Bursting through the gaps of anonymity, Fort Collins has budded into a nationally-distinct cultural hotspot by virtue of its thriving music scene, among other things. While this accolade is supported by an environment enriched by diverse venues, unique talents and a bedrock of community support, perhaps one of the greatest reminders of the importance of local music here is a two-day festival known as the Fort Collins Music Experiment, otherwise called FoCoMX.
Created by the Fort Collins Music Association (FoCoMA), FoCoMX hit the streets last weekend for the eighth time. Based on what community members and music-scene insiders alike had to say, it didn’t disappoint.
For Fort Collins resident Taylor Shank, the festival is not set apart by its location, but rather its location is set apart by the existence of the festival.
“It brings our community together. Yeah, sure, other towns have festivals with music, but there is something really special about ours. There’s a flare: everyone coming together for craft beer and great local music is just awesome,” said Shank in an email to the Collegian. “It feels like the heartbeat of the town.”
More than 250 bands performed this year. The festival set out to reflect a representative view of Fort Collins in general and in true Colorado fashion, it succeeded by encompassing an amalgamation of musical styles ranging from bluegrass and country to rock, experimental noise, elements of world fusion and comedy.
According to local musician and FoCoMA president Greta Cornett, although the Fort Collins music scene is currently prospering, getting to this point was no easy task for the community at large and in many regards it required more than just blood, sweat and tears.
Cornett believes the communal effort has been worth the trouble and has greatly contributed to the success of the Fort Collins community in general.
“Fort Collins is such a local-minded place to live, local music is another extension of that,” said Cornett. “People are working together to put Fort Collins on the map as a musical destination and I feel that is super important to the city because that is just one more way to showcase how wonderful Fort Collins is.”
According to Cornett, the music scene constantly changes and despite understanding its fluid nature, she explains that watching five different venues close twelve years ago wasn’t just concerning, it was a call to action. Together with a group of other musicians, she formed FoCoMA in the hopes of revitalizing the scene.
“At that time, if you looked at the Colorado music scene, I don’t think people even realized we had a music scene in Fort Collins. A lot of musicians were just hanging out because the scene we had here was dying,” said Cornett.
Through the course of its inaugural year, it became clear to Cornett and her team that there was still a serious disconnect hindering artist development within the scene despite FoCoMA’s many efforts to revitalize.
“One of the things we heard from everyone was that they had no idea there were so many musicians in town and this was coming from musicians,” said Cornett
For this reason, FoCoMA started looking into the possibility of hosting a showcase, which eventually became FoCoMX.
While the original idea called for four venues that would host around 16 different bands, the first year hosted over 100 bands within the walls of 12 different venues. Although the festival was meant to be a musician-centered event, it didn’t take long for the community to adopt it, eventually labeling it as a staple event.
Even though the past eight years have brought enough growth to warrant a substantial expansion in the festival’s size and reach, Cornett feels it has been important to keep it at a manageable level. For her, achieving longevity over immediate extravagance is a major goal.
Some critics have called for a reduction in the cover cost for wristbands and an expansion of venues/artists — however, Cornett believes this would be a mistake.
“What we found is that because we are volunteer-driven, growth wasn’t necessarily the best thing for sustainability,” said Cornett. “It’s something we keep in mind every year — bigger is not always better.”
While one result of FoCoMX has been an increased strength in musician networking, the strength of those ties has, at times, made breaking into the scene a little more difficult.
For guitarist Wes Klukkert of the Hot Sisters, working his way into the scene has been frustrating. For him and Hot Sisters drummer, Jordan Melani, not getting into FoCoMX was a blow which represented many of their concerns regarding local music operations.
“It’s not a perfect system for sure. There are a lot of really good bands out there that don’t have a voice that should be heard. If you’re in the ‘in,’ you get to play stuff like FoCoMX, if you’re not, you don’t,” Klukkert said. “If you’re on the inside, you have an opportunity to bring others in. If you’re not, you’re always trying to get in.”
While Melani agrees this is a tough aspect to the music scene, he also believes it’s just one more challenge waiting to be wrestled.
“The best thing we can hope for is we apply next year, we have a bigger name and we rock it,” said the drummer.
According to Cornett, inviting artists into the festival is a daunting function of eliminating 1,000 merited submissions down to approximately 250 slots.
“We always try to be super open-minded with applications on the booking committee,” said Cornett. “We’re looking for a good mix of established artists, up-and-coming artists and all genres.”
From a scene that was on the cusp of total obscurity to a thriving destination of national note, FoCoMA’s work within the community has enhanced the cultural landscape since its conception and has no plans on stopping any time soon. For local musician Ryan Kirkpatrick of The 14ers, this is a major win for local music.
“FoCoMX is a real treat for The 14ers on many different levels. The obvious reason is that it provides an unmatched opportunity for fans to see many of their favorite Colorado bands in one weekend,” said Kirkpatrick. “The other really special thing that happens is bands get to be fans themselves. These FoCoMX bands, like us, are constantly busy rehearsing, recording, touring, etc. This festival provides a rare opportunity to support other local acts all day and then flip the switch to perform our own set.”