Jack Brown, Alissa Chesis, Bob Margolin. Photo by Rick Carver

Get to Know Roots Music Project’s Dave Kennedy

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Dave Kennedy is one of the founders and the executive director of Boulder’s Roots Music Project, a non-profit that helps gigging musicians find shows and helps them with things like promotion. The organization also has its own venue in Boulder that has seen a lot of use in recent months. They also bring in music professionals to help established musicians work on perfecting their craft.

Kennedy’s love affair with music started when he was about eight years old. His brother put Led Zeppelin’s first record on for him. Shortly after that, his parents bought him his first Fender guitar and he learned to play “Communication Breakdown” by Zeppelin.

Kennedy attended college in Austin and soon discovered the Antones Blues Club. He says he spent more time at it than in the library.

Dave Kennedy. Photo by Rick Gabler

After school, he became a career man and quit playing guitar entirely. In his 40s, he found himself a workaholic on the verge of a midlife crisis. When his kids signed up for music camp, he dusted off his guitar and started playing again, enrolling in an adult band camp. He is currently a gigging musician and runs the Roots Music Project to improve upon the Boulder music scene that he holds dear. He’d like to see it expand across the Front Range one day.

He still has his first guitar.

Who do you play with right now?

I now play in the band for legendary Colorado Blues man, Rex Peoples. Rex is not only an amazing singer, but he is also a “blues-in-the-schools” educator. He taught me about the history of blues and how it has been a positive force in society.

What have you liked about the Boulder music scene in the past? What do you like about it now? What would you like to see change about it?

I’m envious of the folks who experienced the Boulder music scene in the ’70s. Caribou Studios was just up the road and musicians like the Eagles, Dan Fogelberg and the James Gang would drop into Boulder clubs to jam.

Today, Boulder is home to eTown and world-class venues like the Boulder Theater, the Fox Theater and Chautauqua Auditorium. These are amazing large venues, but I would like to see more small venues in Boulder. I say, “bring back the dive bar!” Small venues are where rising musicians hone their craft.

Photo by Dave Kennedy

Is it hard for non-famous musicians to get gigs? How does Roots Music Project help with that?

When I played in my first band, we rehearsed and rehearsed but because we were new and unknown, we could not find our first paying gig. It was frustrating. Without a gig, band rehearsals felt pointless. This was a major motivation for starting Roots Music Project. We help musicians make the leap from the garage to the stage. Christopher Morse is a perfect example. He first came to our warehouse to check out an acoustic guitar for sale. At 30 years old, he was already a talented singer-songwriter, but his music career was on hold. He needed some encouragement and inspiration. Chris signed up for lessons, started to play at Roots Music Project gigs and eventually produced an incredible CD with musicians that he met at the warehouse. In addition, RMP helped Chris learn how to create a brand, a website, social media, videos, etc. Now Chris is teaching other musicians how to produce their own CDs.

What made you want to start Roots Music Project? What did you see lacking in the Boulder music scene that called out for a program like The Roots Music Project?

Boulder is surrounded by beautiful mountains and is home to the University of Colorado. This environment has attracted legions of artists and music fans. However, I have watched many smaller venues and bars attempt to create successful live music programs and ultimately run out of energy and stop booking live music. This is not unique to Boulder. It is hard for a small venue to create a sustainable live music program.We tackle this problem by providing coaching and low-cost booking services to bars, restaurants, and outdoor markets. We teach them how to create thriving live music programs. Our goal is to create a live music program that is a fantastic return on investment for the venue owner and a unique attraction for customers. The North Boulder Sunset Market is a good example. This is a new art market that is part of the First Friday Art Walk. The organizers wanted to provide a stage for local musicians, but they were frustrated by the cost and logistics. They partnered with Roots Music Project and we created a low-cost festival stage featuring acoustic sets by some of Boulder’s best musicians. The result was more gigs for local musicians and more customers for the Sunset Market.

In general, what is a show at the venue like? What is the venue like? Is it geared toward a specific genre or style of music?

Each show is an event. Our goal is that every audience member will be inspired to go out and start their own band after witnessing a show at Roots Music Project. We feature multiple bands with eclectic mashups of styles. Anything goes, from Chicago Blues, Folk, Bluegrass, Pop to EDM. Boulder loves it all and so do we. Our home is a funky warehouse in East Boulder that can host over 100 people. The décor is part SOHO loft and part grassroots-speakeasy. There is no signage on the outside, so make sure you search for us on google maps.

Who is involved in Roots Music project?

We are so fortunate to have the support of so many talented musicians, sound engineers and teachers. It’s impossible to mention everyone here. But I would like to mention Rick Gabler. He is a professional touring and studio musician from Austin, who joined the team four years ago as our education director. In the Colorado music market, Rick is known as The coach you hire to become a pro musician.

What services do you provide musicians outside of a venue in Boulder?

Even though our physical home is in Boulder, our services cover the entire Front Range of Colorado. We book gigs for venues and outdoor markets all over the Front Range. During COVID we hosted online courses.

In general, how do you feel about the live music scene in Colorado?

I’m very optimistic and excited about the live music scene in Colorado. Rolling Stone recently declared Denver as the number one live music scene in America. I credit the Fans for this accolade. Where there are fans, great music will follow.

Ian Steele installing stage lighting. Photo by Dave Kennedy

Where would you like to see Roots Music Project in five years?

Ian Steele first started as an intern at Roots Music Project as an awkward eighth-grader. He loved music and was a fast learner. Roots provided Ian with a musical playground to experiment and learn. Ian recently graduated from CU Denver with a Music and Business Degree. Now Ian is “giving back” to Roots as a producer, educator and musician. He is making a difference in the Colorado music scene. In five years, I hope that this story has been replicated a thousand times. We believe that music can change the world to be a better place. I hope that Roots Music Project is a driving force for this positive change.

For more information, visit rootsmusicproject.org.

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