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April 08, 2020 News » Cover Story

Black Sheep owner Geoff Brent talks about the venue’s shutdown, a new outreach plan for Colorado bands 

MUSIC UNDER QUARANTINE

click to enlarge JACKI VITETTA
  • Jacki Vitetta

It was back on March 7 when Black Sheep owner Geoff Brent went to the Colorado Springs venue to catch the L.A. dream pop band Flor. At the time, he had no idea that it would be the last show he’d see there before closing the club’s doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think there were at least 350 people in there,” says Brent, who’s also the talent booker for Denver’s Summit Music Hall and Marquis Theater. “At that time, it seemed like nobody really had any concerns. It was almost like a meme for a few weeks, where people kind of didn’t think it was real. And a lot of that goes back to what we were hearing from the president. The people who are raising concerns weren’t talking as loud as the people who were saying it was no big deal.”

click to enlarge Geoff Brent - JULIE REED
  • Julie Reed
  • Geoff Brent

That would change soon enough. On March 13, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced a moratorium on public gatherings of 250 people or more. A few days later, public health officials called for the suspension of any gathering of more than 10 people.

Brent, who also plays guitar in local feminist punk band Cheap Perfume, has since sought alternative means to help get the music out there, but it obviously hasn’t been easy. A series of livestreamed shows was set up to benefit laid-off Black Sheep staff, but had to be postponed due to subsequently initiated social-distancing measures.

In the meantime, Brent is reaching out to local musicians to submit quarantine-inspired material for The Black Sheep, Marquis and Summit’s websites and social media. 

We caught up with him recently to talk about the closing of local venues, music under quarantine, and what the future may hold.

Indy: I’m curious about that week leading up to the live music shutdown in Colorado. I know a lot of touring bands had already started canceling their shows, but clubs like The Black Sheep seemed to be hanging in there right up to the end.

Geoff Brent: Yeah, it was kind of the same thing in Denver too. I mean, Post Malone played for 12,000 people at the Pepsi Center on March 12. And then Dwight Yoakam played the same day, which I think was like four or five thousand people. And so  everybody was kind of like, ‘Well, if they’re gonna show up and play, we’re not gonna cancel on them until somebody tells us we have to.’ And then the next day someone told us we had to.

I think the crazy thing was that Live Nation, the company I work for, is really plugged in up in Denver. They were talking to Governor Polis on a regular basis, sometimes multiple times a week, and so we were getting updates quickly. But everything was changing fast, and a lot of people didn’t realize how quickly everything was about to come down.

When was your last show at The Black Sheep?

Our last show was a local metal band on [March] 15. At that point, they were saying 250 [people] was the legal limit, and we proactively said we were going to not go over 200. We weren’t super-worried about the show hitting that number, anyway. And yeah, by the time we were ready for the next show, they had said we had to close.

click to enlarge In his spare time, Geoff Brent plays in the band Cheap Perfume. - NICK NOVA
  • Nick Nova
  • In his spare time, Geoff Brent plays in the band Cheap Perfume.

What were those final days like?

Well, the first band that canceled was Summer Salt, who were booked to play on the 13th. That was actually the next show I was planning to go to. And they checked in the day before and they said, ‘How are you feeling’ And I was like, I don’t know, everything seems OK, we’ve been selling a lot of tickets the last few days, so it doesn’t seem to be slowing people down too much, etc., etc. And then by the time I woke up in the morning, they’d emailed me and just said, like, ‘We’re going home, sorry.’

But out of the seven shows we had left in March, we were still going to be able to do four or five of them. And so I was talking to everybody, every day, and just trying to keep everybody updated. And by the last show we did, I was like, this is totally up to you guys at this point, if you don’t feel comfortable with it or don’t think we should do it. But they were all totally on board. And obviously, they’re very responsible and safety-minded, but they really wanted to be able to keep doing what they do.

You recently announced a reschedule date with Devin the Dude as well as a few other acts who’d had to cancel. At what point do you expect to see more artists rebooking shows?

“Well, almost everything we had booked has now been rescheduled. But nobody really feels like announcing shows right now. It seems kind of tacky. But I think there’s gonna be a corner we turn. And probably the best indicator will be when the artists start announcing their tours, which will be a really, really big deal. But right now, you’re not gonna get that impact you want. No one’s gonna buy a ticket, because they’re gonna be like, ‘I don’t know, are we gonna be alive in July?’

So at this point, I’m just trying to be patient and stay optimistic. We’re gonna see most of the shows we want to see. We might just have to wait six months.

Tell me about your social media project. I saw your post last week inviting Colorado musicians to share their content.

Well, content-wise, we’re looking for something kind of specific. I’ve had a lot of people just send me their latest music video or single or a link to their Bandcamp page. But what we’re really looking for is like, what are you doing right now — while you’re going through this — that can make people feel better? We’re going for more of a ‘we shall overcome’ kind of angle.

I guess, more than anything, it’s like, if you’re trapped at home making some cool art, we would like to help you showcase that to people. And we’re trying to spotlight local artists because, you know, the stronger the local scene is, the stronger everything’s going to be when we come out of this.

So when we do come out of this, how do you see that playing out in terms of live music?

Well, especially after all this, I definitely feel like my fortune-telling skills are not what I thought they were. But one big thing we’ve been talking about is what will happen when venues can start reopening. Will we start with 100 people and then, a few weeks later, it’s gonna be 200 people? I can’t imagine they’re just gonna open up Red Rocks one day, at the same time that they open, say, the Triple Nickel. But, you know, I don’t really see it being any safer to be around 50 people you don’t know than to be around 10,000 people you don’t know.

I definitely think it’s going to be a joyous occasion for people. But there’s not going to be a day when you’re just like, OK, everything’s fine, go hug everybody and go to a sports game. I think everyone’s gonna be walking on eggshells for a year probably.

This seems like an obvious time for Cheap Perfume to put out a politically appropriate single. How soon can we expect that?

[Laughs.] It’s tough, because we can’t really get together. Everybody’s in a different place and dealing with a totally different set of issues. So our schedules are scattered, even more so than they already were. But we are working on stuff to the extent that we can.

Have you been working on any solo material?

No, that’s pretty much on pause.

So when’s the last time you’ve picked up a guitar?

Well, Live Nation has been asking me to play something for their social media, and I’ve been playing around with that a little bit. I’m playing guitar a little bit every day, but not feeling particularly inspired at the moment.

How optimistic are you about what’s going to happen in the months ahead?

I think that, throughout the music industry, everybody keeps saying we’re going to come back stronger than ever. And I can certainly tell you that, from this summer till the end of the year, there’s going to be a volume of great quality shows in Colorado like you’ve never seen before. What remains to be seen is whether people can afford to go.

But, I mean, as far as optimism goes, I do think we’re gonna get there at some point. People are already freaking out because they haven’t been to a show in weeks, and they’re excited about the idea of even being able to just go to the bar and see their friends. You know, I think there’s a real appreciation now for something that we just took for granted.

So having kept The Black Sheep going right up to the end, can you assure people that it’s going to happen again, at least to the degree that anything happens again?

We’re not going anywhere. I think we might be severely in the red when we get the doors back open, but we’re not going anywhere.

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