Songwriting Scene: Denver (A Q&A with singer-songwriter John Statz)

Ahhh, Denver, Colorado…the Mile-High City, and according to my new Twitter buddy, Denver-based singer-songwriter John Statz, a thriving songwriting mecca! Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, Statz headed to Denver in 2010 for a change of scenery — a bigger city, a bigger music scene and, of course, mountains. “You really can’t beat Denver for being able to drive a half hour and be in the mountains, ready to hike, ski, mountain bike, etc.,” he says. I figured I’d get the scoop from Statz on Denver as a destination for songwriters — here’s what he had to say:

Q: How would you describe Denver’s vibe in terms of its songwriting scene?
A: Denver is a great songwriting town.  Something about the gritty reality of the city (it isn’t sketchy by any means, but it is real), the wonderful artistic culture that exists here (especially physical media, there is a great art scene), and the natural beauty of the mountains, never far off in the background.  It is an all-around fantastic place to live, which I think makes it a wonderful place to be creative.  My girlfriend is actually a painter, and helps run a gallery in the Santa Fe Arts District.  This is a legit place to be Bohemian.

Q: How big is Denver’s music scene overall?
A: The music scene in general is much larger here than what I was used to in Madison, and super diverse.  Hip-hop seems to have a lot of traction here, as well as Americana and indie-rock bands.  Of course, there are the ever-popular Colorado jambands.  I can’t really say whether it is growing or shrinking, as I haven’t been here for all that long.  It does seem to be on an upswing, though.

Q: What kind of songwriting styles are popular in Denver?
A:  There is definitely a lot of love for roots-y, Americana-type stuff here, which is what I’m most into.  The biggest act in that genre to come out of Denver recently has been The Lumineers, though they are actually from New York and moved here just before getting big.  There are definitely a lot of pop-y songwriters here as well, more in that Jack Johnson/Dave Matthews vein, which isn’t really my thing, but I think it melds well with the jamband crowd.

Q: What songwriter-friendly open mics would you recommend in the Denver area?
A: When I first moved here two years ago I played some really cool open mics around town.  I’d definitely recommend going to the one at Paris on the Platte, which had a really fun friendly environment, and a great atmosphere.  Swallow Hill’s is probably a must as well, as they are the big acoustic society in town.

Q: What about festivals? Isn’t the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival nearby?
A: Yes!  The Rocky Mountain Folks Festival takes place annually up in Lyons, CO, which is about an hour or so north of Denver, and I believe is associated with the Rocky Mountain Song School, though I’ve never been.  There are lots of great Americana-leaning festivals in Colorado as well, like the famous Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and every mountain resort town seems to have a wealth of summer music festival happenings.

Q: Do you have any favorite songwriter-friendly venues you play at or see shows?
A: My favorite songwriter venues in town would be The Walnut Room and The Meadowlark, both places I’ve played that have intimate settings perfect for songwriters.  I’ve seen some great acts at the Walnut Room, including Sharon Van Etten, one of my favorites.  Swallow Hill puts on great concerts at different venues around town, and I was fortunate enough to open for Tom Rush for one of their shows.  I haven’t made it to the Soiled Dove yet, but I’ve heard great things, and plan on being at an upcoming Kelly Joe Phelps show happening there.  Denver is also perfectly situated on the Front Range, and is a really close drive to other towns like Boulder, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs, which all feature some great songwriter venues: the Laughing Goat, Avogadro’s Number, and the Black Rose Acoustic Society, respectively.

Q: What’s great about having Denver as your singer-songwriter home base?
A: As stated earlier, if you like the outdoors, Denver is the city to be in, and that is probably the most important reason for me to be here.  It is also a pretty damn affordable city to live in, remarkably cheaper than my much smaller hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.

Q: Who are your favorite Denver-area songwriters?
A: There is some really great talent coming out of Denver right now, and my top three songwriters would probably be Nathaniel Rateliff, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Patrick Dethlefs.  All have some amazing songs that have really pulled me in.  I’ve played some shows with Patrick, in particular, and he is a really young, up and coming talent.  I highly recommend checking him out.

Q: Anything else we should know about Denver as a songwriter-friendly place?
A: Umm, when you come to Denver, you should hang in Capitol Hill.  That is my neighborhood, and a great friendly, progressive ‘hood at that.  Lots of musician/art types, very Bohemian.

Q: How can people find you online (if they don’t come out to Denver to see you, that is)?
A: Folks can visit my website, (you can stream all of my music there), and check out my label-mates on Yer Bird Records at!

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