When considering what a good “music scene” is today, the Fillmore Auditorium(s) is an easy target. A venue of legendary proportions, the main auditoriums are located in San Francisco, New York and Denver.
Considering the locations of these prominent venues, two different conclusions can be drawn about what a music scene is today.
a) Music scenes thrive in cities and populated areas.
b) Both the east and west coast are and have been important music hubs.
The midwest, however, is a thriving center for live music.
Fort Collins, a Colorado town of approximately 130,000, has risen to the top of the music scene in the Front Range. One reason for the excellence of Fort Collins’ music scene is the abundance of concert venues.
From larger venues like the Aggie Theatre and the Lincoln Center to Colorado’s smallest bar, the Town Pump, it’s a miracle if there aren’t several options for live music in a given night.
Combine the variety of venues in town and a decades-old bluegrass scene that generates great young talent and you get one of the strongest bluegrass scenes in America.
Below is a compilation of the most prominent venues in Fort Collins that feature bluegrass music.
“Avo’s” is the hub of Fort Collins’ bluegrass community. Located around the corner from Colorado State University’s (CSU) campus, Avo’s has been the focal point of bluegrass music in Fort Collins for decades. The Bluegrass Patriots, a traditional band from Fort Collins, was Avo’s house band for many years beginning in the 1980s, according to The Bluegrass Patriots’ banjo picker Ken Seaman.
The venue features the most popular open mic and bluegrass jam in town on back to back weeknights (Tuesday and Wednesday respectively).
The bluegrass jam is a successful event that draws old and new faces every week. An informal bluegrass group consisting of several of the regular jammers typically performs before the jam begins.
Bluegrassers can count on Avo’s each week for an open atmosphere.
The restaurant/bar/venue is family-oriented and features the majority of its concerts inside. During the warm seasons, however, the back patio heats up with frequent live acts, many of which are bluegrass.
Avogadro’s ticket prices average between $5 to $8 and occasionally they will host a canned food drive in substitute of admission prices.
Tip: If you play more than one bluegrass instrument including the banjo, leave your five string behind – there’s usually an abundance of banjos in the five to 15 person jam.
The Aggie Theatre is the largest music venue in Fort Collins that features concerts on a regular basis. Located on downtown Fort Collins’ College Avenue, the venue’s occupancy is 1,000 people.
“The Aggie” attracts a large amount of the national acts that perform in Northern Colorado. Although Bluegrass music isn’t one of the primary genres featured at the Aggie, they still manage to bring in several prominent Bluegrass acts every year.
The Del McCoury Band has graced the stage of the Aggie Theatre – a particularly notable fact considering the band rarely tours in Colorado outside of its regular performances at the Telluride and RockyGrass Bluegrass festivals, put on by Colorado-based Planet Bluegrass. They last performed at the Aggie in the spring of 2008.
Head for the Hills, one of the up-and-coming bluegrass bands based in Fort Collins, perform at the Aggie several times a year. Their most recent performance was on Sept. 26.
The band’s manager, Sean MacAskill, said that the Aggie is one of Head for the Hills’ favorite venues.
“The Aggie is great because it is located in the center of town and creates a great central location for people to enjoy the show,” MacAskill said.
Although they currently have no bluegrass shows listed on their Web site, Windy Hill will likely play before the end of the year, according to their manager, Kyle McCabe.
Hodi’s Half Note
A relatively young venue, Hodi’s Half Note has been in business since the Starlight (same location) closed less than two years ago.
“Hodi’s”, as it is known by Fort Collins residents, is a well-balanced venue with a capacity of 350 people. It is about half the size of the Aggie Theatre, yet still manages to compete with the Aggie as one of the town’s top venues.
The venue has two stages and two bars and periodically hosts a bluegrass jam Sundays on the smaller of the two stages. Check the venue’s Web site for updates on a possible bluegrass jam.
“I like Hodi’s because I think everybody in town really digs that place and it’s got a cool music community,” said The Corduroy‘s bassist Mike McGraw. “You can have a really fun time at Hodi’s.”
October has been a relatively strong month for bluegrass at Hodi’s as they have housed a bluegrass act every week of the month. Local band The Billy Pilgrims performed with up-and-comers Spring Creek (who just signed with Rebel Records) from Lyons on Sat, Oct. 18 and local band Good Gravy opened for Denver-based Oakhurst the Thursday prior to Saturday’s performance.
This week will feature two more Bluegrass shows at Hodi’s, including Chicago band Cornmeal and Blue Turtle Seduction of Lake Tahoe, Calif on Wed, Oct. 22 and Montana-based Greensky Bluegrass with Windy Hill on Sun, Oct. 26.
A newer addition to the Fort Collins music scene, Road 34 opened more than two years ago. “The Road” is a bike shop/bar/deli located just blocks east of the CSU campus on Elizabeth Street.
It is the only established music venue east of campus and north of one of Fort Collins’ main roads, Prospect Road, which helps to draw a large crowd from those who prefer not to venture across town into the downtown area, where the majority of the town’s music venues are located.
Although not as much of a “bluegrass venue” as Avo’s or Hodi’s, the venue’s ambiance creates an environment conducive to an interactive concert; the bar is angled in the direction of the stage and there is plenty of dancing room as well as couches for the less inclined.
Bluegrass is not of the most common genres of music performed at Road 34. In November, however, The Road will host Windy Hill on Sat, Nov. 1 as well as the instrumentally-focused Boulder Acoustic Society on Nov. 7.
Musicians tend to enjoy Road 34′s laid back, upfront management style and lively setting for a concert.
“It’s a lot more professional than it used to be and it’s just all around a great place to bring out your friends to see you play,” said Jeremy Campbell, the front man of The Corduroy.
Campbell said that Road 34 has extended their stage to provide musicians more space. For a better idea about what Campbell thinks of Fort Collins’ venues, click here.
Located up the Poudre Canyon just north of Fort Collins, the Mishawaka Amphitheatre is commonly regarded as one of the premiere music venues in Colorado aside Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium.
“The Mish” is located along the Poudre River and is an optimal location for live music; the sound echoes through the narrow canyon and allows for those relaxing along the Mish’s riverbank to hear the music from afar.
The venue is in full swing during the summer time and books several big names in the bluegrass industry. This summer, bluegrass guitar legends Peter Rowan and Tony Rice performed with their quartet following an evening with The Emmitt-Nershi Band, a Colorado-based bluegrass quartet.
In the winter, concerts are much less frequent and take place inside the venue – a stark contrast from the open outdoor area that features a patio and a large gravel dance pit.
Recently the Mishawaka has held “lock in” concerts, in which everyone at the venue must remain inside to avoid any drunken driving incidents.
Unfortunately, the Mish has been plagued in the last few years by parking and camping problems; the venue has insufficient parking spaces for the summertime crowds, which can create dangerous situations for those traveling up the Poudre Canyon.
This year the Mishawaka has done relatively well in avoiding past problems and was successful in booking many top-notch bluegrass acts over the summer.
“As a unit, we all agree that the Mishawaka Amphitheatre is our favorite place to play,” said MacAskill. “The Mishawaka is a wonderful place and we truly enjoy the mini-festival setting that is created when we perform shows there.”
The Swing Station is located in LaPorte, a small town just 10 minutes north of Fort Collins.
Owner Bradford Lee Folk, a well-known name in the bluegrass industry and a veteran of the Grand Ole Opry’s stage, created the Swing Station with one phrase in mind: honky-tonk.
The bar is located at the only stop light in LaPorte, intersecting Overland Trail and College Avenue. Folk obviously designed the bar with space in mind – there is lots of open area inside for honky-tonking. Like Avo’s, the venue holds concerts both inside and outside.
The LaPorte Brothers – Swing Station’s bluegrass house band featuring Folk – often switch from outside to inside in between sets, when weather permits. The band is well known for featuring some of the best bluegrass pickers in Colorado and is notorious for high-energy shows.
“The Swing Station is the bluegrass venue in town,” said Jason Stapleton, guitar player for Windy Hill. “It’s the only place where you can count on seeing some serious bluegrass.”
The venue is relatively a hit-or-miss spot – The Laporte Brothers can perform to a packed house one month and almost nobody in the audience the next. However, Folk does his best to recruit the top bluegrass bands both around the Front Range and touring through the area to play at his venue.
For a more thorough listing of upcoming bluegrass shows and concert venues in Fort Collins, visit www.jambase.com.