It's a chilly Saturday night in January, and the Denver Broncos have just lost a playoff game hours earlier. The season-ending defeat has sent many fans along the Front Range into a minor depression.
Funny thing, though. Inside the Blues and Greens lounge on the west side of the Boulder Outlook Hotel, people are anything but blue. The Lionel Young Band plays its own brand of rhythm-infused blues from the room's stage, couples cozy up to each other on the dance floor, and people hoot and holler after each time a band member takes a solo. The performance is a perfect tonic for a football hangover.
"People are giddy and happy after a blues show," said Honey Sepeda, a writer, band manager, promoter and longtime blues enthusiast.
The small concert venue, which hosts from 20 to 25 shows a month, 90 percent of them falling into the blues or rhythm-and-blues categories, has made a significant impact on more than just the local blues scene. The self-described "Boulder's home of the blues," run by Outlook Hotel owner Dan King since 2006, has also gained a national reputation as a musician-friendly stop for national acts.
"I think it's important to the blues scene, period," said Otis Taylor, the international blues artist who calls Boulder home. Taylor and King have co-produced Taylor's Trance Blues Festival the past few years, using the Blues and Greens stage as a workshop and performing space.
The Blues and Greens venue is being honored with a Keeping the Blues Alive award for outstanding club from the Blues Foundation in Memphis on Tuesday.
In addition to the Boulder blues venue, the Colorado Blues Society, which boasts a membership of more than 600, is being honored this week in Memphis with a KBA award. The CBS
"We've really made a name here," said Sepeda, who lives in Niwot and served as the Blues and Greens booker from 2009 to 2012. "Colorado has become a big blues scene."
Like a football team's season that eventually comes to an end, however, the Blues and Greens days might be numbered.
"I have serious interest for people buying this hotel and turning it into student housing," King said. A deal isn't imminent, he added -- he plans to keep booking bands in the foreseeable future -- but the hotel could be sold by the end of 2013.
"Hopefully, we'll take the music venue somewhere else in Boulder," he said. "I'd like to keep it going."
King bought the Outlook Hotel in 2003. By 2006, he had started hosting weekly jazz jams in a corner of the hotel's lounge. He eventually decided to expand the musical bookings. Blues was his first choice.
"I thought if we're going to do this in a big way," King said, "we're going to do music that I like to listen to."
The club hit its stride in 2009. That's when national acts started showing up regularly. In fact, before that, some touring acts often left Colorado off their itineraries. Playing here didn't make economic sense, as the state's blues venues are few.
"(Boulder County) in particular was missing," Sepeda said. "It wasn't quite enough to come to Colorado for two gigs; you really need three or four to make it worthwhile."
While most of the acts that play at Blues and Greens are from Colorado (the "Green" part of the club's name refers to the Boulder Outlook Hotel's eco-friendly programs), what's set the small venue apart is how it's been able to attract touring acts, said Chick Cavallero, president of the Colorado Blues Society.
"That, to me, is the biggest thing that they do," Cavallero said. He quickly rattles off national acts like Tommy Castro, Rick Estrin and the Nightcaps, Jimmy Thackery, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Bob Margolin, Candye Kane and Janiva Magness -- artists largely unknown to the mainstream but big names in the blues world. They've all played Blues and Greens.
The reason is King's generosity.
"He does a lot, but he doesn't talk about it," Taylor said.
King has gained a reputation for taking good care of national acts, housing them in the Outlook Hotel for cheap or even free and feeding them from the hotel restaurant. It's a significant gesture as making ends meet as a blues artist can be tough. And word gets around quickly in the blues world, said Margolin, a North Carolina-based guitarist who played with Muddy Waters for several years and still travels the blues circuit. He first played the Blues and Greens club in 2006 and found a welcoming home.
"If there's a great place to play, blues musicians want to make it a regular stop," Margolin said. "With the bands staying in the hotel, the club and the great restaurant a few steps away, it's a blues musician's dream world."
Touring acts make their money Thursdays through Sundays, Taylor explains. Lodging and food during the early parts of the week can eat up profits. King often houses and feeds bands on off-nights and gives them the stage.
"That's huge," said Taylor, who has a new album due out in February.
And things can go wrong for a band out on the road. Three years ago, when King learned San Francisco Bay area-based Tommy Castro and his band were stuck in Colorado, he put them up in the hotel and kept them fed -- all eight members. The band played the Blues and Greens in return. It helped out both parties.
"Their road manager told me later those four nights at the hotel made the difference between losing money and breaking even on that tour," Sepeda said.
Sepeda and others hope that even if King sells the hotel, he finds another location for the Blues and Greens club and helps to keep the music playing.
"What has been built just can't disappear," Sepeda said. "It just can't."
Contact Mark Collins at BDCTheater@comcast.net.