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eTown recognized as cultural contributor with Colorado Music Hall of Fame induction

Mar 13, 2021

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED: Since the early ‘90s, eTown has kept the songs and conversations going. Nick and Helen Forster sing together during a portrait session at eTown Hall on March 8 in Boulder. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer) Stretching far beyond the Front Range, the internationally syndicated radio show and solar-powered concert hall has not only served as a thriving source of entertainment, but through its programing it has aimed to make a difference environmentally and socially. An undeniable pillar of the Front Range community, eTown will join the ranks of influential musicians and a myriad of live entertainment industry workers, with an induction into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame this spring. “The first show featured Maura O’Connell, Sonny Landreth, David Wilcox and The Subdudes,” said eTown founder and host Nick Forster. “Plus, I interviewed two guests, one from the EPA and one from the governor’s office here in Colorado. While it had some great music, I was definitely trying to figure things out. That show never made it to the radio, but we did use pieces of it in a demo tape that got us signed to NPR.” It was on that day that the Forsters got a taste of the good life — quite literally. “I also remember that Maura (O’Connell) was, at that time, signed to Warner Brothers Records,” Nick Forster said. “Record companies were notorious for spending their artists’ money on expensive dinners, so the label took us all out to dinner at the Flagstaff House the night before the first show. Helen and I ate rich food and drank expensive wine — and, not being used to that, we were up all night.” Nick Forster puts a guitar back its case in the eTown Hall studio on March 8 in Boulder. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer) A learn-as-you-go beginning eventually resulted in a highly popular broadcast, podcast and the founding of eTown Hall — a multifunctional creative space that opened in 2012 after undergoing a serious renovation. In addition to serving as the headquarters for the Forsters’ radio show, the historic former church, that dates back to 1922, has established itself as one of the most beloved venues in the region. It’s also a place where a multitude of musicians — such as Yonder Mountain String Band — plug in and record. “You know, we really didn’t think about the long-term or the phenomenal growth eTown has seen when we began eTown,” said Helen Forster, co-founder. “In 1991, very little, if any media, was covering sustainability issues or environmental challenges. Those that did were doing so in a rather academic or negative way. We simply recognized the need to create something to address that. So, we jumped right in.” Prior to the pandemic, the Forsters hosted a bevy of artists, activists and leaders. With performances by Ani Difranco and thousands of others, the venue — with stellar acoustics — has become a destination for out-of-town concertgoers. “It doesn’t feel like we’ve been doing eTown for 30 years, but when we see the list of all of the musicians and interview guests who’ve been on the show, it is both impressive and a little exhausting,” Nick Forster said. “We worked hard.” Nick and Helen Forster sing together during a portrait session at eTown Hall on March 8 in Boulder. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer) On April 22, eTown is hosting a virtual concert to celebrate its 30-year anniversary, with an impressive lineup of all new performances. “It will include our induction into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, plus performances from many of our friends,” Nick Forster said. “Los Lobos, Sam Bush, Lyle Lovett, City and Colour and Bob Weir are among our special guests for that evening. I’m also going to visit with former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth and the legendary Jane Goodall. It’s going to be an amazing evening of music and remembrances.” Other musicians on the roster include The War and Treaty and Raquel Garcia. The amount of diverse and notable guests to be featured in the streamed celebration is a true reflection of just what eTown has built and embraced over a plentiful and productive three decades. “eTown is among the state’s most influential cultural contributors,” said Karen Radman, executive director of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. “Launched in Boulder 30 years ago, eTown has grown into a widely successful internationally syndicated radio broadcast, podcast and multimedia- and events-production organization. Its unique format of pairing musical and environmental broadcasting makes it a natural selection as a Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee.” The reach of The Forsters’ grassroots initiative-turned-mini-empire is what prompted CMHOF to bestow the honor. “eTown is a master at connecting our local and global communities,” Radman said. “One week you can see one of Colorado’s local favorites, like Nathaniel Rateliff or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band perform, and the next week, Ramy Essam, an Egyptian rocker.” Nick Forster walks through the studio at eTown Hall on March 8 in Boulder. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer) The 2019 Colorado Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony was held at Mission Ballroom — a concert venue in Denver’s RiNo Art District. “This is certainly a new format for Colorado Music Hall of Fame,” Radman said. “It will be very different than previous live inductions. Chuck Morris, founding chair of the Hall of Fame, will join Nick and Helen at eTown Hall for the livestream and the induction will be one aspect of eTown’s fantastic 30th b’Earthday celebration .” With the Hall closed for nearly a year due to the pandemic, the Forsters have continued to turn out intriguing content. In May 2020, Nick Forster launched “Teach Me One Thing,” a Zoom series where he had a number of guests — from banjoist and comedy icon Steve Martin to bluegrass phenom Billy Strings — share a skill while sheltering in place. Even Phish bassist Mike Gordon made an appearance. This year, Helen Forster started the new podcast “Looking Back, Looking Forward: The eChievement Award” that shines a light on previous eChievement award recipients working for the greater good. “I really love all our winners and I thought, during this time of sheltering in place and the isolating difficulty of dealing with COVID, this could be a perfect time to share some good news with our listeners,” Helen Forster said. “To re-air the original interviews, then speak to each winner today to see how they’re doing now, seemed like an inspiring and rewarding project. It’s been really joyful for me to reconnect so far. The project is on hold right now as we prepare for the 30th anniversary activities, but I hope to resurrect it this summer.” eTown continues to move other creatives to offer similar platforms that combine intimate interviews with unforgettable musical sets. Nick Forster looks over one of the wall signed by artists that have played at eTown Hall on March 8 in Boulder. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer) “eTown was a great inspiration in starting ‘The Songwriter Hour,’” said Longmont-based singer-songwriter Kyle Donovan, who pre-pandemic invited numerous artists to share their songs and stories at Still Cellars. “I admire the work that Nick and Helen have done, especially in building a sense of community and togetherness around events with live music and lively conversation,” Donovan has taken the stage at eTown twice, once for the release show for his album “Then and Now” in 2019 and also for the fourth anniversary of Boulder In-the-Round, a showcase of local songwriters. “The pin-drop silence of a packed room creates the perfect atmosphere to explore the space where songs are written, when the intention and attention of people are so tightly aligned,” Donovan said. “All listening, all hearing, all feeling together. That’s where I want to spend my time and I have the sense that Nick and Helen were out to find something similar with eTown. The fact that the building is a converted church helps to set that tone.” While COVID halted Donovan’s in-person show and podcast interview series, he hopes to revive it once he is able. “‘The Songwriter Hour’ has been the most fulfilling project I’ve ever worked on,” Donovan said. “It will certainly come back, but the chaos of the pandemic has put a stopper on that bottle for now.” “I grew up loving ‘VH1 Storytellers’ and even ‘MTV Unplugged,’” said Travis Albright, founder of Future Arts Foundation and organizer of Bluebird Music Festival. “I know many folks go to a concert just to hear the music, but I always thought that hearing the performers speak, and even tell stories, made the evening so much more enjoyable. Because of my love for these television shows, I always tried to seek out that same thing in a live experience. It was great when I found this in the same town that I moved to back in 2004. You could certainly say that eTown was an inspiration for the ‘Strings & Stories’ portion to the Bluebird Music Festival.” Albright, like many other music fans, has witnessed the remarkable evolvement of the Boulder-based nonprofit. “I’ve been to eTown shows not only at eTown Hall, but also when they used to host them at Boulder Theater and even at the Lincoln Center, in Fort Collins,” Albright said. “My favorite setting is definitely eTown Hall. It has the feeling of being in a church of music. The sound is terrific and now in my 40s, I increasingly enjoy seated shows. The building itself is just so cool as well. From the recording studio, to the precise finishes, to the historic exterior, it really is something special.” eTown Hall can be seen on March 8 in Boulder. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer) Just when attendees will be able to walk through the doors of the former church on Spruce Street remains unknown. “I’ve been performing since I was a child, so the stage is a comfortable space for me for sure,” Helen Forster said. “I miss most collaborating musically with our visiting artists. Harmony singing has always been my musical contribution on the show and I loved supporting those who came to join us on eTown. Also, I miss our attending audience who came to the live shows, exchanging that energy, talking after the tapings. So many great people know and love eTown. My favorite was meeting those who’d come in from another state or country to take in a live taping of the show.” The Forsters anticipate by the fall they will welcome guests back for in-person events, with possibly some restrictions still in place. “Every show we produced was rewarding in its time,” Nick Forster said. “Every broadcast we released made connections around the country or overseas. Every record that’s been recorded in the studio at eTown Hall is infused with some of the building’s energy and purpose.” Over the years, Nick Forster has shared the stage with Ben Harper, Keb’ Mo’, James Taylor and many others. Stairwell walls have been signed by various musicians that have played at eTown Hall, as seen on March 8 in Boulder. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer) “I’ve been busy putting on shows all of my life,” Nick Forster said. “I used to call square dances on my family’s place, Rokeby, in the Hudson Valley in New York when I was a teenager. With Hot Rize , we were always putting on events either at the Grange in Niwot or wherever we could. Helen, too. She’s been on stage since she was a kid, and was one of the co-owners / producers of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in the early days.” Additional event details for April’s virtual concert and induction ceremony, including how to watch the livestream, will be announced later this month. “We believe in making things happen,” Nick Forster said. “With the help of our community of donors, our staff and crew and volunteers and all of those musicians and guests, we feel as if we’ve given a lot to our hometown and we’re not done yet.”

Nov 6, 2020
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