The Art District on Santa Fe has been abuzz since the Denver Post wrote an article in the winter about some major music industry players moving into the neighborhood (see full article). The creative hub that extends for a few blocks down Santa Fe and Kalamath has attracted huge, national companies like AEG Live, Red Light Management, and Madison House Publicity. The other day I sat down with Carrie Lombardi, the owner of Madison House Publicity to talk about things like how she started her company, why she came to the Art District on Santa Fe, and why everyone should support local art.
First off, can you give a little background about yourself and how you knew you wanted to get into the music business?
I can’t say that I ever knew I wanted to be in the music business, I kind of just fell into it. I knew I needed to be passionate about what I did. I dabbled in environmental politics, but I was young and couldn’t really take care of myself, let alone the world, so a friend got me an internship with Fey Concerts, which turned into House of Blues, and is now Live Nation. I learned a lot about music and the behind the scenes stuff that I’d never thought about, and I just took it from there.
Can you talk a little bit about Madison House Publicity and how it started?
Madison House Publicity is a sister company to a booking and management company called Madison House, Inc. that moved from Athens, Georgia, to Boulder in ’98. At the time, I ran an independent PR company called Plug Music, and I was working with a bunch of different smaller bands, along with doing some PR for What Are Records?, a record label in Boulder. So when Madison House came to town, I knocked on their door and asked if I could do press for The String Cheese Incident. At the time, they were like “no, no, we have it covered already,” but around four months later, they came back and asked if I would do press for The String Cheese Incident. It was just a nice relationship from the start. It was a great group of really creative people doing some fun stuff.
So I came in a year later and opened Madison House Publicity, which is an independent company, but we call it a “sister company.” At the same time, someone opened the travel part of the company, the design part of it, and things like that.
Is there anything more to being “sister companies” with Madison House, inc.?
You know, there’s not. It’s mostly just a camaraderie. It’s good to have colleagues. At the time, there really wasn’t anyone else in Colorado doing music, and we’re not in New York or L.A. It’s just a way to be around other people in the industry to use as a sounding board, to get ideas from, and to share client leads. Certainly, a lot of our clients, especially in the beginning, we shared. Somebody who needed booking and management might also be looking for PR or design work to build their website. It worked under one roof for a long time. It was fun.
A bunch of your clients have strong local ties to Colorado. Was that intentional or did it just end up that way?
I think part of it is obvious that it would turn out that way because it’s nice to be close to your clients. Even more now, I am trying to make a more deliberate point to know what’s going on in Denver and be familiar with the bands, and have a couple of the up-and-comers on my roster. I mean, I love the city and I love the state, so I feel like it’s important to be a part of that. On the national level, we just know the language of the Colorado bands. We know their vibe, so we’re a good choice to represent them.
What do you think it is about Colorado that makes it such a huge, awesome music scene?
Well, I think Colorado is young, and Denver is a really young city where people are kind of making it up as they go. I think that kind of energy really lends itself to a lot of creativity and a lot of risk taking, and people here just enjoy that kind of lifestyle. They’re pretty laidback and they like to have fun. All those things together I think nurture a pretty good music and arts scene.
How do you decide what artists you want to work with?
Oh yeah, how big of an artist is definitely less relevant with what we do. I mean, certain points need to be in place. They need have booking and management in order for our job to work, but I actually really enjoy working with baby bands and building them to a point where they’re not baby anymore. That’s a lot of where I find the joy in my job.
Is working with younger, smaller bands just more fun?
It’s definitely the most satisfying. It’s what I do best, and it’s fun…It’s much harder to do PR for younger bands. Even a band like String Cheese, I love them to pieces, but I wouldn’t call them “media darlings.” They’ve always flown under the radar and done things on their own terms. They made it without someone like Rolling Stone or Spin put them on the cover. They’ve had to do things on their own terms, which is what I love and what we do.
Why do you think people need to support local arts?
For me, art is a priority in life. It completes things. From a development perspective, it’s important to the city for tourism and economics, and I think it rounds out the offerings of any city. For me personally, it’s what’s inspiring. It makes all of the work at the computer and the things that you wouldn’t really want to do everyday, in and out in life, absolutely worth it.
People will pay their $70 when someone big like Katy Perry comes to town, but how do you convince them to see that awesome band that they’ve never heard of?
One of the most exciting parts about art is that you don’t know what you’re going to love next. All the festivals they do here, like the UMS, plus the Art District and the First Friday Art Walks are all inspiring because you won’t even know what you’re looking for, but you may walk away with a piece of art or know something about an artist that you didn’t even know you liked. That’s the thrill of art, the discovery.
How long have you guys been located in the Art District on Santa Fe?
We’ve been here about eighteen months.
What motivated you to move to the Art District on Santa Fe?
I’ve lived in Denver for six years and had the office in Boulder for eleven years, but I was ready to get to Denver officially. I love the city. This district drew me because I enjoy the community vibe. For me to move my office someplace, I had to know that I would have the opportunity to get to know my neighbors and be a part of something bigger. I didn’t want to just go into an office building and not know anybody, and just work there for 5 years and have nothing change. Of course, AEG Live is in the district, and so is Red Light Management, who are both close colleagues, and we work on a lot of clients together. Chuck Morris is the biggest advocate of the neighborhood, so he was a big draw, certainly for bringing the music part of the community down to the district.
What’s your favorite part about working in the Art District?
My favorite part is the community vibe; being able to walk out the door and see people I know. Yesterday, Jack from the district popped his head in. He hadn’t seen the office yet, so he just came by and hung out for a bit. I get to have lunch with colleagues, and if a client comes to visit, we can go office hopping. Absolutely the community.
Where do you see the district in five years?
I want to see it thrive. I want to see the businesses and the artists here succeed. I think everyone who’s here loves it. There’s a certain pride in the district that I really find exceptional. That kind of pride makes it a really special community. There’s also a large level of involvement, with all the plans like to make the sidewalks bigger and the street smaller. It’s all of these development things that will lend to that vision, but it’s based on the people. I just want to see the district become a serious destination in Denver. I think a lot of people still don’t know about the neighborhood.
Outside of the Art District, what are some other cool Denver or Colorado spots you recommend?
I’m a bit of a novice foodie. I can’t say I know a lot about it, but I sure do enjoy it. I’ve certainly enjoyed exploring all of the restaurants, and there are new ones popping up all the time, even though I can’t get away from my all-time favorites that we go to again and again. Check out the food. Try the new restaurants.
One of my stand-bys that I always go back to is Izakaya Den. It’s a sushi restaurant that’s owned by the same owners as Sushi Den. TAG is one of my new favorites, and I also just tried Cholon which was delicious. I’m really into that Asian fusion. One of my favorites in our neighborhood is the Vine Street Pub, which is where we take the kids.
I also love Jazz in the Park. I live over in Park Hill, and so we pile up the trailer on the bike and take the kids over to Jazz in the Park every Sunday.
Is there anything else you want to tell the world? Now is the time to plug anything you want.
I’ve just really enjoyed being a part of the Denver community and I look forward to seeing it grow. I think it’s on a good trajectory and there’s a lot of exciting stuff ahead for the community and the city.
You can learn more about Madison House publicity on their website http://madisonhousepublicity.com. Also follow Carrie Lombardi on Twitter @MadisonHousePub. Keep an eye on her client list because a lot of them will be coming through Colorado this summer, many performing special shows at Red Rocks. Make sure to check out some concerts and support local, homegrown talent.