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Western Slope Towns Extend Music Industry's Reach

CCI estimated in 2016 that Colorado’s music industry creates 1,600 jobs and brings in $658 million


Visit Paonia Town Park on a Thursday evening in August, and you’ll find music and dancing, food and festivity. Whether it’s Americana, pop, bluegrass, rock n’ roll, folk or blues; whatever the weather, there’s always dancing to the music coming from the covered wooden stage in the corner of the park.

When Rob Miller started organizing and promoting “Pickin’ in the Park” concerts in 1999, they drew crowds of a few hundred locals. Now, crowds of 800 to 1,200 are common. The work fit in with Miller’s love of music, and Pickin’quickly became known to neighboring Western Slope towns that wanted to create similar events. The town of Ridgway contacted him to be a talent buyer and promoter. Miller also helped start the Ouray Mountain Air Music Series when Discover Ouray, a local nonprofit, called. “They wanted what was happening in Ridgway to happen there,” he says.

Whether it is municipalities, chambers, nonprofits or others that take the initiative, there is not a cookie-cutter approach to making the concert series happen. For Miller, it helps that he is already in the industry as a talent buyer for communities and an agent for musicians. “I go to conferences and scope out bands,” he says. “Every series I try to choose music that caters to the personalities of the different communities.”

Concert series like these throughout the state add to the quality of life and stimulate local and regional economies, but it is hard to accurately assess the economic impact of the festivals statewide.

The Colorado Music Strategy is up to the task. Developed by Margaret Hunt, director of Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) and Bryce Merrill and Jesse Elliott of the Bohemian Foundation, the Strategy aims to increase revenue in Colorado’s music industry and raise the profile of the state’s music scene around the world. CCI estimated in 2016 that Colorado’s music industry creates 1,600 jobs and brings in $658 million.

Generally, the Front Range is home to the more traditional music industry — agents, artists, venues, promoters and so on — while other parts of the state are known for music festivals and venues, as well as small but remarkable music destinations. Places such as Crestone, Ridgway, Rangely and Pueblo are regional hubs of dynamic music scenes.

Analyzing and supporting music festivals is an important piece of raising the state’s music profile: “Part of the strategy is to conduct studies to quantify the economic dimensions of music in Colorado and study music festivals to understand what public policies could be developed by the state to support this vibrant part of the state’s music industry,” Merrill says. In cooperation with Colorado State University and CU Denver, they plan to have results from the studies in 2018.

“At the end of the day, it’s about common sense,” Elliott says. “You look around at what music does and keep doing the work that makes it happen.”

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