Denver native Rico Jones, a professional musician and composer, didn’t know that an informal musical gathering of friends on his porch would take him to mediation with the City Council of Denver. What began as a small affair became a weekly event featuring some of the most seasoned jazz musicians in town who played from Jones’ North Denver family home to a regular weekly audience made up of 100s of people from across Denver’ neighborhoods.
But not everyone was happy with the weekend jazz concerts, and the frequency and style of the music prompted one neighbor to file a noise complaint with the city when the concerts resumed after a winter hiatus. “We did one weekend,” Jones says, “and the neighbor posted a long comment on Nextdoor, reported us to the city, and to city health. But this wasn’t about COVID. Then there was the threat of legal action, so we just decided to cut it off so it didn’t escalate.”
Jones proceeded to contact Denver City Councilwomen Amanda P. Sandoval and Jamie Torres who helped Jones arrange mediation via Zoom between the city, the neighbor, and the musicians. Jones’ home and Sloan’s Lake straddle Sandoval and Torres’ districts. The process lasted a month, but the stress and pressure of it was enough to make Jones consider giving up.
“I was thinking whether or not it was worth it because it was really difficult, and the communication process was slow. The neighbors were not very willing to communicate,” Jones says. A write-up in Our Community Now, an online news outlet, upset the neighbors according to Jones and provoked demands for the musician to reach out to the articles’ writer to make changes to the article even though the article never mentioned the neighbor’s name.
Tensions increased and the neighbors had more reason to not talk with Jones in person despite attempts to come to an agreement in a personable way.
“At the end, the neighbors weren’t willing to talk to us face-to-face over Zoom, so it was a back-and-forth conversation. We made some slight adjustments. We’re going to move the band to the other side of the lawn so it’s not facing their direction and we’re going to monitor the sound levels. We did some tests and found that we weren’t over the legal limit. At this point, we’re making adjustments so they can be happy and feel peace, and we can continue to play.”
Jones’ band played for the first time after their hiatus on Friday, June 4, and again on the following Saturday and Sunday with positive feedback and celebration of their return. The plan is for the band to continue concerts throughout the warm weather months.
“I hope we get to continue doing this at least for the rest of the summer. I love playing at different venues, but it’s a different vibe when you’re around alcohol and drugs or you have to hustle. There’s something cool about just playing for the community. Anybody can come sit down. No one is monitoring who has a ticket and who doesn’t. That’s what I like about this. It’s community oriented; it helps build the community; it brings people together.”
Rico Jones says he learned a lot from the process of mediation. It took a lot of time and patience and learning how to talk with a variety of people. He also learned that there are many avenues for outdoor performances requiring different permits, some of which can be a little challenging to obtain under certain circumstances, say if you do not have a mailing address and are busking (playing in a public area for donations). Another legal facet of music making in the city that musicians might have to look out for is sound ordinances, which differ depending on where you are in the city.
“I learned that a lot of musicians and festivals struggle with the sound ordinances because, in Denver, there are different laws for residential versus park versus city. Most of them are set so low that it’s literally impossible to play music. A lot of one day and weekend street festivals have to set aside a budget in case somebody complains and you are found to be over the limit and fined. It’s for a good reason, to keep the peace so people can enjoy solitude and quiet, but it is difficult for music anywhere.”
Jones would like to see a Denver that works to make it easier for artists in general to host community events by developing more formalized public spaces where free concerts and arts events can occur, unrelated to pubs and other monetarily interested parties. Making permits more accessible with lowered costs would also be beneficial for artists in all disciplines. “Art should be more accessible overall,” Jones says.
“There’s a big association with alcohol consumption and drug use and night life which is cool but I think that deters a lot of people. And then with jazz, some people want to put a high brow vibe on it like it’s not music of now, like it has to be this throwback that you pay a lot of money for and sip wine to but that’s not what it’s about. It’s music for the people.”
Jones is happy that he gets to make music, and, ultimately, he wants to bring people joy and peace. His one regret is that he never got to speak with his neighbors face to face. “I keep saying I wish we were able to talk over Zoom or something just to put a human face to it. It’s way easier to empathize and reason with somebody – but when it’s so impersonal it’s easy to dehumanize and dissociate.”
Rico Jones plays with musicians Eric Gunnison on piano, Brad Goode on trumpet, Paul Romaine on drums, Tony Golden on bass, Hunter Roberts on bass, Alex Heffron on guitar, Tom Amandon on guitar, Colin Stranahan on drums, and many more.
You can find information on upcoming shows on NextDoor, or follow Rico on Facebook or Instagram at @ricojonesmusic