Jesse Elliott, director of the Music District, a five-building campus along South College Avenue, oversees daily operations of the Music District, including programming and community relations. Joel Blocker / For BizWest

Fort Collins Music District hits all the right notes

FORT COLLINS — If it’s true that music has charms to soothe a savage breast, then Fort Collins may soon be one of the most peaceful communities in Northern Colorado, thanks to the newly minted Music District. The 32,000-square-foot facility, encompassing five buildings along College Avenue just north of Laurel Street, opened in September with a goal to support musicians and their industry.

Jesse Elliott, director of the Music District, put it plainly. “We want to produce great bands and artists that get out into the world and bring the amazing name and creative product of Fort Collins and Colorado to other places,” he said.

To accomplish that, the Music District focuses on three “pillars” – the Craft of Music, the Business of Music and the Community of Music. While it may seem like a lot of ground to cover, the facility is designed to incorporate all those facets of the industry.

“There’s everything from rehearsal spaces to co-working and office spaces, conference rooms, a community radio station, a couple of retail incubators, even apartments for musicians to stay in,” Elliott explained.

This new venture represents another sign of Fort Collins’ burgeoning music scene, where events such as Bohemian Nights and NewWestFest draw ever-larger crowds. Tom Scharf is the director of music programs at the Bohemian Foundation, a philanthropic organization that is the driving force behind Bohemian Nights and the Music District.

“I think music continues to make Fort Collins a vibrant community and a very interesting and desirable place to live,” he said. “It’s part of what makes us uniquely human, to be part of this expression.”

According to Scharf, the foundation purchased the site for the Music District about a decade ago, with the intent of adding it to what he calls the area’s “music ecosystem.”

“Everything from getting music into the schools with programs like Little Kids Rock to the music exhibits at the Museum of Discovery,” Scharf noted, “then musician and music business development, and supporting live performance … we see them all tying in to that ecosystem.”

Elliott and his business partner, Bryce Merrill, were working for the Bohemian Foundation in a consulting role when the idea for the Music District came to be. They and Scharf traveled to places such as Austin, Seattle and Toronto, incorporating pieces from other programs while also working to develop a unique format.

“It’s a space where, hopefully, creativity and ideas combust spontaneously, and this idea that when people are collaborating together, that something greater than the sum of its parts comes out of that,” Sharf said. “So we’re allowing for that kind of experimentation and ever-changing nature to occur there.”

The reconnaissance also gave them a glimpse of potential problems. “Austin … had a really great branding campaign for music and then kind of let its infrastructure and its working-class musicians and some of its venues sort of crumble out from under it,” Elliott said. So the Music District is trying to be more proactive about addressing issues such as affordability, sustainability and diversity in an effort to avoid a similar fate.

Elliott says he is excited about finding himself in the middle of a well-established music culture in Fort Collins. “It’s been this really vibrant, wonderful place for a long time,” he noted. “We just happen to be in a position to bring some of that together, maybe provide a center of gravity or a hub for it all.” And early interest is high, with more than 2,200 workshop attendees and visitors reported since the doors opened.

Both Elliott and Scharf feel the Music District is a natural extension of the Bohemian Foundation’s belief that strong communities are vital, and that music is a powerful tool to help bring communities together.

“In some ways, it’s trying to change some of the paradigms of the music business as it’s been done for a long time,” Scharf said. “That’s an uphill battle, but we’re fortunate that we have an opportunity to give it a try.”


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