Crested Butte Center For The Arts

Crested Butte Center For The Arts
originally appeared in Hyperactive Music Magazine, Number 2, Jan/Feb 2005

What makes a show so irresistible that you’ll pack the car, call in to work, and drive hours and states away to see it? Is it the great artist, the intimate venue, the hip town? Well, fill up your gas tanks, because one little Colorado town is expecting to see you soon.

Tucked high in the Rocky Mountains and not really on the way to anywhere, Crested Butte has nonetheless made a name for itself in the world of live music. Putting it on the map is the Center for the Arts, a nonprofit community venue hosting a 215-seat auditorium, a popular art gallery, and an outdoor stage for summer concerts.

Founded 17 years ago in a renovated municipal garage, the Center has grown into a venue sought out by nationally known acts.

“Artists love playing here,” said Executive Director Pat Crow. “The experience of music at the Center is different from other places. We pride ourselves in taking good care of artists,” said Crow, citing efforts like the upgraded sound system and the sound engineer they import from Boulder for each show. These efforts have lured names like Ralph Stanley, Tim O’Brien, and Robert Earl Keen, as well as fans from all over the West and beyond.

But it’s more than these technical details that make shows here so memorable. It’s the mutual enthusiasm of artist and audience that really electrifies the small auditorium. Given the unpredictable nature of life at 10,000 feet, performers “really have to want to play here,” Crow said, which means having the flexibility not only to forego the creature comforts offered by the larger venues, but also to perform despite bad weather or frozen pipes. Artists who can weather these inconveniences are rewarded with fans who want to be there just as badly, and the shows here often become the best of any given artist’s tour. Crested Butte fans, whether natives or visitors, possess a voracious appetite for good live music but also a welcoming, small-town attitude. Crow describes some of the artists who regularly play here, like Texan Keen, as “family.”

This sense of community is not surprising. The Center has always had strong ties to the people of Crested Butte. Money for the original renovation was raised communally, and the Center has “incubated” numerous local acts. Pat Crow describes the trust that has developed between the town and the venue–a trust that inspires locals to check out unfamiliar acts simply because they’re playing at the Center. “The key to success is doing what the community wants,” Crow explains, and the community members will in turn patronize efforts to “expand their horizons.”

And because those horizons continue to expand, so will the Center for the Arts. Plans are underway for a new facility to house a larger, 450-seat auditorium with space for dancing. Since the Center continues to be a place for ecstatic music lovers to enact their devotion to ass-shaking, foot-stomping sounds, that dance floor should come in handy.