the bands are getting paid a fair wage and that doesn’t happen very often already at our venues,” she said. “And so I’m just concerned that they’ll continue to not get paid, even though they’ll be having maybe more shows or larger shows.”

There’s no hard data about band pay scales, but generally bands in Fort Collins can count on making maybe $500 – for a big headlining show – to $50 and free beer. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than the chance to be heard by an audience.

Bohemian has long been a supporter of the local music scene, though.

For more than a decade, every summer the nonprofit has hosted Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest. The festival features a handful of national headliners but Colorado acts make up the bulk of the three-day schedule.

Bohemian also is preparing to launch the Music District, a music-hub that will act as a place for musicians and music-industry folks to meet up, rehearse and learn. It’s also a big part of their goal to turn Fort Collins into a true music city.

Scharf said the Music District and the new venue will complement each other, with artists rehearsing at the District playing shows at the new venue. While national acts will be performing at the venue, there will be weekly Colorado-only shows highlighting local talent.

“We believe in our Colorado artists and we want to support them.”

That could be music to Kwiatkowski’s ears.

“All I want is for all of these new venues to help the musicians get their music out and make a better payday,” she said. “And if larger venues creates that – then I’m all for it.”

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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