SXSW: Colorado Music Party On Hiatus For 2016 Festival

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Photo: Yawpers at SXSW 2014
The Yawpers perform at the Colorado Music Party at South By Southwest in 2014.

After spending around $250,000 on the biggest-ever showcase of Colorado bands at South By Southwest last year, the Colorado Music Party will not return in 2016.

“When we got back last year, we as a team were pretty hurting,” organizer Dani Grant said. “We really worked ourselves to the bone to pull off a humongous feat.”

Tens of thousands of people are in Austin, Texas, for the 2016 music festival. Last year, SXSW featured 2,266 musical acts and drew more than 30,000 registered attendees. Thousands of other music fans and bands also come every year for unofficial events.

The Colorado Music Party was one of those events not sanctioned by SXSW. Last year, the five-day, five-night showcase included performances by more than 100 Colorado bands. More than 13,000 people attended the Colorado Music Party in 2015, according to organizers.

“We feel like we really achieved what we set out to do in terms of getting more credibility for the Front Range of Colorado’s music scene out there nationally,” Grant said.

Cost Catches Up With Organizers

With so many attendees at last year's show, it might seem like planning another event for 2016 would be a done deal. But the cost proved to be too high.

"I would say 50 percent of our reasoning for not going back was the daunting proposal of how do we raise $250,000 for the showcase plus the deficit that our organizations has to operate with for the next six months," Grant said.

Grant also runs the Fort Collins non-profit organization SpokesBUZZ, which supports bands largely from northern Colorado. In April 2015, the organization decided not to continue the Colorado Music Party after depleting a significant amount of resources.

Despite receiving $57,000 in public funding last year, Grant says the Colorado Music Party would have needed more money from the state to continue.

“We didn’t have the support from the state that we needed to take the next step financially,” Grant said.

“We met with Colorado Creative Industries, [and] the interest level in immediately investing back into 2016 wasn’t there. So that was a strong deterrent from hitting the fundraising path again.”

Colorado Creative Industries did not comment for this story.

Dan Rutherford knows a bit about showing off Colorado bands at SXSW -- he first organized a showcase there in 2004. He now manages Colorado bands.

“As for the execution, there wasn’t the forethought put into it,” Rutherford said of the 2015 Colorado Music Party. “What became apparent is not everyone is ready for SXSW. When you’re trying to be everything that Colorado has to offer, you’re ultimately relying on a lot of artists who haven’t toured much before.”

Rutherford says it’s also hard to compete with major brands who sponsor myriad events during the major festival, from Spin Magazine to Doritos.

“When it comes down to it, you probably only have a dozen Colorado artists who would be really worthy of going and putting your marketing efforts behind,” Rutherford said. “I hope they do the Colorado Music Party again in the future. I just hope they use more discretion and scale it back.”

Focus Now Closer To Home

SXSW did approach the Colorado Music Party about organizing an official day party or trade show booth in 2016, according to a festival spokesperson. But Grant says that would have required even more resources and that the organization needed to regroup.

“We have outstayed our welcome on the unofficial side with the amount of attention we received, and the next step would have been a larger budget and staff for official showcase status,” Grant said.

Instead, Grant says SpokesBUZZ will focus on its own mission and put its resources toward developing the state’s music scene on the homefront.

“We made the decision as an organization and our strategic plan was to focus on Colorado,” Grant said.

That includes the Colorado Music Convergence, which launched in February as a conference in Breckenridge. Organizers hope the effort establishes a statewide network for independent musicians and industry professionals.

Grant says she’ll also consider organizing events at smaller festivals closer to home, including Folk Alliance International in Kansas City and the Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho. Seventeen bands from Colorado will play during Treefort when that event kicks off on March 23.

“I’d like to take all we’ve learned and be more precise about how we do things at SXSW and at other festivals,” Grant said.

Eight acts from Colorado are scheduled to play official SXSW performances this week. OpenAir's Alisha Sweeney spoke with Nathan Heffel of Colorado Matters about four of those acts: Indie pop veterans Dressy Bessy, Americana-rock band The Yawpers, Fort Collins dream-pop act Sound Of Ceres and folk singer duo Judy Collins and Ari Hest. Colorado artists Khemmis, Cory Kendrix, In The Whale and Little Fyodor are also heading down to Austin this week as official SXSW artists.