An Open Letter to the Daily Camera & The Boulder Music Scene by Z2's Matt Banno

A note from BB Creative Director Hannah Oreskovich:

A couple of weeks ago, we shared an article from the Daily Camera’s staff writer Quentin Young entitled “Restriced access: How one company dominates Boulder’s live music scene.” We've heard from many industry players and artists with various positions about Boulder's music scene since then. Recently, we were in contact with Z2’s Matt Banno and he painted a very different picture of the local scene, Z2 as a whole, and Don Strasburg. We thought it only right that we bring you positions from both sides so that you can draw your own conclusions. That said, give Matt’s letter to the Daily Camera regarding Young's article a read:

To Whom It May Concern-

My name is Matt Banno and I am writing you in response to your article posted on 1/23/16, “Restricted access: How one company dominates Boulder's live music scene”. I had come to enjoy your publication in my few years as a Boulder resident, and after reading this particular article, I have had a strong change in my opinion of Daily Camera.

I consider myself fairly in tune and involved with the Boulder local music scene, and I would like to think that I have developed a good reputation as a strong contributor to it. I am currently employed in a variety of professions, all of which directly relate to the local music industry. I am the production manager and talent buyer for The Lazy Dog, I am a light designer and tech at Z2 Productions, and I am the owner of FieldView Productions. Some previous employments I have had here in CO include: an intern for Brownnote Productions, a talent buyer for a Denver venue, and a general manager/tour manager for a handful of Boulder based bands. I want you to know that I write you today, unsolicited by all the mentioned employers, and from a standpoint that is the combination of all these professions; as well as a passionate live music fan and Boulder County resident.

I feel this article was a very unfair and poorly sourced portrayal of not only Z2, but Don Strasburg as well. As a current member of their production staff, I find it insulting that an organization I take an immense amount of pride being part of was put into such a negative light. I relocated myself out here in pursuit of many things, one of which was to become a light designer at The Fox Theater. Prior to my move from Rhode Island in the summer of 2014, I worked as a member of the security staff at a small music venue in Providence, called The Spot. When the house light designer was absent for three shifts, I worked behind the lighting console. This is when I decided to pursue a career in music production. I came out here very unfamiliar with the national music scene. Parallel to my lack of knowledge about the industry, I was very familiar with the exceptional reputation that The Fox Theatre and Boulder, Colorado had in the nationwide spectrum. I did not have a full grasp on just how heavy Boulder and Z2 contribute to the nationwide music scene, but that does not mean their positive partnership went without notice to an amateur/aspiring light designer 2,000 miles away.  

In addition to my pride as an employee of Z2, I feel just as strongly about my currently held titles at The Lazy Dog. This local and independent business has attained a strong reputation as the stepping stone venue to The Fox Theatre within the local music community; and it was very much overlooked as that venue by the Daily Camera staff writer, Quentin Young, who wrote the article being discussed here. In the 28 months I have spent helping get The Lazy Dog the reputation it currently holds, I have never once felt the slightest bit of suppression that you imply Z2 and Don impose on small independent venues. Not only have I never dealt with any form of negative repercussion from Z2 for the success The Lazy Dog has seen as a local music venue, I happen to work in a very respectful, professional, and mutually beneficial capacity with them. I have had nothing but support and encouragement from all members of the Z2 staff, including their talent buyers, management, and owners. Their talent buyers, Dave Weingarden and Chris Peck, often send me bands that are unable to get on the very desired Fox Theatre calendar, both full well knowing that there is potential of that band drawing live music patrons to a concert that they are not hosting; this has oftentimes been the case. As a token of my genuine gratitude for the olive branch they often extend to me, I send them names and financial recaps of bands who are ready to move past The Lazy Dog and graduate to The Fox in a support or headline capacity.

One particular part of your article, which I found to be one of the more ironic points, talked about a talent buyer for a venue in Lyons that spoke about Don enforcing “far-reaching restrictions that blocked artists from playing competing venues”.  As the buyer for The Lazy Dog, I happen to work with a number of national booking agencies, one of which books an artist from South Carolina I have been trying to book here in Boulder at The Dog for over two years now. I was told in an email from that artist's agent, sent to me on 4/28/15, that his Denver and Lyons buyers frowned on and did not want him to do a Boulder play; as a result I have not been able to get him here for a show. There is an incredible similarity in their strong encouragement for this artist not to play Boulder and the “far reaching restrictions” that they felt deterred artists from playing their venues. In any market you go to in this country, buyers and bands are very familiar with a radius clause as a fairly common factor when booking shows consecutively in the same area. I think it is very unfair to highlight the fact that Z2 uses a radius clause, especially citing a source who has directly impeded a touring artist from doing a Boulder show by enforcing one of his own. There was another reason the artist wanted to hold off on a Boulder play I should mention as well, and that is because he wanted to wait until he was able to get into The Fox; I can only assume because the venue's exceptional reputation in the national scene also made its way to him out in South Carolina.

Up until a few months ago, I never included a radius clause in my booking at The Lazy Dog. Within the past year, a Denver venue owner made his way into Boulder to become a competing venue with us here at The Dog. Upon his arrival, I began to see a number of bands that I had confirmed upcoming shows with starting to get booked for a show at his venue within a week or two prior to their show with us. This happens to be another person you used as a source for your article, speaking to the unfair competitive edge Z2 has over him. This particular venue owner has established himself for many years in Denver and has used those years of experience, his Denver venue, and established connections, to entice bands to his venue over mine. Personally, I do not feel as if he is out of his rights to do this; and by doing so he clearly demonstrates an understanding of doing what you must as a business to stay competitive in such a demanding market. Once again, I feel that you have negatively highlighted Z2 and Don as a corporate conglomerate, that is executing some out of the realm business tactic, all the while using sources who execute the same tactics on a different scale.  

I also think it is important to point out that using the owner of a Boulder venue that is less than a year old as a source for an article on Boulder local music is not very fair to the numerous established venues in town that have been supporting this community’s music scene for far longer. I saw no mention of Mountain Sun, Southern Sun, Connor O'neill’s, the Biergarten, Shine, The Dark Horse, The Laughing Goat, 303 Vodka, Upslope Brewery, and last but far from least, The Lazy Dog. This town is a well known haven for artists, workers within the industry, and passionate live music fans. While Z2 operates the two major venues in town, the reputation that is held by Boulder is certainly not solely because of those two venues. It has been cultivated by the numerous establishments that host all types of, and levels of artists, local and national. By failing to even mention a single one of them does more to discredit all that we do for the community and only proves to be counterproductive for the point you are trying to make. Had your staff writer spoken with any member of the Boulder local music community, I have to imagine at least one of the live music establishments I mentioned would have come up. Those are also far from all the independent, small venues this town has to offer.  

You make mention of an anonymous music professional within your article that speaks to the lack of support for local emerging artists within Boulder. I personally just worked a show with my production company, at The Fox Theatre on 2/6/16, which was headlined by a local band, Na'an Stop. They were supported by two other local bands, Policulture and Realtalk. Realtalk just emerged as a new player in the scene within the last 6 months and is already playing shows at The Fox, by way of The Lazy Dog. The show was also sold out days prior to the event, which in my opinion speaks to the incredible support that is given by the community as a whole to the bands. It also leaves something to be said about the incredible effort some artists put into promotion, and the necessary marketing/business side of their band versus others. This is a business at the end of the day, and to imply that Z2 should take a more proactive role in fostering the success of local bands only ignores and discredits the bands that are able to earn their way into these historic venues. You relieve the artist of any responsibility to ensure that their show is also beneficial to the venue, and at the end of the day, all artists are competing with each other to get the slot at the venue, so why should the venue be held responsible for choosing to book a band that will turn into a better financial payout for them? In my experience, the bigger payout to the venue usually means that there were more people in the venue to see the artist, which means more music fans were able to see the artist that they preferred. At what point do we acknowledge that the fan is casting their vote of who gets to play the venues by way of their dollar?

Your article began with a Vail venue owner discussing disappointment that Z2 had acquired a venue he hoped to attain, and I know from experience that being on the losing end of any business deal is disappointing. I do not, however, think that you considered the various factors that come into play when it comes to operating a live music venue, which happen to go far beyond purchasing a building. I very much agree with Don in saying that the Boulder market cannot support another theater sized venue. Even if Z2 had given their blessing to the Vail venue owner, who is to say that the artist booking agency based in Burlington, VT or Chicago, IL is going to stop working with the Z2 talent buyers and move their bands to the other venue? This would again fall back to previously existing relationships that were formed over many years between the artists, buyers, venues, and agents that a simple real estate transaction cannot take the place of. You also seem to overlook the fact that Z2 has buyers which, upon hiring, open up the doors to The Fox for previous existing artist relationships they bring with them. Chris Peck came to Z2 with previous experience in the North Carolina and Tennessee market, and because he was there, the bands he is familiar with are afford a more feasible opportunity to showcase their talent on one of Z2's stages.  

I was, and still am, disappointed and frustrated by what this articles implies. The unfair nature in how it has been written negatively sways the mentality of the Boulder community toward a company that has brought, and continues to bring, some of the most amazing talent from around the country to our backyard. I am also insulted that as a contributor and member of the local music scene, my efforts and the efforts of my peer venues were so easily overlooked in an article that has the words “Boulder's live music scene” in the title of it. We are very much a part of what makes this music scene as great as it is, and Z2 Entertainment is a major contributor and a cornerstone of what attracts some of the unbelievable talent we get to see every week. We live in a time where generation X gets the majority of their news from social media and satire publications that are mistaken for real news. As a willing contributor and surviving member of the declining print media that is still being circulated, you have an obligation to this community to present unbiased and properly researched information, and this articles was neither.

As I sit here writing my final thoughts on this piece, I just received an email from Becca Yenney. She is the office and HR manager for Z2, and her email was to inform the staff that a member of Z2’s security team, Josh Elioseff, will be competing in a battle of the bands with his group, JC and The Deadly Sins at The Dark Horse tomorrow. She included a link to the event on social media, the time it starts, and strongly encouraged supporting one of our own. I could not have asked for a better example of how amazing the Boulder local music scene is, and what a wonderful part Z2 plays in it. Doors open at The Dark Horse at 7:30, and Josh's band goes on a little after 8. I would suggest swinging by and catching a local band at a local venue, being sponsored a local brewery, and supported by some Z2 staff. That to me is the more accurate picture of the Boulder local music scene.

-Matt Banno

Have your own thoughts on the scene? Contact us by clicking here.

This feature was edited for spelling and a few grammatical errors by BolderBeat. Thumbnail image per BolderBeat.