Apr 152009
Authors: kelly bleck

“I’ve got seven,” one man says as he sauntered into the Aggie Theatre Saturday night, proudly displaying his colorful arm. Wristbands dominate his wardrobe, a testament to the busy night behind him.

With sweat dripping down his face, he joins the rhythmically moving masses, completely tuned into the punk-rock band now blaring through the speakers.

Ears need to adjust to the drastic change in decibels, however, since listeners have shifted from venue to venue, which are hosting everything from indie to hip-hop to jam bands. All local, all comfortable and all with one aim in mind: to entertain.

The project that saw two nights and more than 100 local bands performing at 12 venues, dubbed the Fort Collins Music Experiment, was the brainchild of local music scene promoters, the Fort Collins Musician’s Association.

One pass granted entrance to all venues, with each venue deciding how to mark the attendees. Adorned either with a wristband, wristbands or the telltale black Xs, crowds of concert-goers swarmed the streets of Old Town, the CSU campus and other side streets Friday and Saturday night in search of that perfect performance.

The method behind the madness

The huge event came from one small idea, as determined during last year’s FoCoMA Peer-to-Peer event, which honored local bands and introduced many artists to the local scene.

Realizing so many bands and artists were based in northern Colorado, the association’s developers decided to generate a concert series to focus on the local music scene.

“People need to get out and see the scene, or it’s going to die,” said Toby Wallace, a FoCoMA board member and musician with the band Give ‘er Hell.

Exploring the possibilities, the FoCoMA board outlined how many bands and venues they could handle. But as word got out, the event boomed and turned into more than 100 bands and 12 venues.

“It’s definitely an experiment, hence the name the Fort Collins Music Experiment,” said Greta Cornett, president and co-founder of FoCoMA and a local musician. “We’ve had a lot of support from venues and artists.”

Going through a list of association members and Myspace pages, the board put together a tentative list of bands and began calling and scheduling.

“(Booking) was a very tricky process, kind of like doing a sudoku puzzle,” said Dennis Bigelow, music director for local radio station KRFC, secretary for FoCoMA and local musician.

“There were a couple bands that you had to really spend time to figure out where they’d go. Big bands like Roe and The Piggies can pack a pretty good crowd in the place, so they couldn’t go in a place like Surfside necessarily.”

The board tried to place a well-known band at each venue, getting bands together that normally wouldn’t play together but would complement each other.

Each band had an individual sound that needed pairing with a venue and other bands on the roster.

“The Neon Kings at Alley Cat were something different, something you don’t usually see at a coffee shop,” Bigelow said.

“We tried to get at least a couple of shows that were at least really different for the venue, something people wouldn’t normally see at the venue or people who wouldn’t normally see the bands at all, and we got them together.”

Two nights of entertainment

Performers, musicians and hoards of concert-goers took to the streets throughout Fort Collins Friday and Saturday night, searching, even longing for entertainment.

“I was running around doing last-minute things, worrying about turnout, but as soon as I heard that Catalyst was full and the Cork had a line, I knew I could take a breath,” Cornett said.

Not only did the bands find support in local audiences and fellow musicians but also in travelers from outside Fort Collins.

“On Friday there were some out of town people that came up from Denver and Boulder,” Cornett said. “But on Saturday, since my phone number is the one connected to the Web site, a whole bunch of people started calling from everywhere, wondering if they could still get tickets.”

Of the 2,500 tickets handmade and laminated, only 200 were left by the end of Friday night. Beginning early Saturday, the board members set out to make more.

“You’d see huge crowds floating around,” Bigelow said. “Everyone was moving around all night. Friday, I know, Surfside was crazy until 2 in the morning.”

The technicalities of putting on such a large concert series, such as tickets and wristbands for each venue, were still under construction.

“It was funny, we had originally decided on a laminate and wristband system,” Bigelow said. “But people underage or of age to drink needed to be separated. We were intending for people to have one wristband, but each place ended up having their own I think. People started sporting them as badges of honor.”

As crowds migrated from venue to venue, the timing of each show began to expose itself. Each band was staggered, allowing crowds to flow between set times. Venues were packed in waves, mitigated by who was playing where, what their popularity level was and what new bands attracted viewers.

“There was one thing I was seeing all the artists in town doing: they put on some of the best shows I’ve seen,” Bigelow said. “They always put on great shows, but the ones I saw had great energy. They were really amazing to watch.”

As it was dubbed the Music Experiment, FoCoMA hoped to use the two-night project to spawn a permanent annual concert series.

“A lot of people questioned if you could fill up 12 venues with local bands, and I think the community really rallied behind us,” Cornett said. “It was more than we could have hoped for.”

Staff writer Kelly Bleck can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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