Q&A with the Mesa Theater’s Eric Smith
1) You've been booking for the Mesa Theater for over a year now. What changes have you brought to the theater? What event are you most proud of so far and what do you want to improve on in the future?
The most apparent changes have been simply trying to balance bringing more well-known artists in town while continuing to give the local scene ever possible opportunity. There are obviously some shows that even I go “Wow. I can't believe I'm seeing this here.” But there isn't a single one that I feel mattered more or made a greater impact than any other, at least professionally.
2) What do you look for in a band when considering bringing them to GJ? There are also a lot of intricacies to booking shows and I'm sure fans are criticizing every decision you make. What's the one thing that you wish people would understand about your job?
The most prevalent factor is always time frame. This community is incredibly busy, with festivals and fairs and events occurring year-round; it's hard to estimate turnouts at our shows around those events that are a part of this region's history. I don't always go for the most prominent bands or artists, but focus as often as I can on bringing music that I genuinely think deserves to be heard. Some bands have been around for years and just need that one show to remind people that they're still making great music. Others have never even been to Colorado and are using us to make that early entry into this state's incredibly fickle, yet passionate, musical community.
The one thing that I wish people understood above all else, though? We simply can't bring every artist into town, just because they happen to be on tour. Sometimes, they aren't headed this way. Sometimes, it's that they're playing an arena tour, or maybe they just have to make more money than we'd be able to guarantee. There is a system, and we are dedicated to not spiking ticket prices in any way or making the community suffer just so we can break even. That isn't fair to anyone. Following a close second to that is getting the community out to buy presale tickets. Agents and management firms pay close attention to that, and more than once it has cost us an amazing tour.
3) It seems like the shows that do well here generally have a much heavier sound. Dubstep DJs seem to draw very well and the same goes for harder rock and metal bands. What are you seeing from audiences at the Mesa Theater? Which shows are they going nuts over and what kind of shows are they asking for?
First off, Colorado is the bass capital of the United States; trap and dubstep just do very well here. Slowly, though, the EDM community is starting to become more aware of the other electronic genres, and those shows are slowly growing. And yes, our metal community here is amazingly supportive, and the artists in those varying formats love coming here because of that. Grand Junction is heard about all over in the metal scene, from both bands and tour managers. It truly makes my job easier, but also harder as we now have to pick and choose from competing tours on who we think this area wants to see.
The hip-hop scene here is rabidly loyal, but split into very different genres. It's difficult to get all of the local artists and fans out to any one show, but when we do it is an amazing spectacle. The punk scene used to be huge, but we hear a lot of comments about bands being sellouts or the tickets simply being too much for some of them, so it's impossible to gauge the response until the doors are actually open.
Our biggest shows, though, as a rule? Reggae and ska. Hands-down, we have more people who consistently come out of the woodwork to enjoy the positive vibes and laid-back concerts than any other genre. It will never cease to amaze me.
4) The next five days are stacked with live music. You've got Smile Empty Soul, Gold Plated People, Tantric, James McMurtry, and Black Flag all back-to-back. The calendar in August is equally stacked up. Are you purposely trying to give yourself a heart attack? What's the ultimate goal here for the Mesa Theater?
I live by the theory that I'll sleep when I'm dead. All of those shows were presented to me in such a way that it would have been a truly poor business decision to say no to any one of them, and I worked with several agents to make sure the schedules worked out. And we have a staff that is ready and willing to be busy five nights a week, if I'll let them. It used to be that you'd see a show at the Mesa once or twice a month; I'd be happy if every person in Western Colorado and Eastern Utah had the opportunity to see high-quality live music or other entertainment at least three nights every week.
5) So besides booking for the Mesa Theater, it looks like you've got a number of side projects. Prophecy Records, Machinery Cell, Psikotyk Photography, and PsykoCosm Clothing. Everything you work on is connected back to music but goes much deeper into a punk/gothic/hardcore culture. How did you end up identifying with that culture? Why are you so intensely involved in shaping it locally?
I'm just a punk who figured out that it's easier to change the systems we all want to rail against from the inside, calmly and steadily, than to just keep throwing yourself into the face of the issue. I've felt that way for years, so I just let it out through all my endeavors. And I've always been the weird guy that no one really understood; I've come to terms with it over time, and turned what used to paralyze me into a tool I can focus on whatever tasks I have in front of me. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have found people here that believe as intensely as I do in not allowing anyone's personal beliefs or sense of artistic freedom or even fashion reflect on who they are as a person.
6) Grand Junction (and really Colorado) loves metal. KMSA has one of the longest continuously running metal shows in the US and it seems like anytime there is a metal showcase it brings out all kinds of fans. I think it gets unfairly written off as trash music but its clear that people connect on a deep level to it. For those unfamiliar with the genre, what is it about metal that people like and connect with so much?
Have you ever just let yourself go? I mean completely allow your body to take over: listen to your pulse, understand and embrace those parts of you that you might not feel so proud of or even understand? THAT is what metal is all about. Question those things that should be questioned. Stand up for something that is worth believing in. Embrace your own misgivings and fears and let them out in one ferocious torrent of sweat and emotion with a crowd of people who are truly experiencing life.
The most common complaint with metal is, “I can't understand the lyrics.” Well, grasshopper, when you're meant to understand, the words will come to you.
7) Seeds of Revolution have been major players in not only expanding the reach of the Mesa Theater but also supporting and growing GJs alternative culture. Talk about the relationship with Seeds and David Litsheim and what they've meant for the success of the theater?
David and I have been working together on design projects for a very long time now, and we've always had our mutual love of everything music to keep us conversing. You add Racheal to that mix, with her passion and her willingness to commit to whatever it takes to make something succeed, and we all just decided that we needed to rebuild and renovate how marketing was done for the Mesa. David does ninety percent of the poster work for the Club, and Racheal does an enormous amount of both street and online marketing. Seeds has been a ticket outlet since last summer, and now people are almost as likely to go there as they are to visit the Box Office, and I can always refer people to them to answer questions about upcoming events when I'm too swamped to be cordial or take the time to do it myself.
Seeds of Revolution is based on an ideal very similar to my own lifestyle, and David and Racheal live and breathe this community. It just makes sense to create that kind of synergy in the Downtown area, and it isn't just with Seeds. The Melrose Hotel, Suehiro, Bin 707, The Rockslide, Naggy's, Planet Nine, The Raw Canvas, Triple Play, Baron's, Sabrosa, Hart Music, Pablo's; ALL these Downtown businesses have helped us out in one way or another with various events we've had at the Theater. And that isn't even counting the dozen or more businesses and individuals in the Dowtown scene on top of that who allow us to hang fliers or posters and promote our shows at their homes. And Seeds of Revolution was my doorway to meeting those people, through the Litshiem's and the connections they've made here.
8) What do you make of the local music scene here (both musicians and audiences)? Where do you see it going in the future?
I love the local scene, but I love the potential in the local scene even more. I work very closely with other, much larger music communities; Denver, Austin, Los Angeles. The talent pool in this area of Colorado strongly rivals any one of those. But we have a couple of things going against us here that we don't have in those locations, first and foremost being the lack of unity amongst different genres. With a few exceptions, you don't see local musicians at each others' events or supporting each other the way that I've seen so many other artist's communities do. There seems to be a rift, a race of some sort that everyone is running but no one knows where or even if it ever ends.
Now, to be fair, this is a very busy community, and often times there are bands that get along very well playing at separate venues on the same date, and that is not in any way a bad thing. But I'm not speaking of specific events, I'm speaking of a much bigger picture: there is no rule that says that hip-hop kids have to segregate themselves according to their particular style. There is not some unwritten but understood law that those same groups can't support the punk scene, and the punk scene support the metal scene, and then the metal scene support them each in return.
For example, on rare occasions you'll see the metalheads out at a particular show, like with Sage Francis, where you really wouldn't expect them here. While most people that were around reacted like it was some kind of miracle, I've been continuously upset that I haven't seen that more occur more often. When I go to shows in Denver, I see a lot of the same people who are part of that music community at EVERY show, regardless of who is playing or what the style of music is. They are there to be a part of THEIR venue, THEIR scene. And they are educating themselves far beyond what commercial media has thrown at them, and that is the reason Denver has been such a musical and art Mecca for so long now. I want so badly to experience that here, to break this “Western Slope isn't really Colorado” stigma we've grown accustomed to. If we continue to come out to shows, to see all these amazing artists who are giving us the opportunity to witness them often-times when you can actually say, “I knew them before the hype”, then I am more than willing to put in the work to help that transition happen. But I am one person, and we need EVERYONE to take ownership of this art community and work together to truly find any amount of real success.
9) What’s the biggest misnomer and pet peeve you have about the Grand Junction music scene?
Simply, that we're all uneducated rednecks, roughnecks, or classless when it comes to music. We all have different tastes, but getting people who aren't from here to see that is truly a burden at times. But we don't do a lot to dissuade people from believing that, and that has to change.
Not every guy wearing a cowboy hat listens to country, metal isn't just about Satan, Juggalos are not trying to stab your babies, EDM is not about drugs, hip-hop isn't always about money, and punks aren't going to riot every time there's a concert going on downtown. We, as a community, have a right to enjoy and experience art in all of its many beautiful forms, and there is not a person on this planet who has license to judge that. If we could stop doing that within our own community, we would stand a much larger chance of no longer being seen that way from outside sources.