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Ramaya performs at the Fox Theater on Saturday March 3rd, 2012.
Jonathan Castner
Ramaya performs at the Fox Theater on Saturday March 3rd, 2012.

The Fox Theatre is celebrating 20 years of bringing live music to Boulder this Tuesday, and in honor of the milestone, the weekend’s lineup was packed with a diverse selection of local musicians.

Since 1992, more than 10,000 acts have taken the stage at the Fox, from local favorites to national and international stars like Radiohead, Phish, Run DMC, The Shins, the Black Keys, and Bon Iver. This year’s celebration featured the first band to ever play a paid gig at the Fox, the Funky METERS, and Boulder mainstays Leftover Salmon will play tonight and tomorrow.

The Funky METERS, known as just the METERS at the time of the first Fox show, are insistent that it was really the opening act that was first. But the remaining original members, New Orleans jazz legends George Porter Jr. and Art Neville, were happy to be back anyway.

“I like the people. I like to play here,” Neville said.

Porter added, “At a time, this was the place to play. If you weren’t here you were playing frat houses. The anniversary, we’re excited for it. The excitement and the energy of the people is what we’re going to feed from.”

Though the band hasn’t been back since 2007, they said they used to play the Fox 10-12 times a year. They’re not the only ones with a soft spot for the venue, either.

Andy Schneidkraut, who’s owned Albums on the Hill for 25 of its 35 years, remembers Ben Harper and the Dave Matthews Band getting their breaks at the Fox. Both played early gigs here, and have repeatedly shown their appreciation. The video for DMB’s “What Would I Say” was shot at the Fox, and in a moment that Schneidkraut swears is captured on DMB’s Live at Folsom recording, Matthews announced something like “it’s great to be back at the Fox.” Ben Harper, of course, just keeps coming back after the first show that Schneidkraut said gave everyone “a four-limbed chill” by the end.

“Twenty years is a significant milestone for any music venue, and the Fox, over the years, has been the midwife for the birth of many important acts that have gone on to national fame,” Schneidkraut said. “The Fox has been important to me as a business on the Hill, but they’ve been more important to me as the temple I worship in when I need that musical fix. I’ve had many spiritually moving musical encounters at the Fox over these many years.”

The Fox hasn’t always been a music temple, though. When it first opened in 1926, it was a movie theater for a few months. In the ‘30s, it was a saloon, dance hall and vaudeville theater, and it eventually went on to be the original Tulagi, then the Buff Club. In 1961, it went back to its roots as a movie theater.

Finally, the Pyramid Group — Don Strasburg, Jon O`Leary, James Hambleton, Dave McKenzie, and the late Dicke Sidman — reopened the Fox as a music venue.

“It’s really funny because 20 years ago, before we opened, there was a lot of concern with the Fox being negative to the Hill,” Strasburg said. “And it’s probably the most positive thing to the Hill community, certainly one of the most important pieces of the Hill community, and hopefully Boulder and Colorado.”

Cheryl Liguori, the first general manger and current CEO at the Fox, has watched the venue grow and adapt with the changing music scene, and hold its ground as an important and beloved venue for fans and musicians.

“As far as I’m concerned, the Fox just keeps getting better,” she said. “I think that live entertainment is never going to go away because it’s a really unique experience, especially at the size of the Fox Theatre. It’s an experience with the band and with your fellow lovers of music, and it doesn’t matter what style the music is. It’s the live experience and the intimacy you can have at the Fox. That will never change.”

Looking forward, both Liguori and Strasburg said they want to keep doing what the Fox has always done — bring in big acts, give the new ones a start, and provide Boulder the best music experience they can give.

“I look forward to having a 40th anniversary,” Strasburg said. “We strive day in and day out, and hopefully successfully, to do our part in the community to bring the best entertainment and create the best space or people to be able to enjoy themselves, a place where people can see incredible music, hang out, and spend time with their friends. That’s the ultimate goal of the Fox Theatre and that’s what drives us.”