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6/8/2003

Kickin' the Blues

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

DENVER — Blues music and soccer may not seem like a natural fit to most people, but officials with the Denver Blues & Bones Festival and the Colorado Rapids are banking on the combination next weekend.

“What we sell is entertainment. We sell quality, family-oriented entertainment at one of the finest venues in the country — Invesco Field — and what they sell is entertainment,” said Michael Hitchcock, senior director of sales and marketing for the Rapids. “Considering what they sell and what we sell, the partnership works out remarkably well.

“Forget what the sport is, forget what the style of music is: People just want to have a good time.”

The partnership Hitchcock refers to is a deal that allows people who buy a ticket for next Saturday night’s game with the New England Revolution to get free admission to the Blues festival, which will be held next Saturday and Sunday just outside Invesco Field in an area called the “Sports Legends Mall.” Conversely, people who buy a ticket to the blues-fest receive free admission to the 7 p.m. Rapids game.

“When we spoke with Invesco Field about scheduling the dates and they said to us, ‘There’s a soccer game going on that weekend,’ and did we mind? ... Soccer draws 15,000 to 20,000, and we draw 10,000 to 15,000. Football draws 80,000, so there’s plenty of room for both of us,” said Al Kraizer of Performance International, producers of the blues festival.

Besides the tie-in with the Rapids, this year’s Blues & Bones Festival is sharing the stage with the National Basketball Association. The NBA’s Rhythm ’N Rims stage, an interactive entertainment center being featured at music festivals across the country this summer, will be set up throughout the two-day festival.

“The NBA came to us,” Kraizer said. “Once again, it became very clear to us that this is great. This is what festivals are designed to do.

“The festivals are not designed to get the hardcore blues fans who are going to a smoky bar on a Wednesday night to see the touring band that doesn’t come through very often. We feel we’ve pretty well got those people — they’re pretty loyal.”

Now in its seventh year, the Blues & Bones Festival is being held outside Invesco Field for the second time. The event’s original location was in downtown’s “Golden Triangle.”

With the Rapids playing inside Invesco while music plays outside, Kraizer thinks the event has a chance to draw soccer fans to the blues. The Rapids hope the same thing happens in reverse.

“When you’re not in a great economy, the more value you can provide for the money, the better,” Hitchcock said. “Any business knows it’s easier to build your events with a strategic partner than to build it on your own.”

Kraizer added that for both entities, it’s about competition for the public’s entertainment dollar. His nonprofit company also puts on Mardi Gras Denver, the AT&T;

LoDo Music Festival and the Denver International Buskerfest, and he knows it’s hard just to break even with a multi-day festival.

“Overall, the (Blues) festival has been in pretty fair shape,” Kraizer said. “Festivals in and of themselves are not a huge moneymaker. The thing about festivals is, you live and die on the weather. Last year, we did it on Memorial Day weekend, and the first day, we woke up to snow and rain and sleet — the whole thing.”

As a result of that weather, Kraizer said, and the Avalanche still in the playoffs last year, attendance was down slightly.

“I think we’re OK, but I don’t know a lot of festivals that are swimming in money. There’s a handful in this country. I have a lot of friends that do festivals all over the country — in fact, all over the world — and we all say if you could control the variables ... (presenting an indoor concert by) Peter Gabriel, the Stones, the Eagles — that’s much easier.”

Blues & Bones shares the modest wealth with local nonprofits. The Colorado Blues Society, for instance, earns a good portion of its yearly operating budget by selling beer, new memberships and merchandise at the festival.

“We work with a lot of other community groups in that regard — KUVO, KGNU, Swallow Hill,” Kraizer said. “It makes for a bigger win, and even if we don’t end up making a lot of money, we end up helping out and doing something good for the community.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.