Music dies at Double D
Aspen Times Staff Writer
It almost seems like Aspen’s music venues have become an endangered species.
The Grottos, Hannibal Brown’s and the Howling Wolf are long gone. Now the Double Diamond, the city’s last late-night music spot, is caught between the cross hairs.
It’s possible that the Double D will be saved from extinction – it was, after all, granted a pardon in 1998 when landlords struck a deal with club owner Greg Jurgensen to keep the place open. But that seems unlikely this time, and Double D staff and regulars are bracing for a Sept. 1 closing.
Bob Bowden, who owns the Double Diamond building along with partner James Hunting, has already spoken with a number of different people willing to lease the bar space. Bowden isn’t ready to talk details, but admits that he and Hunting wouldn’t be opposed to another club moving into the space.
But it is time for a change, Bowden says. That’s why the Double Diamond’s lease was not renewed this fall.
“We all feel it’s probably best to move on,” he said.
Jurgensen was “a great tenant for 10 years,” Bowden says, but the club has fallen on hard times recently.
“It’s just been tough the past two years,” Bowden said. “After two bad years, it drains your capitol. And every business needs to have capitol.”
Jurgenson “had some backing to float them through some tough years,” Bowden said, but it probably won’t be enough to get the bar through this latest rough patch. It would take some outside funding to save the Double D this time around.
“If someone decides they want to partner up with Greg … you never know. Never say never,” Bowden said.
Time is running out for the Double Diamond, however. And life has certainly changed in Aspen’s music scene.
Aspen resident Tim Luka booked bands for the Grottos and the Double Diamond over the years. With one club defunct and the other on its way out, he says live music in Aspen has hit hard times.
“But live music all over the mountains is really hurting,” Luka said. “People have this stigma – `I’ve gotta pay 20 bucks to get in the door’ – and it’s not like that.”
The problems are, of course, financial, Luka says. Club-goers are less likely to shell out a cover charge for a live band. Club owners have become stingy, too, as disc jockeys become increasingly popular in clubs nationwide, Luka said.
In the minds of club owners, DJs are cheaper and easier to handle than a band. “It’s easier to pay one DJ than five guys in a band,” Luka said.
Karen Smith has served as booking agent for the Double Diamond and its predecessors in the Galena Street space. She’s seen several clubs struggle to make ends meet while running a live-music venue.
“It’s a rough business, for sure, especially for a small town,” Smith said.
And high rents and overhead costs make running a business in Aspen all the more challenging.
“I remember thinking, at one point, we were paying three times what the Fox [Theatre] in Boulder was paying in rent,” Smith recalls of her days at the Diamond.
Without a steady flow of customers, local clubs can’t keep up with these rising costs. Of course, a small local population and slow shoulder seasons between peak tourist times cut into a club’s gross income, Smith said.
“I think what’s happening, maybe, with Aspen rents is that you can’t have just a late-night concert venue,” Smith said. “You’ve got to be open all day long and generating money.”
Though Bowden and Hunting made concessions to the Double D crew over the years, it wasn’t enough to balance the bar’s budget.
“The crux of the problem is that the rent is still there,” Smith said.
Aspen has been without a live-music venue before, Smith recalls, leading other clubs to take up the slack. Before the Double Diamond came on the scene, smaller clubs like the China Club and Tattoo hosted live bands two or three nights a week in order to meet demand.
“People definitely missed it and showed up to support it” when the Double D brought back live music full time, Smith said. A similar crowd will likely turn out to support the club’s successor, before it, too, falls victim to Aspen’s prices.
“There’s probably someone who could be looking at the space right now. The thing is, how are they going to hang on, too?” Smith asked. “I think Greg has by far, by far, hung in there longer than anyone. I don’t think anyone’s tried harder to keep it going.”
The Double D’s departure will mean the end of an era – and, in Smith’s opinion, the end of a unique musical niche. The club’s space allowed for a steady and varied flow of musicians, Smith said.
“There’ll still be your small venues that’ll probably do local bands, and big venues that will do bands between the Aspen Music Festival and Jazz Aspen concerts,” she said. “Unfortunately for people like me who are really excited about discovering new bands or seeing new bands on their way up – Dave Matthews once came here on a $5 ticket – you’re going to miss out on these really great, juicy bands that you can grow up with.
“Isn’t the fun of following a band being able to say `I saw Sheryl Crow for a dollar at the Double Diamond once, and now you can’t get a ticket for $75′?” Smith asked. “Being there from the beginning, it’s part of the excitement.”
Jeffrey Evans has been at the Double Diamond for a lot of beginnings – 26 years of them, in fact. He, along with Smith, prefer the bands who aren’t necessarily major headliners.
“There’s a whole middle ground of music between your local bands and your international stars, and they’re putting out some great music,” he said.
High rents and slow off-seasons have, of course, done their part to shutter the Double D. But Aspen’s music lovers have contributed to the closing, too.
“It’s been taken for granted,” Evans said. “It’s just another one of those things that’s always been tough to pull off due to the seasonal nature of the town, and it’s that much harder when people aren’t making a conscious effort to support places like the Double Diamond.”
The loss of the city’s only raucous concert venue won’t help Aspen’s status among tourists, either.
“They’ll basically end up going to Snowmass or Glenwood,” Evans predicts. “There will continue to be concerts in the Wheeler, which will make Aspen seem that much more geriatric.”
Booking agents will have to turn to the next best option for visiting talent: the Snowmass Conference Center at the Silvertree Hotel. It might be the closest place in the valley that could support the type of sound system required for a full concert.
“Snowmass, now, will have Aspen beat,” Evans said.
[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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