July 24, 2006
When Amy Kimberly arrived in Telluride in 1985, the town was going through its version of the quiet years, with its two live-music clubs having been shuttered. But Kimberly, who had no previous experience in the concert business – her background was in directing theater – came to the mountains to reopen the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon, and within a few years Telluride had become a significant stop for touring bands, with “the Moon,” as Kimberly calls it, at the center of the action.Likewise, when Kimberly moved to Carbondale in 2001, the town, like the whole of the Roaring Fork Valley, was in its own musical lull. “It just wasn’t a real vibrant music scene,” she said. “The Double Diamond was hit and miss. Steve’s Guitars was just incubating then. You could see shows at the Wheeler – but you couldn’t really dance, even if it was a dance show.”Again, the revival of the music scene began around the time that Kimberly hit town. “I thought it was all by default, that good music would just show up when I got there,” said the 49-year-old Kimberly. “But now I think I have to give myself some credit.”She deserves it. At the Moon, Kimberly and her partner, Skip Lichter, took a club that had been closed down, due to the previous owner’s drug dealings, and made it a crucible for the coming jam-band explosion. Phish’s first shows outside of their native Vermont were in Telluride, and fellow jam bands like Widespread Panic and Blues Traveler tested the audiences away from home with gigs at the Moon. The Moon also had a big hand in the burgeoning acoustic scene. At Kimberly’s instigation, the club began booking late-night shows during the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, making the festival nearly a 24-hour picking party.In Carbondale, Kimberly is the director of Mountain Fair, as well as development director for KDNK. For her community service, she volunteers as booker and cheerleader for the Carbondale Summer Concert Series, which has brought midlevel acts to put on high-quality shows in Sopris Park and on the streets of ‘Bonedale. Kimberly is quick to point out that some of the activity that has followed her around is coincidence: In Telluride, she came around just before the jam bands made the early ’90s a heyday for small music clubs. In Carbondale, Steve’s Guitars was just starting to make itself known, and Mountain Fair and the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities had made music-lovers of Bonedalians for three decades. When I asked if she thought she had elevated Carbondale’s music scene, she countered that she had only “enhanced” it.”But after 20 years in the music business, I’m lucky enough to have some good relationships that help bring good performers,” she said. “And at the Carbondale price, which is a lot lower than the Aspen price.”At least one of her fellow local concert promoters doesn’t hold back in praising Kimberly. “I think she’s created [a music scene]. There was not one, and now there is one,” said Josh Behrman, who books music for Snowmass Village and, through his Mountain Groove Productions, Aspen. “She’s created an entire music scene in a small community, bringing in new and exciting music. She’s a key person.”
Kimberly says the bands playing this year’s 35th annual Mountain Fair – which opens today at 4 p.m. with the Opening Blessing and runs through Sunday evening – receive, on average, $1,000. For that bargain price, Kimberly has lined up the usual range of acts from around the country: Boston trance-rock band SeePeopleS; Eufórquestra, a talented, multifaceted band from Iowa City; Nosotros, an acclaimed Latin rock group from New Mexico; and Pete Wernick’s Flexiglass, the latest project from the banjoist of Colorado bluegrass icons Hot Rize. Plus local singer-songwriters (Frank Martin, Jan Garrett and JD Martin), rising acoustic acts (Crooked Still), an aerial circus (Wise Fool), and a funky rock band to close out the party (8Trac).Kimberly actually enjoys the limited funds she has to spend. It’s more of a challenge to find quality acts that will pay for low prices. It removes her from the high-stakes concert business that she says has become more corporate. And it allows her to indulge her real passion: turning people on to the adventurousness of the concert-going experience.”It’s a challenge, but that’s probably why I love it so,” said Kimberly, who dresses (head scarves, skirts) and sounds (deep, hoarse voice) like a devout concertgoer. “Like at the Moon, in the early ’90s, you were turning people on to this music. They didn’t know who these bands were, but they came out and got turned on.”The music business in general is more money-oriented now. You get someone started, and they do well, then move on, and too bad for you. I didn’t want to be involved in that end. It’s good to be back in a place where it’s not about getting big names or known names. It’s about getting great music and turning people on to it.”
Kimberly actually needed to have her eyes opened to the world of music. A native of Pittsburgh, she went to Webster College in St. Louis to study theater. College, however, was just a way station to her ultimate dream: “I really just wanted to be a West Coast hippie,” she said.Kimberly achieved her life’s goal by dropping out of Webster and landing in San Francisco, where she directed and acted in theater. She eventually ended up in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, where she ran the Commedia dell’Arte Theater Company for 10 years. Theater was such a passion that music got pushed out of the way.”Concerts weren’t a big part of my life,” she said. “I did your standard : several Grateful Dead concerts a year, an occasional J. Geils Band show, a stint with the Allman Brothers, the Ramones. I was very into this theater company.”Kimberly was also into what she calls “this very dysfunctional relationship.””The one thing I wanted to see was The Last Waltz [the last concert by the original lineup of the Band]. I begged my boyfriend to get tickets, and he wouldn’t. And I was too afraid to go on my own.”In the mid-’80s, then married, Kimberly’s husband planned to buy a sailboat and travel around the world. “But he had a lot of drug problems, and I knew we couldn’t really sail anywhere,” she said. So when her brother called and said he had an investment opportunity – a nightclub in Telluride – Kimberly was game.Her first trip to Telluride was in 1983. The town’s marshal, Hank Smith, had just been arrested for allegedly stealing cocaine being held as evidence; Kimberly arrived to see a parade down Colorado Avenue in support of Smith. A banner read, “Free Our Pig!”
“I thought it was the wildest town I had ever been in. And it really was then,” she said.Kimberly was a novice to resort towns, to music clubs, to the mountains. At the Moon, where she did the hands-on operating of the venue, she had a quick introduction. “I had never hung out in bars before,” she said. “I didn’t know what it meant if you live in a ski town [and] if it doesn’t snow. And, of course, it didn’t snow. We had a few dry years there. I had to have a quick learning curve.”Telluride was fairly dry musically, as well. “Telluride wasn’t a mecca,” noted Kimberly. It was the mid-’80s, the height of the MTV era, and not exactly a booming time anywhere for bands that could fit in a small space like the Moon. Kimberly and Lichter, who did most of the bookings early on, brought in a lot of cover bands. The acts playing original music back then included Sleepy Laboeuf, Ralph Dinosaur, and Little Women; perhaps the best-known of the bunch was Midwest blues act Big Daddy Kinsey & the Kinsey Report.”To bring in live music cost a lot,” said Kimberly. “I loved the music, but we were losing a lot of money. But because we loved the music, we hung in there.”Their faith was justified as the ’90s approached, and the jam-band swell along with it. The number of shows overwhelms Kimberly’s recollection, though she mentions shows by Blues Traveler, the Spin Doctors and New Grass Revival. “If we started naming them, I could go on all night,” she said. A favorite act was the Aquarium Rescue Unit; a favorite memory was Phish’s first foray outside of Vermont. The band was booked to play the Roma, a club across the street from the Moon. Phish argued with the owners of the Roma, hauled their equipment across Colorado Avenue, and finished their four-night stand at the Moon.”It was an amazing time of music and the Moon was on that list to play,” said Kimberly.
In 2001, Zoe, the older of Kimberly’s two daughters, was finishing her schooling at Colorado Rocky Mountain School. Kimberly decided to move to Carbondale for only the year. She still had an interest in the Moon, still booked the whole Telluride Nightgrass series, which put top acts into various venues during the Bluegrass Festival, and ran the Telluride AIDS Benefit.It was this last item that brought Kimberly fully into the Carbondale community. KDNK invited her on the air to speak about her AIDS work and her 2000 trip to Africa. At the station, she saw a help-wanted posting.”And that began my love affair with Carbondale,” said Kimberly, as her cell phone rang over and over. (“You can tell it’s Monday before Mountain Fair,” she said, as she answered questions about electricity hookups and the like.) “I knew nothing about Carbondale; I didn’t know it had so much going on. I never went back to Telluride.”Instead, Carbondale has benefited from her connections and expertise. In her first year as Mountain Fair director, two years ago, she booked Cabaret Diosa and the Motet, two top Colorado acts. Last year’s Mountain Fair got more worldly, with Afrobeat band Aphrodesia and Central American-inspired act Kan’Nal. In four summers of booking the Summer Concert Series, she has brought in Cheryl Wheeler, Drew Emmitt, Kelley Hunt and, last week, Toubab Krewe. They’re not names that will excite most people – until they actually come out and see the show.”I guess I would consider myself an artist now,” she said. “I never knew what my art form was. But definitely, it’s become more defined. It’s creating experiences for people through art and music – which is what a painting might do for some, or a CD.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org