“Hi all. Some of you may have heard, but I made a tough choice late last week. I decided it was time to shut down three20south at 320 S. Main St. for good.”
So began the post that greeted music fans on the three20south Facebook page on Thursday, May 1. They responded with messages of shock and heartbreak, love and encouragement for owner Matt “Rocko” Karukin, more than 100 people chiming in with their favorite memories and moments from almost six years of shows at the basement venue in Breckenridge.
“It was the biggest post, the biggest reaction we have ever gotten from a Facebook post, a lot of heartfelt comments,” Rocko said. “It was just great to hear all the outpouring of love and thankfulness from all of the — I don’t like to use the word customer; our patrons just seemed like so much more than that.”
To the die-hards, the music fans who were part of the fabric of three20south, coming in night after night, week after week, it’s hard for Rocko to know what to say.
“There’s been kids that have actually said, ‘I just signed a lease; I don’t think I’d have signed a lease if I knew this yesterday,’” Rocko said. “I just have to say, I’m sorry and I fought the good fight as long as I could.”
Not an easy spot
Rocko said three20south’s location, 9,600 square feet in the basement level on the south end of Main, has never been an easy spot for a venue.
“You have to take big risks without ever paying off,” he said. “It was always a labor of love. We had some changes to our bottom line this year, and we were break even at best. At the end of the season, I had to take a hard look at the numbers and decided that it was getting too tough to continue.”
Rocko has owned and run three20 since 2008, coming up on what would have been six years in July. Even before taking over the space, he had attended shows there when it was Sherpa & Yeti’s on back to when it was the Alligator before that.
“I’d always been a music fan, going back to high school,” he said. “Lots of Grateful Dead and Phish, lots of touring, and the opportunity just came up. There was no conscious decision, the opportunity just came up and seemed to go along with my life’s thread.”
Making the decision to close three20 wasn’t at all easy, Rocko said, but he added that it felt good that he was able to make the choice now rather than limping along and being forced into a corner where the decision was made for him.
“There could have been a better exit strategy,” he said, acknowledging that the verdict probably came as a surprise to many patrons. “I kept hoping that we could get through this situation like we have a million times before.
“There were a lot of rumors this year saying we were closing. There was never any truth behind them, as far as I knew, and ultimately, the decision was mine after the last show and I had to look at the numbers realistically and said it was time to walk away.”
Jason Bruton, production manager, sound guy, light tech and general jack of all electronic trades at three20south, said Rocko called him right after he had the conversation with the building owner to let him know the venue would be no longer.
“I wasn’t terribly surprised because it’s one of those things when you’re running a club in a building you don’t own,” Bruton said, adding that closing three20 had seemed like a possibility ever since the building was sold to a new owner.
“When the new building owner came in, it was always in the back of my mind; I was like, crap. I wasn’t totally surprised, but I was pretty disappointed. It didn’t really hit until we were pulling the system out last week, and then it hit and I got all teary-eyed.”
Crawford Byers, of Rocky Mountain Entertainment, has been booking bands at the venue for 15 winters. He said he has seen a lot of clubs come and go, but that doesn’t make it easier to say goodbye to three20.
“I’m a lot less surprised this time around than I was in the earlier days,” Byers said. “It’s five good months a year, but you have to pay rent for 12, and in the case of three20south in particular, it’s a basement nightclub — there’s no après ski possible, there’s no real ways to use it earlier in the evening consistently, there’s no way to prepare or serve food there.
“Without those extra sources of income, your only way to make money is to bring in music and use that as your draw. And the music business is inherently risky; it’s gambling every night. You’re wondering if this many people are going to pay this much money in order to cover your down investment on the door, and if that investment isn’t covered, you have to pull the balance from your bar receipts. The bar business is tough, but it’s always tougher when you risk losing money any night that you’re opening your doors.”
Byers said in such a small market, even with the most reliable people who want to go to a venue night after night, you can’t carry a whole business getting people in there five nights a week, December through April.
“Most clubs that close down, you see it a mile away,” he said. “A place like three20, you don’t see it coming because it seems successful because you have people in there night after night, but you have to do extraordinarily well night after night. Breckenridge has tons of passion and nobody did anything wrong, but the small nightclub in the mountains thing sort of chews people up and spits them out. It’s one of those things you just don’t see coming; it’s a surprise to all.”
Many fond memories
There were way too many acts that came through three20south to play favorites, Rocko said. It was a great room for developing talent, catching a lot of bands before they hit big, and he said he’ll miss having a hand in developing the musicians who came through.
“I really enjoyed discovering and booking the talent and watching these bands grow,” he said. “There were a lot of bands that circled three20 — they seemed to play every few months — to watch these bands take off was a really special thing.
“Since we’ve closed, a lot of acts have approached me and have been thankful for me giving them their shot. It was kind of like, when they could get a gig at three20 that helped their resume. That’s been really nice to hear; I’m grateful to all those acts.”
One of the local bands three20south helped put on the map was Yamn. The band played its first show in the venue in 2007 when it was still Sherpa & Yeti’s and continued when Rocko took over, forming a very close relationship with the venue and the owner.
“Three20south and Sherpa & Yeti’s was the room, the venue that put Yamn on the map in Colorado,” said David “Dewey” Duart, bass player for Yamn. “We would go on tour for months on end, sometimes playing in front of no one, and come home to Breck, play a show at Sherpa’s or three20 to a packed house.
“It was always what kept Yamn going in the old days. The road was tough, playing in front of no one and trying to get your name out there took a toll on us, but when we came home to Breckenridge and played in that little basement venue we felt like rock stars; we knew that it was all worth it. The crowds and locals have always supported us there, and that has meant the world to us.”
Dewey said three20south may not have been the best club in the state, but it was intimate, a good party and a place that was just a staple. For Yamn, the venue was home, and between theme parties for Oktoberfest and Ullr Fest and holidays from Fourth of July to Halloween, three20 was a spot the band played upward of 40 times in the past five-plus years.
“When we did the first New Year’s Eve there, when it became three20south, that was 2008 into 2009, we played till 4:30 or 5 o’clock in the morning and we did a pancake breakfast for anybody who made it that long,” he said. “That was pretty memorable.”
Bruton said he’d miss working closely with artists and the vibe of three20 and having Rocko as a boss wasn’t so bad, either.
“It was always good music, whether they were known or not, whether they packed a crowd or not, it was always good music and the great group of the built-in crowd that we had,” he said. “Being in that club and having that interaction with the artists have done a lot for my career. … I don’t know where else I could have done that. It was an awesome place to build family.”
Losing a music venue
Rocko said he has no idea what the owner of the building plans to do with the space, but both he and Bruton seemed to think that it was unlikely it would remain a live music venue of any kind.
“We always had to be restricted of our noise because of the tenants upstairs because there were businesses upstairs,” Rocko said. “We weren’t allowed to make noise until 8 p.m., so with an hour sound check, that’s opening the doors at 9. … I would have loved to have opened earlier but it was one of the things we had to deal with in that space.”
The loss of three20south is going to leave a hole in the music scene of Summit County, Bruton said, a void that will be hard to fill.
“It’s going to have an A-bomb sort of impact,” Byers said. “Without the proper venue and without the proper people in place booking it, you’re not getting nearly the caliber or consistency of musicians that come through that people there have come to expect over the past 15 winters.”
Dewey said when he found out three20south would be closing, his initial reaction was being bummed, followed by the thought, where are we going to play in Breckenridge?
“I’m kind of at a loss for words, I think,” he said. “To not think there will be a strong music club in Breckenridge. I moved out here 10 years ago and I’ve seen musicians in that room for that long and it’s been around a lot longer than that. I don’t know what to think.”
Rocko said closing the venue would have an impact on a lot of touring musicians.
“For a local band, there’s not very many places to play and not many spots where you’re going to headline,” Bruton said. “In the Denver market, it’s all bigger clubs, so it was good for them to come up and play and work and do their thing.”
“It’s one less place for them to play,” Rocko said. “We were always a good stop because they could go to Denver and then play us on the off nights or make the stop between Denver and Aspen and walk into a place with a great sound system and just be treated well.”
Time to move on
Byers said he would miss everything about three20south, but though the venue is gone, live music in Breckenridge isn’t necessarily going to disappear with it. He said he and Rocko would always be involved with bringing music to the town on some level, including booking acts to other venues on a freelance basis.
“I’ve always admired that Rocko’s a hard-working guy who didn’t just sit back on his club as his only source of income,” Byers said. “He’s always impressed me with his drive and work ethic, especially in the face of a very difficult operation to maintain year-round. So those are qualities that I work with and will continue to work with. Having a venue or not, he’s still a good partner in the business.”
“Right now, I’m just catching my breath,” Rocko said. “What we represented and what the three20 brand represents — even if (the audience) didn’t know the band, they knew that it would be a good show — there’s something we can do. Maybe take that into a different situation; at the very least, have some bigger shows in different rooms in the upcoming winter.
“Hopefully, I can play some part in bringing music back to Summit County, at least at the caliber that we were bringing.”
Bringing back the music is one thing; opening a new venue likely isn’t in the cards.
“I’m not sure about entering into another venue,” Rocko said. “The numbers just have to be right. It’s just a tough business and we always had it stacked against us, so attaching to an actual place where you have to pay rent is pretty tough.”
“Overall, it’s just a really sad thing,” Bruton said about saying so long to three20south. “There’s going to be a big gap, and I don’t know who would be able to step in or where it would happen since it sounds like the building owner isn’t going to another venue. We have a sound system, we have a network — so we’ll see.”