In just five days, marijuana enthusiasts across Colorado will be Rocky Mountain high for annual 4/20 events.
From the massive public smoke out at Denver’s Civic Park to the small backyard kutchie sessions in a neighborhood near you, plenty of weed will be consumed to celebrate this unofficial holiday.
Even on our side of the state, where local government has done its best to curtail use and access to recreational marijuana, local bands Shotgun Hodown, Jack+Jill, Zolopht and acoustic guitarist Ryan Harrison are all gearing up for Grand Junction’s annual 4/20 concert at Mesa Theater.
Bobby Hodown, lead singer and guitarist for Shotgun Hodown, has helped organize the event with Jack+Jill for the past five years. Both early supporters for the 4/20 movement before it went mainstream, the two bands have seen the event grow from a niche local showcase to the highly anticipated concert it is today.
Long before legalized recreational or even when medicinal marijuana was commonplace, local businesses were reluctant to hang up posters promoting the event, especially those posters with the iconic seven-point pot leaf.
Now, thanks in large part to Colorado’s relaxed stance on the drug, businesses are much more willing to hang those posters.
With locals more tolerant of a pro-pot event, this year’s celebration is shaping up to be the biggest 4/20 event to date. In honor of the occasion, Jack+Jill are pulling out all the stops with customized merchandise. Anyone looking to blaze up can now do so with Jack+Jill lighters.
Wednesday’s show isn’t controversy free, however. There are still large pockets of the community appalled at the idea of glorifying marijuana.
But the fact is, that doesn’t matter. In the court of public opinion, the arguments over pot have has been settled. Nearly 60 percent of Coloradoans still support legalized marijuana. The war on weed is over and Mary Jane won.
Love or hate marijuana, you have musicians to thank for mainstreaming the drug. I would hope this doesn’t come as a surprise, but marijuana has fueled musicians’ creativity since ... forever.
Pick any genre — jazz, blues, rock, country and hip-hop — they’ve all been touched by the green leaf.
Early jazz band leaders such as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman wrote and recorded songs about the drug in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The 1960s and 1970s were ablaze with the likes of Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Bob Marley and Black Sabbath writing doobie tunes and promoting the benefits of marijuana.
The tradition carried on through the 1980s with songs such as Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie” and Tone Loc’s “Cheeba Cheeba,” but the point of no return was in 1992, when Dr. Dre’s landmark hemp-hop album “The Chronic” dropped. Up until that point nobody had been so brazen about marijuana use nor had they done so with a genre-defining album, one that paved the way for the hip-hop heyday of the 1990s.
From the national stage to the local level, musicians have done more than just about anyone to make marijuana culturally acceptable. As an entire generation grew up listening to Dre and other pro-pot contemporaries from Cypress Hill to Phish, it’s easy to see how these early millennials shaped the marijuana conversation and pushed through legalization.
As Coloradoans spark up for 4/20 celebrations, keep this in mind: If Ted Cruz, our most conservative Republican presidential candidate, says states such as Colorado should be free to legalize marijuana, then it’s probably OK for Grand Junction to loosen up a bit or at least celebrate with some great local bands.
This Friday Minneapolis hip-hop group Atmosphere and special guest Brother Ali will play a free (to CMU students) outdoor show at Colorado Mesa University. Community tickets are only $20, which makes this a rare, affordable opportunity to see national touring hip-hop in Grand Junction. It's hard to put in perspective just how big of a show this is for Grand Junction but for perspective Atmosphere and Brother Ali headline at Red Rocks in September. For those unfamiliar with these well reguarded artists, here is a quick intro into what you can expect Friday night.
Rapping about everything from hangovers to the death of the American dream, Atmosphere and Brother Ali can be anything from party starters to introspective poets. With over 13 studio albums between the two groups, and countless side projects, Atmosphere and Brother Ali content rich, which should make for an eclectic and fun concert experience. Here are a couple key tracks that speak to the heart and soul of each group.
Burger Records is a small, independent record label based out of the Los Angeles community of Fullerton.
Founded in 2007, the Burger Records label specializes in laid-back garage rock and pop music and releases most of their material via cassette. In the past, they’ve worked on special limited run releases with highly notable bands such as The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dave Grohl, Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth), Beck and Ryan Adams.
The label has released music from more than 350 bands, and currently their roster includes a collection of today’s most adored garage musicians including Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin, Black Lips, and JEFF the Brotherhood.
Now, this mildly interesting background information about a record label 766 miles away from us may seem to have little relevance in our day-to-day life, but thanks to a passionate local DIY scene and some well-placed contacts, Burger Records has a pretty strong connection with the Grand Valley.
In fact, this unofficial partnership has resulted in steady stream of new bands playing shows in Grand Junction.
Over the last couple years bands that are either on the Burger Record label or have an affiliation with the label, including The Growlers, Allah-Las, Broncho, The Blank Tapes, The Knew, Pearl Charles, Bad Weather California (now American Culture), Pizza Time, Dirty Few and Thee Oh Sees, have all played shows in Grand Junction.
This Saturday, Burger Records sends us two more bands to add to the list. Playing an all-ages show at Mesa Theater are Burger Record artists Thee Commons and Panaderia (formally Pizza Time) with opening support from fellow rippers, Denver’s Colfax Speed Queen, and local duo Wavebaby.
Both Burger Records bands bring a decidedly Latin flavor to the proceedings. Brothers David and Rene Pacheco make up two thirds of the east L.A. group Thee Commons. Combining cumbia (a form of Latin dance music) with old school punk psychedelia, the band has a sound uniquely its own.
Denver’s Panaderia on the other hand brings a collection of simplified garage pop songs to the table, most of which are sung completely in Spanish.
It may seem odd that these bands keep showing up in Grand Junction, but it’s not as big of a mystery as you might think and it actually makes a lot of sense if you know a little about our music history.
Coincidentally, the Burger Records sound — it’s raw, energetic rock ‘n’ roll interspersed with memorable hooks and melody — fits pretty well within a section of our own music scene. The lineage of local bands embracing aspects of the “Burger sound” is quite prolific and runs from the Heavy Drags, through Dreamboat and Bronco Country, to currently Wavebaby and Radicult.
In fact, through the years I’d say our DIY scene, while small, has been one of the most passionate and consistent subgenera groups in our music community.
For years the Grand Junction tight-knit DIY community where a number of our bands originated lived at house-show venues such as the Pop Up House, Le Garage or Casa Coyote. Now, thanks to more consistent downtown venues, the bands that grew out of that scene are out in the open and accessible for more people to enjoy.
The benefit of coming from such a supportive community is that when these bands play out they have a built-in, ready-to-travel fan base. They also have contacts throughout the independent music community and who willing to help set up and promote shows for other bands touring through the area.
Grand Junction’s DIY spirit is why Burger Record bands keep showing up. We have a dedicated audience and a collection of bands willing to put in the extra effort to put shows together.
Tonight, Violent J, one half of the horror-core hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse, takes the stage at Mesa Theater.
While I seriously doubt there is a large Juggalo audience regularly reading The Daily Sentinel, this Violent J show and other recent headliners, such as Big Head Todd and The Monsters, P.O.D. and Mimosa, mark somewhat of a turning point for Mesa Theater.
Just a couple months ago there was serious doubt as to whether Mesa Theater would ever recover from a series of financial and structural issues that led to its closure for much of 2015.
Now that a new ownership group, C&E Productions led by Brett Strong, has purchased the theater, the club has shown signs of sustainable life and is poised for a return as a main entertainment attraction in downtown Grand Junction.
If you have yet to visit the new Mesa Theater, a couple new improvements will immediately jump out at you.
First off, both the men’s and women’s restrooms were repaired back to working order. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in the past the poorly maintained restrooms were a dealbreaker, primarily for women.
Second, and most importantly, the theater’s main sound system also has been significantly improved.
New to the main room is a Meyer sound system and Midas sound board. The total upgrade cost the theater about $170,000 and represents much more than a repair to the audio equipment. Both Meyer and Midas brands are highly coveted among sound engineers, and this upgrade in sound equipment equates to a huge upgrade in quality.
The old sound system was scaled down and installed for shows in the lounge area of the theater, which also is an upgrade for bands and fans coming out for smaller shows.
Working toilets and better speakers may not sound like much to someone who rarely, if ever, visits the theater, but both of these fixes go a long way toward rebuilding bridges with the local, regional and national music communities.
It cannot be overstated just how poorly the reputation of the theater had become. With the improvements and the new ownership group, Mesa Theater is starting to dig itself out from a very deep hole.
Perhaps most significant of all the recent changes is the fact the theater is offering more variety in genre. There is an appetite in the Grand Valley for live music beyond the EDM and hardcore scenes, and it looks like Mesa Theater is trying to tap into those audiences.
Just recently, the theater hosted country musician Olivia Lane, California punk rappers (Hed)PE and Texas indie rockers Purple with opening support from new local band Radicult.
Lined up for the next couple weeks are shows from Escape the Fate (emo-hardcore), American Culture (Denver indie rock), Contraband (reggae fusion) featuring local openers Zolopht and Tight Thump, Led Zeppelin cover band ZoSo, Hemlock (heavy metal), and Thee Commons (psychedelic) with Colfax Speed Queen (Denver indie rock), Panaderia (Denver indie rock) and local band Wavebaby.
This new version of the theater only has been open for a couple months, but if this amount of variety and consistency among shows continues, I expect we will see good things in the future.
I might not go as far as to say Mesa Theater is back, but it’s certainly headed in a better direction.
The commodities that once helped our community flourish are gone, perhaps never to return.
You can no longer call Grand Junction a regional shopping destination, nor the hub for Colorado’s energy industry. We’ve lost our influence over the Western Slope and how we figure in to a state that’s drastically changing from year to year is extremely unclear.
As we debate new ideas such as the proposed downtown event center, the Palisade Plunge bike trail, improved broadband infrastructure, and recreational marijuana, it’s time to ask ourselves, what is Grand Junction? What do we want Grand Junction to be?
The two projects currently vying to define Grand Junction’s future are the downtown events center project and the Palisade Plunge bike trail.
With backing both statewide and locally, the Plunge is tentatively moving forward. The events center, however, is shaping up to be a much more hotly contested project.
According to estimates, a downtown events center and Two Rivers Convention Center renovation would cost approximately $62 million, financed through a revenue bond or increased lodging taxes.
With the investment would come a more than 5,000-seat venue to attract higher tier performers and musicians, and (likely) a minor league hockey team.
In return, the expected community impact of the project is estimated at roughly $10 million a year for the next 30 years.
Looking at our current entertainment options, the area could easily benefit from a large modern facility. Right now, our best options for live entertainment are:
■ Mesa Theater, which is simultaneously too big for smaller regional acts willing to play in Grand Junction and too small for larger national touring groups;
■ And Avalon Theatre. But until the stage expansion is complete, the Avalon cannot accommodate many modern performers.
The proposed events center would fill a need in this area, however, I’m not sure if we are in a strong position to support it.
If, in fact, the project gets a green light and if it is run successfully, then the future economic impact far out weigh the initial investment.
Those are big if’s, however.
For one, I’d like to know who would book events at the center? To generate $10 million a year, that facility is going to have to be filled on a weekly basis.
Is the city going to take on the booking responsibility? Are we to rely on Sandstone Concerts or some other third party to fill the center?
More importantly, is it even reasonably possible that we could fill the center on a weekly basis?
Statewide, Mesa County ranks low on both average household income and job creation. The few jobs created in Mesa County tend to be low-paying, which lead me to think there isn’t enough disposable income in Mesa County to make it work.
The willingness and ability of our community to routinely fill an event center is a big unknown.
The center could improve our regional draw, meaning we don’t have to rely purely on Mesa County residents to purchase tickets, but on other Western Slope economies that are in just as bad of shape as ours.
Considering travel and lodging costs, whatever entertainment gets booked in the event center better be damn good to pull in neighboring communities.
Looking at this project, I love the idea of investing in our community, but I have some doubt about its long-term viability.
I would like to see more entertainment options in the Grand Valley, but right now the safer bet on the table is to go all-in on outdoor recreation through projects such as the Palisade Plunge.
Ultimately, if we move forward with the event center project, I would support it. The cost of doing nothing is far more expensive in the long run than the cost of investing in Grand Junction’s future right now.
No proposal is going to be completely risk free, but we have to take our future into our own hands. It’s time to forge a new identity for Grand Junction.
Whether that be through recreation or entertainment, I for one would be proud to live in a city that at least takes action.
We know what our competitive disadvantages are, so let’s make strategic investments to position the area for a chance to not only survive, but thrive.