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Stillwater Music opens new venue

The local music scene is lacking an entry-level sized music venue. If you’re an up and coming, touring small-band or singer songwriter who hasn’t played this area in the past, there are not many places for you to play locally. While both the Animas City Theatre and Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College remain great rooms, they’re still too big for an act that has never set foot in the Four Corners.

The venues formerly known as The Summit and Balcony Backstage were that room, places that were perfect for bands with a smaller following, a place that could seem packed when ticket sales remained in the double digits. Durango has been without that place for a number of years, until now, as local music education nonprofit Stillwater Music is currently building a space that will fill that venue void. By early 2023, the school will have completed a 120-seat performance space – it’s a venue, art gallery and meeting room all rolled into one, with a major emphasis on performance space.

Stillwater Music acquired the space when Katzin Music, the music store that was located next door to Stillwater in the 1400 Block of Main Avenue in downtown Durango, called it quits in 2018. Upon the acquisition of the space, Executive Director of Stillwater Music Jeroen van Tyn got to work on configuring the venue. With tape measure in hand, he started mapping out what the room could be, figuring how big of a venue he could create and visualizing the layout of this potential scene. Fitting in 120 people seemed reasonable with them sitting, standing or more ideally, dancing. To accommodate said dancing, van Tyn dropped in a flexible, spring-loaded dance floor, and has put together a stage that can be broken down and moved to different parts of the room, all depending on what the artist wants.

It remains an ideal room for bands looking to establish a local following.

“This is a perfect size space and it’s totally oriented toward booking touring artists that are making a stop that are not so well known,” van Tyn said. “They’re up and coming, and it’s better to have 120 people in 120 seats than 120 people in 600 seats.”

It also fits into the mission of the school. Stillwater is a place for music education, but for now that education is all playing and performance. Yet there’s a business and production side to the music biz, a side that deals with the red tape like booking and promotion. An in-house venue will add a whole new curriculum to the school, giving people a chance to learn that side of the music business.

“We’ve always been a training ground for people, whether they want to be weekend warriors playing around the campfire, or they want to go to Berklee College of Music and be a pro. And we’ve had all of those,” van Tyn said. “But what’s it like to play real music on real instruments led by real professionals in a real band situation, and the whole business part of it is a part that we haven’t tilted at yet. Here is this perfect laboratory for that to happen, and that is definitely part of the plan.”

There’s general excitement around the school regarding this plan, an infectious enthusiasm that is led by van Tyn. He’s anticipating a space used by not only the music community, but multiple organizations from the arts world and beyond.

“We’re going to have film in there, we’re going to have dance, we’re going to have theater. We’re going to have music, we’re going to have meetings. And I’ve got to say, this is one of those ‘if you build it they will come’ things,” he said. “I’ve lived here long enough, and I’ve been a musician long enough and I’ve been to enough shows I’m thinking this is going to take off. I’m just absolutely stoked about it.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.