By Jeffrey V. Smith
Nederland’s rich music scene has been well-known for decades. It’s talented musicians, however, tend to quickly outgrow the town’s bars and restaurants hosting live music. While intimate and authentic, no rooms in Nederland are designed for sound—until now. The Caribou Room, a premier, high-end concert venue and events center, opened in Nederland a couple of months ago and has raised the bar for local live music experiences to the top.
The state-of-the-art venue—which has passed local scrutiny with enthusiastic reviews—is actually an after-thought of owner Peter Fiori after he decided to move his main business, Sweetwave Audio, back to town. Now he’s creating “the nicest” control room in Colorado to capitalize on the trend of streaming live concerts on the internet while continuing to offer event production, backline, sound reinforcement and installations. Ultimately, it’s culminated in Fiori being able to bring his multi-faceted skills and talents together in one place while allowing a life-long dream to come true.
Although he’s played in several acts, Fiori established himself in the Colorado music scene in the late 90s with his talented guitar work in Runaway Truck Ramp, while at the same time his production and sound design work has earned him a reputation as an expert. Arriving in Colorado in 1988 to take music technology courses at University of Colorado Boulder, Fiori quickly started playing live and doing production for other bands out of Gold Hill.
“It wasn’t until the end of the ’90s that I got into [Runaway Truck Ramp] where we were going to try really hard because [we thought we were] awesome—we were completely wrong about that. We had fun,” Fiori said. “We didn’t enjoy the success we needed to keep going. So, when that ended, I went right in to Sweetwave Audio.” It’s what he had been doing from the age of 15 when he borrowed money to buy a mixing consul, so it only made sense when he stopped “trying to be a rock star.”
When his business grew large enough, Fiori moved out of his garage and into a 6,000 square foot warehouse and showroom in Louisville when he couldn’t find suitable space in Nederland. Thirteen years of commuting from Nederland to Louisville, however, took a toll.
“About three years ago, before I bought this property, I was starting to not go down the hill,” Fiori explained. “I was getting that sick of the drive—45 minutes each way. I was wearing out, and this company was really turning into an out-of-house production company and internet sales. It was evident to me that we didn’t need to have a prime location. We could be out in the middle of anywhere and do sales.”
When Fiori finally found a building large enough to house Sweetwave Audio to purchase in Nederland, it wasn’t long before his imagination got the best of him. “I saw the potential for the room to have a stage, and in my mind it was still going to be very much a Sweetwave Audio stage,” he said. “It was going to be a great place to demo and have shoot outs with speaker stacks. Then, I decided to apply all the different types of expertise that I’ve got, which is all sides of the microphone from being a player, being in management, being in production and being in systems design. It was the natural progression for me to move forward and actually apply all the knowledge that I’ve gotten from all the different things that I have done, to a venue. Now, I’ve over-designed the fuck out of this room, and we’ve got way too nice of a room.”
Although Fiori saw a need for a 500+ person venue like his in the foothills, he says it takes all of his ventures to make it work. “If I was just going to be a venue, I probably wouldn’t make it,” he said. “But the fact that I am doing designs right now and selling stuff during the day makes it happen.” A multi-use permit from the town helps him run the two businesses from the same building which satisfies the sustainability goals of both Nederland and Fiori.
Although Fiori enjoyed “diving into the venue” and at every turn made decisions to “do things right,” the numbers told him the place wouldn’t pay for it’s self for 20 years. It was then he made the “very conscience decision” to go towards “Couch Tour”—a term used to describe the experience of staying at home and watching a live performance on the internet. “Couch Tour is really what we are about. What Nederland has seen is just the live venue,” Fiori explained. “But, what’s behind that wall is the nicest control room in Colorado. It’s going to be mainly for broadcast, and some recording. And, when we get the bandwidth, we will be able to send video of six camera angles with our audio feed—which will be independently mixed—at the same time.”
Fiori envisions an app where fans will be able to choose what ever camera angle they want with an audio feed. “That is the revenue I am hoping we spark. That’s really how we are going to make a 500 seat room work in Nederland,” he said. He explained that since mid-level musicians no longer can make money form recorded music thanks to file sharing and pirating on the internet, live performances have become their main revenue source. This has in turn created a huge demand from fans. “That’s really what I am headed towards, because I think Couch Tour is the future.” It is hoped everything will be operational within three months.
To have the product he wants, Fiori doesn’t just need an audience, he wants a sold-out show. “If I’m going to be selling a live feed that is going to go to 5,000 or 10,000 people, the feed is what matters. So, part of that is a sold out room. That translates to Nederland getting cheaper tickets than normal, because I’ve got to fill the room. To make the broadcast look and sound great, I’ve got to have a full packed room. If this doesn’t work, we are just going to be another music venue with regular ticket prices, and that’s what you’ll see in the immediate future until we get the internet thing working.”
Although he’s still working on the venue and control room, Fiori says he “forced the room open before the studio was completed,” and has already hosted a couple of large shows and other events. “We had spent two years working on it, and I was loosing my patience. So it was like, ‘let’s do some shows,’” he said. “Since that’s what we do, it’s very easy for us to make shows happen.”
Those that have been to an event has given the venue “five star” reviews. “Everybody is psyched, and how can you not be psyched?,” Fiori said. “It’s all state-of-the-art when it comes to equipment.” Everything from the stage, sound and lights to the taps and kitchen are the highest quality. “The kitchen was an after-thought that turned out to be a very expensive after-thought, but if I was actually making an event center, I’d have to have a kitchen. That’s what this is. It’s not just a venue. It’s an event center. That’s the idea: have a clean, doesn’t-stink-like-beer room with state-of-the-art equipment. You can go get married in the aspen grove then come over here and rage and get a four-star meal.”
Bringing Sweetwave Audio to town and creating The Caribou Room has allowed Fiori to bring jobs to town as well. The “core team” that works with Fiori incudes Lauren Kreeger, his “right hand gal” for events and Sweetwave Audio and production manager Phil Chappell, his “right hand guy when it come to all things production.” Tristen Fox is a former intern who’s become an important part of the team. To do a show, an additional 16 people are hired. Most are local to keep things cost effective and sustainable. “It’s not a minor thing when we do a show,” he said. “Our overhead is almost $3,000 to open the doors. We hire eight security, two parking lot attendants, a coat check person, a box office person, five bartenders, a house manger, a general manger, two sound guys, a lighting guy. Its not like doing a show at a bar. It’s just not. It’s a venue and it’s the real deal.”
Overall, Fiori is really happy with his new situation. “I’ve got a facility where I can record… we’ve got that great control room… and then I have the live side of things where we can offer a great party atmosphere,” he said. “And, we’re running Sweetwave. It’s a dream come true.”
Originally published in the May 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthy