I swirled my glass of Great Divide Yeti. Watching the golden foam lick the sides of my glass like an alcoholic tide lapping up against a beach, I took a sip and took a seat in the basement of Bar Red, which for the night had been transformed from a fancy restaurant into an intimate music venue. Under the glow of lights hung from small trussing, musicians and fans clinked glasses while a Project Aspect remix of a Vibe Street tune played over the house speakers. It was the sixth track on a benefit album to help fund the construction of a free amphitheater in the heart of Denver, and tonight was its release party. The sound system sat quietly under the light of a motionless green par can, seeming to eagerly await the impulses of electronic sound that would later be coursing through it’s circuitry.
Ean Tafoya was nowhere to be seen. In fact, despite his outgoing personality and status as a regular at many local events, he had lately been spending much of his time behind the scenes. He had spent the weeks prior putting together the first benefit for his fundraising effort Ruby Generations, and now that was culminating into a bohemian gathering that was part bohemian salon and part sweaty dance party. Ean’s new fundraising initiative was a success; his organization put together an inaugural event that boasted a packed house and a who’s-who of the freshest up-and-comers in the Denver electronic music scene.
Several weeks later I again find myself in Bar Red swirling another Yeti, speaking an interview with Ean into a voice recorder. In the intervening time, Ruby Generations has put on three events, each more diverse and appealing than the last. The latest is a production by the Black Actor’s Guild called “Doin’ The Most,” a fundraising event that spans three days and sports a diverse offering of music, dance, theater, fashion, food, and art. Ean believes this kind of diversity will make Ruby Generations successful in closing an $800k fundraising gap to open the 7,000 seat outdoor music venue in Denver’s Ruby Hill Park, and he is calling on local youth to support their music and their city.
“It turned out really well,” says Ean, speaking about the inaugural event from the now quiet upstairs of Bar Red. Amidst the dancing and music, Ean had delivered a passionate speech about the Levitt Pavilion and had urged his peers to stand up and take ownership of their community, but at the time he harbored concerns about how his speech would be received. “I felt nervous…that our message wouldn’t connect, that there’s a level of apathy [by young people] that they can’t build their city, but I remember looking into this young man’s eyes…he came up to me after I spoke and [said], ‘I believe. How can I help?’” For Ean, this spoke volumes.
Denver has until May to raise the money needed to break ground on the concert pavilion at Ruby Hill Park. It’s the last chunk of Denver’s requisite portion of the fundraising, which will help fund the venue along with more than $1 million donated from the Morter and Mimi Levitt Foundation, which will fund free events once the venue is built. The venue will be the seventh one supported by the foundation, each of which provides 50 free concerts a year. According to Chris Zacher, head of the Levitt Denver board of directors, the foundation seeks to support local artists by paying them roughly $1250 per show in accordance with the foundation’s charter, along with providing an artistic and cultural outlet for the local community.
Mortimer Levitt lived in Brooklyn as a child, and was the son of immigrants. His father worked at Coney Island as a vendor, and Mortimer would often go with him to marvel at all there was to see and hear. Without money to pay for live music, he would stand outside the concert halls and listen even though he could not go inside, and thus was born Mortimer’s dream to offer free music to the public. In 1973, he funded the construction of a pavilion in Westport, CT, and insisted that everyone be admitted free of charge. Although he passed away in 2005 at the age of 98, Mortimer’s legacy remains: thousands of events have been held across the country at venues that bear his name, all free to enter whether one has money or not.
Ean Tafoya is inspired by this story, and his passion is fueled when he sees that other young people believe in the cause. He spent a year outreaching verbally before his first event, and now he works with street teams all over the greater Denver area promoting Ruby Generations. However, gathering support for a successful first event wasn’t easy. “The first one’s always the hardest,” says Ean. “When you’re first getting started with an idea that’s unknown to people, its really hard to get them to give you things for free.” However, Ean’s confidence was bolstered after his first event, and he believes that the diversity of the Levitt Pavilion Project and its level of community outreach inspires people. To make the Levitt Pavilion a reality, Ean decided to join forces with an evolving array of collaborators, including the local experts on activism-through-music.
Ruby Generations was three weeks out from their inaugural event at Bar Red when they called on the help of local event production and activism group Souls In Action. The two groups united over common goals and they are now working together to plan a series of benefit concerts and albums. “We fell in love with the [Ruby Generations] team,” says Lulu Simone, C.E.O. of Souls In Action, “and it’s been magic ever since.”
Lulu believes that at their core, music and activism are one and the same. “Activism…and entertainment [are] community; [they’re both] a matter of bringing people together under one roof to make things happen.” She started Souls In Action by producing benefit concerts, and now the group’s artist collective boasts names of local Colorado favorites such as Sunsquabi and Proper Motion, both of whom appeared on the first Ruby Generations benefit compilation. For Lulu, the collaboration with Ruby Generations is refreshing. “I was feeling pretty stagnant with where the music scene was…in Denver. Being involved in something as progressive as Ruby Generations is really inspiring.” In the future, she seeks to push ruby generations “to its full potential.”
While Ean and Lulu are compiling a second benefit album, several other members of the fundraising group are also working on their own Ruby Generations benefit releases. David Sender, bassist for Denver band Sonic Geometry and former tour manager for boulder band Technicolor Tone Factory is heading up one of these teams with Boulder musician and producer Brandon Hagen. “Brandon and I met back when I was working with Technicolor Tone Factory…at a LeAnn Rhymes concert.” Brandon, a friend of Ean’s, was one of the first people Tafoya called upon to help him build the Ruby Generations movement.
“We both have a lot of passion for Colorado,” says David of Brandon and himself, noting that their passion for their state goes beyond the music scene. “Brandon produced a benefit album to help residents of Lyons with flood repair last fall. When we were given the chance to help build the Levitt Pavilion it just made sense.”
David can’t tell us who’s on board for his and Brandon’s project, but he can tell us this: “Ruby Generations Volume One showcased a lot of Colorado’s popular electronic artists, and we want to show a different side of the Mile High Music Scene. I won’t say who we have on board yet, but let’s just say there are some big things in motion for this album.”
So far Ruby Generations has raised roughly $3k for the Denver Levitt Pavilion. While time is limited, Ean is confident that Denver will build the nation’s seventh Levitt Pavillion, and he continues to book more fundraising events with different artists and venues. It is his diverse network of collaborators that ignites his passion in the project and instills his belief that it will be successful. “When you partner [with] and bring together a wide variety of artists,” he says, “you can’t lose. Especially when the message behind it is community growth. It’s a win.”
Interviews with Lulu Simone, David Sender, and Ean Tafoya, January 2015 for Compose Yourself Mag
Ruby Hill Levitt Pavilion Public Forum, November 17 2014, Oriental Theater