State of the Scene – The music scene in Pueblo

Pueblo is without a true venue, a major factor contributing to the ever-ongoing debate between those who recognize the musical talent in Pueblo and those who don’t believe one exists. 

The opinions about music in Pueblo seem to be diverse, much like the scene itself. 

Pueblo is home to a number of metal bands, a returning punk scene, hip-hop, Americana and folk artists, country and several singer songwriters. 

People, especially young people, often say there isn’t anywhere to go to see music and even that there isn’t any music in Pueblo but those accusations only scratch the surface. 

Pueblo Venues: They do exist

Tre Bartell, saxophonist with ska band the Ragetones, has his own theory of why people don’t turn out to shows.

He says there is some definite musical talent in Pueblo, but it’s wasted. 

“A lot (of bands) play, but they don’t make any effort to broadcast themselves. If you make an effort to show that you can play and you perform frequently, people will start to notice and maybe be more inclined to come watch,” said Bartell. 

He doesn’t think the number of venues in town contributes to the absence of a solid music scene; it is the lack of interest young people show. Bartell said the Ragetones have played several venues in Pueblo, including Phil’s Radiator, the Pixie Inn, the Broadway Bar and the YMCA, and it’s more about the interest in the music scene than places to play. 

“The generation that should be out watching the shows have no care for local music. They’re all concerned about getting wasted and partying,” Bartell added. 

There are places to play. All but one member of the Ragetones are under the age of twenty-one, yet the band regularly plays at bars around town. Bartell adds that bars will never have a good reputation, but they’re a good place to find music. 

The Ragetones are comfortable with the music scene. They’ve found a niche, a haven of punk rockers. 

It’s all about finding the right fit. 

Finding a fit among musicians and venues has been a major aspect of the Pueblo Performing Art Guild’s Creative Corridor, which runs throughout downtown. 

“A musician needs to be sophisticaed in promoting themselves. There are a lot of venues out there,” said Susan Fries, executive director of PPAG, who said that helping musicians develop their craft and getting their names out there is something very important to the organization. 

When PPAG picks musicians for their street beat performances its goal is to place artists with local businesses that would potentially hire the musicians. 

“We require (the musicians) to have Facebook pages (to build a following) and encourage them to carry business cards,” said Fries. 

For Fries, fitting musicians with the right venues is important. It’s not that there aren’t venues; it is that musicians don’t necessarily know how to draw people to the places that already exist. It’s the promotion aspect of the music scene that PPAG has being working on and she says it is working. 

Since the birth of the Creative Corridor, downtown businesses have reported an increase in revenue. Additionally, PPAG has found that local venues, mainly restaurants, bars and cafés, are suggesting musicians they would like to see perform. 

The Sangre de Cristo Art Center has been drawing bigger crowds than usual, proving that when you have a place for music, people will show. 

They cater to acts families would like to see. Recently, they have been seeing higher ticket sales for shows held in the theater. 

“(It has) allowed us to reach out towards more well-proven acts to bring them to our theater,” said Nathan Santistevan, marketing specialist at the Arts Center. 

Santistevan said that the center actively searches for acts that they feel will “hit home” with adults, kids, and families. 

A lot of the programs and acts brought in by the art center are actually the suggestions from the public. 

“We listen to what they ask for and take all of their feedback into consideration. We are always trying to bring in new bands but fans have their favorites and speak out to keep certain bands coming back on a regular basis,” said Santistevan. 

Festival Fridays, a bi-annual concert series at the center, is a mix of “fan favorites” as well as new artists. The center said they always put out an invitation to the public to submit names of bands and artists they would like to see perform at the festival. 

But We Need More

When people talk about venues in town or live music in Pueblo, they usually mean a bar or a coffee shop, never somewhere solely dedicated to music. 

Jonathan Leverington, a member of metal band Force the Trigger, sees the potential music can have in Pueblo if there was just a place to perform. 

“I do think if there were more venues in town it would inspire bands to play more shows locally because it’s a different environment for them every show rather the same place every weekend,” said Leverington. 

Since the Runyon Theater and Sports Garden closed, two venues Leverington said were hotspots in the metal scene’s peak, Force the Trigger has frequently played Phil’s Radiator, located on C Street downtown. 

The scene “really died” when venues started disappearing. He says the turnout eventually hit an all time low because fans had nowhere to go and the places they could go to see live music had a mistakenly bad reputation. 

Leverington said he could only really speak for the metal bands but it seemed like a lot of the acoustic artists in town experience the same problem. They are only able to play coffee shops and grab the attention of listeners who don’t go out to bars. 

A lot of musicians say the same things.  People are wrong to think that there isn’t a music scene in Pueblo, but for the most part they probably think that because there isn’t a definite venue, not anymore anyway. 

Local record label Blank Tape Records agrees. 

They say a majority of their Colorado Springs based musicians don’t play Pueblo very often because there are few places that are able to draw a crowd that is worth the drive. 

Inaiah Lujan, member of folk band The Haunted Windchimes and team member for the Blank Tape Records says the band and the whole Blank Tape crew don’t get to play Pueblo, their hometown, often enough because of the lack of venues.

“Usually bands are playing second fiddle to food and drinks, and become background music for chatting in most places,” said Lujan. 

The Haunted Windchimes have played their fair share of bars and restaurants but the atmosphere just isn’t the same as a venue. 

Lujan’s first experience with the music scene in Pueblo was house shows where punk bands would play for donations. 

“I’ve seen good scenes come and go, but what I know for sure is that Pueblo has a wonderful and resilient spirit when it comes to the arts,” said Lujan. 

He thinks the bands, the venues, the promoters and the crowd all have to work in harmony “to make the Pueblo scene awesome.” 

“I still see great potential as we haven’t lost that spark,” said Lujan. 

Bringing Bands to Town

Kevin Healey knows a lot about music. He had a touring band, worked in the music world and had a hand in the punk scene in Philadelphia. When he transplanted to Pueblo he realized the punk scene was impressive and felt the need to meet like-minded people. So he and wife Sophie Healey jumped at the opportunity to take over the Red Raven Studio in 2010.

“Everybody (would have) a hand in creating the place…that’s what I wanted to create,” said Kevin Healey. 

On Main Street, just off of Northern, the Red Raven sat on the top floor of an old stone building. A hardly noticeable door opened to a staircase, ornately painted by Sophie, which led up to what could have been a large living room, but instead it was open and faced a stage. 

The venue was built not only around music but art and the creative community in Pueblo. The two knew that Pueblo needed a venue but it could also be so much more. 

“Our best nights incorporated the arts,” said Sophie Healey. 

The Red Raven would often host gallery receptions in conjunction with shows, and not just shows of local bands but musicians they had booked from all around the country and the world. 

The two admit it was a lot of hard work running a venue but getting bands to come to Pueblo and play wasn’t one of them. 

“We’re in a crucial area,” said Kevin Healey. 

Venues in Denver usually include a radius clause in their contracts, meaning artists aren’t allowed to play another venue within so many miles of Denver. This usually keeps all of the big shows out of Colorado Springs and keeps the business in the capital city. 

This was a plus for the Red Raven. Pueblo almost always fell outside of that radius and bands wouldn’t hesitate to stop on their way to another city. 

“We got a lot of bands on their way (and back) to SXSW in Austin,” said Sophie Healey. 

They still receive phone calls about bands coming through town wanting to play a show even though the venue is no longer alive. 

“The Red Raven was great, but the building had major flaws,” said Sophie Healey. 

They estimated it would take around $500,000 to renovate the building. It needed major electrical work, among other things. 

There were also the noise complaints. It was decided, after dozens of calls to the police by neighbors, that they just had too much respect for the people living around them to continue at that location. So they planned to move. 

Downtown made the most sense but after exploring their options nothing panned out. 

The couple still believes Pueblo needs a venue; the music scene is here and though there are bars and coffee shops, nothing beats the atmosphere of an actual venue. 

“There’s that rush of sitting outside and waiting, buying your ticket, grabbing a beer and being there just for the music,” said Sophie Healey. 

Sophie and Kevin Healey have experienced what Pueblo has to offer in the music world. The scene is diverse and has followers even if people claim it’s not there. Kevin Healey admits that a venue wouldn’t change people’s minds. It’d help, but the only way to reshape an idea is if the people who want a bolder music scene do something about it. 

Where the scene goes from here is unknown. The desire is present but what’s needed are a sustained effort to grow the music scene that includes ment from the arts to bring larger and diverse acts, and artists to stay hungry to keep demanding outlets to show off their talents.

(Editor’s Note: At the time Kevin Healey was not involved with the current PULP. Kevin is now a writer with the PULP.)

by Kara Mason

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